Eliminating sports scores takes lesson from losing

It seems like a cliché to imagine parents standing on the sidelines, cheering their young children on to victory in their chosen sport – be that soccer, baseball, football or tennis. But what if the parents were simply cheering their children to play harder because there would be no winner?

This is exactly what is beginning to happen in Canada, after the Ontario Soccer Association ruled that all games with players under the age of 12 will no longer keep track of goals scored. There will also be no league standings recorded. The association claims that this change in policy encourages long-term player development.

“When kids drop out because of pushy parents or because coaches sit kids ‘on the bench’ … because they need to ‘win,’ we lose thousands of kids every year – and we don’t have to,” the group said.

Proponents of the plan believe that all junior sports should implement a similar system, arguing that youth sports do not need to keep score. Instead, they claim, the emphasis should be more about learning the fundamentals of the game.

John Keilman of the Chicago Tribune is a supporter of the plan. “They [children] don’t need an LED display to tell them,” Keilman said. “I suspect that 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.”

Support for the no-score policy is spreading. The United States Youth Soccer Association has recommended a policy of no scoring for children under the age of 10.

Personally, I believe that the policy has good intentions, but actually causes more harm than good. Playing junior tennis taught me a lot, particularly about how to lose. I was constantly reminded that learning how to accept defeat occasionally and losing graciously was just as important a skill as anything else I would learn.

By removing the scoring system, we are simply delaying the time when children will learn this skill, ultimately making it harder for them to accept the highs and lows that naturally come with playing a competitive sport.

By removing scoring, what we are really telling children is that the worst possible thing that could happen to them is losing. Instead, we should be teaching them to both win and lose graciously, accepting losing as a natural part of both sport and life.

Is it necessary to protect young children’s emotions for fear they will learn disappointment? I believe that the most important part of junior sports is to teach children that if they compete as hard as they can, there is nothing else they can ask of themselves.

Sometimes it will be good enough to win, whereas other times participating in a sport will result in defeat. It’s an important lesson to learn. There is no shame in defeat.