In an effort to promote what they call “Long Term Player Development,” the Ontario Soccer Association has ruled that all U-12 teams will no longer keep track of goals during the game or keep league standings. Some sports parents might think this is a travesty—what’s the point of a organized sports game with no score? Other sports parents might be wishing their league adopted similar guidelines—youth sports should be about having fun and learning new skills, not just winning. In recent years this debate about keeping score in youth sports programs has popped up time and time again and advocates on both sides of the issue are refusing to budge an inch.
Younger programs don’t really need to keep score; it should be more about the fundamentals.
Kids will keep score on their own, they know who the winner and the loser is, so why do we need to rub it in their faces? By putting so much pressure on young kids to win we’re actually turning kids off to youth sports at a younger age. John Keilman of the Chicago Tribune argues
Children compete against each other all the time, from the classroom to the playground, and they know perfectly well who’s a stud and who’s a scrub. They don’t need an LED display to tell them… I salute the Canadians for trying something different. I suspect they’ll find that when they do start keeping score — and to me, the age of 12 or 13 sounds about right — a lot more kids will still be around to reap the sport’s benefits.
Believe it or not, Canadian soccer leagues aren’t the only ones auguring for no score keeping in younger leagues. US Youth Soccer has recommended a policy of no scoring or standings for their U-10 and under programs as well, arguing that at such a young age a focus on scoring gets in the way of skill development. If winning is the primary objective players may be less likely to develop on-the-field skills like passing, always going for the goal on their own no matter what.
The final score matters, no matter what age.
Parents and coaches aren’t keeping score to be mean (or at least they shouldn’t be) but because it’s a fact of life. Whenever you compete against someone for anything you either win or lose. Youth sports programs are good, and safe, place to teach kids that. Winning because you came together as a team, because you did your absolute best, and played the game the way it was meant to be played is a fantastic feeling. But you can also do your absolute best and still come up a bit short. That doesn’t mean your absolute best wasn’t good enough, but what really matters is can you get back on the field the next day and try again.
It’s important that we don’t reward our kids for just showing up. Keeping score reinforces the fact that you have to work hard and really earn that win. What you and your team do matters in the end.