With the dawn of 2020, the sun sets on another decade. Looking back at our sports culture over the past 10 years, there have been both improvements and setbacks. One topic that drew its share of controversy, and continues to be debated, has been the matter of keeping score in youth sports. Many towns and organizations have decided to stop keeping score and the list of sports includes soccer, football, basketball, baseball, and ice hockey.
There are strong opinions on this subject, so it’s important to consider both sides. I think there’s value in keeping score, so I’ve read a number of articles that support the concept of shutting off scoreboards in youth sports in the 6-to-11-year old range. In summary, there are two primary reasons that spearhead their position.
- Too many instances of parents getting out of control toward officials, coaches, and opponents
- Greater focus on development and building a love for the sport
I found the first point irrelevant to keeping score. The second point is an admirable objective, but short-sited and unrealistic.
Regarding the first reason, if adults are being identified as the core problem, why would we change things for the kids? If they’re competing on the field, playing by the rules, and playing hard to win, why should peripheral elements impact the nature of the sport? The behaviors of the adults should be assessed and dealt with separately.
Here is an excerpt from an article that featured a league administrator explaining why they stopped keeping score.
“We decided to stop keeping score in the younger age brackets because the parents and coaches were becoming too competitive. Parents were getting rowdy on the sidelines, and certain coaches were not giving players fair playing time. Taking away scoring makes the game of soccer player-centered, not adult-centered. Plus, we want our youth soccer players to focus on skill development instead of winning or losing.”
- Sorry, but this reasoning sounds adult-centered. Address their issues and let the kids play the games.
- Taking scoring away makes playing the game dull and less exciting. If you want kids to continue playing, let them compete. They tend to like it.
- With regard to skill development, isn’t that what practice is for?
One final point. Wanting to win isn’t bad. Being competitive isn’t bad. There’s no shame in wanting to win. The fact that there are select individuals that can’t control their emotions should not demonize those who embrace competition. It’s part of life.
The Value of Keeping Score
There are numerous reasons why keeping score has value, but let’s highlight four areas: pressure, strategy, playing from behind, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
This generation of youth is advanced in many ways, but a weakness that plagues them is coping skills. When pressure is applied and failure occurs, they struggle in response. Sports can help train kids to handle pressue and overcome misfortune. To do so, however, there needs to be a result attached, like a touchdown, a goal, a win, or a loss.
It’s instinctive as parents that we want to shield kids from pressure. But it’s a persistent element throughout life and those who learn to handle it are better for it. In fact, some will find that they actually thrive under pressue.
Sports are perceived as physical activities, but there is a tremendous amount of thinking and decision-making involved. Devising an approach, targeting opponent weaknesses, making adjustments, and factoring risk. These components are dependent on there being a score. There is a tactical side to sports that kids absorb and can use long after their playing days. Without a score thoughout the contest, most of these teaching tools lay dormant.
Ultimately, we’re talking about learning how to succeed. The 20-year run by the New England Patriots is not by accident.
Playing from Behind
Have you ever played a board game with a young kid and they start to lose right away? Almost immediately they want to quit. It’s not fun when they’re losing and they fail to realize that you can catch up or come back.
In every sporting event (short of a scoreless tie), someone is playing from behind at some point. You learn through experience to never give up. The most exciting battles are when the lead changes hands multiple times and teams have to dig down to raise their level of play.
The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat
I think everyone is in agreement that we want kids to have fun. It’s their time. Well, winning isn’t everything, but it is fun. Anyone arguing that point is not being completely straight. The preparation, the chase, the execution, and the result can be exhilarating.
Losing is tough, but it’s character building. It forces you to deal with failure and also self-assess. How can we get better? And when you do improve and ultimately land on the winning side, the taste of victory is that much sweeter.
Keeping score is motivational. Isn’t that a good thing? It brings out the best in kids and provides comprehensive development. Once the game is over, the wins and losses really don’t matter overall. It’s about the chase during competition.
A final note. When the score is kept and a friend or neighbor asks a kid how they did in their game, the kid’s response starts with, “We … ” With no team result, the response has no option other than to start with, “I …”
That’s not the direction we want to go.