This summer, a growing number of youth soccer teams in Ontario will be playing games without keeping track of goals scored, at least not officially.

 

This summer, a growing number of youth soccer teams in Ontario will be playing games without keeping track of goals scored, at least not officially. And next summer, no scores or standings will be kept for any 12-and-under teams playing in the Ontario Soccer Association.

Members of the Alberta Soccer Association are paying close attention as their own province considers a similar action, a growing trend among both Canadian and U.S. youth soccer leagues. "The Canadian Minor Soccer Association has what it calls the top 40 long-term player development goals that it would like to work on," explains Daryl Leinweber, executive director of the Calgary Minor Soccer Association, referencing an initiative created by Canadian Sport for Life and endorsed by the Canadian Soccer Association. "One of the recommendations is to take a look at scoring for leagues under 12."

RISING STAKES
Both proponents and opponents agree that youth sports just aren't what they were 10 years ago. Even childhood isn't what it was 10 years ago. "Everything is structured," says Leinweber. "Kids never have time or take the time to go to the park and kick a ball around with their friends."

Expectations are higher all around. Parents expect their children to work hard and excel, holding coaches responsible for their success - or failure. "In the case of some of the coaches, their livelihood is on the line based on the performance of 10-year-old children," says Sam Snow, coaching director at US Youth Soccer. "They project that stress onto the kids, and it's all about the score instead of helping the kids learn how to play the game."

US Youth Soccer has recommended a policy of no scoring or standings for its younger programs for years, believing that at such a young age, focus on scoring gets in the way of more important skills development. "We recommend it so that coaches, club administrators and parents of U10 players can allow the kids to play without too much stress on the outcome of the game," says Snow. "When kids aren't allowed to make mistakes as they try to implement new skills, that hinders their development."

Scientific research is lending greater credence to the effectiveness of such tactics as part of long-term player development - emphasis on long-term. "We have very successful engagement of kids under the age of 12," says Leinweber, noting that Canada's grassroots youth programs are the envy of countries throughout South America and Europe, an envy that does not translate to Canada's national team. "What are we doing after that? How are we keeping them in the game?"

A greater focus on the outcome of games has left essential skill development along the wayside, as coaches focus strictly on the tactics that lead to a win, not teaching and developing new skills that foster a continued interest in the game.

"The majority of coaches understand and would actually be happy to be able to focus on ball skills, good nutrition and good physical fitness for the age group," says Snow, hitting on the other important development factors lost when too much focus is placed on winning games. "A big piece of it for us - and frankly any team sport - is to realize that these team sports are a long-term developmental process. If parents understand the timeline involved to develop in a team sport a little bit better, then things like not overemphasizing the score or not having league standings make more sense."

 

ALTERNATIVE STRATEGIES
The goal is the same all around: "What we want to look at is how to allow kids to take a chance in soccer and become creative," says Leinweber, but he doesn't think a policy of no scoring or standings is the way to go about it.

"Games are created to try the skills that we learn," he explains. "You still need to have competitive games to know how well you've developed that skill. Winning and losing also tells you how well you're doing."

As such, the youth soccer association does something a little different in Calgary. "Within our 10-year-olds league, we have done away with posting the actual scores," says Leinweber. "We post the scores with a one-goal differential and we keep standings. The standings have to do with the ability to manage the league for more than 200 teams."

The standings help ensure that teams are matched relatively evenly in terms of skill, giving each the chance to really test themselves. "If we had no standings or scores, they could be playing a team at the bottom and winning by 25 or 30 goals," says Leinweber, adding that such lopsided matchups are hard to ignore, even without a scoreboard. "Nobody has fun being beaten 25 or 30 to nothing."

PUBLIC EDUCATION
The idea of no-score sports contests isn't anything new, but implementation has been hindered by misconceptions. "We're not saying winning is a bad thing," says Snow. "That's categorically wrong. We're not saying go out and not care about trying your best. It's a balancing act. How do you teach the kids to give their very best and try to win games while understanding that even when they do their best, they're not always going to win?"

It's a hard thing for some people to understand, and Leinweber thinks a province-wide policy is not the way to help people do so. "You don't mandate something," he says. "You have to have a dialogue. You just can't say, 'We're going to do this,' without explaining how or why or what the end result is going to be."

A survey conducted of 1,500 members of the Calgary Minor Soccer Association showed that the majority do not support the Ontario mandate. "That tells me that we have a lot of education to do if we're expecting to change," says Leinweber.

"We can do that by providing more resources to our clubs and coaches to help them," he says. But it has to start at the local level with those directly involved. "This isn't something a major organization can do. The Canadian Soccer Association can't do that. The Alberta Soccer Association can't do that. All three levels have to work together and get our organizations and clubs to buy into it."

Emily Attwood is Managing Editor of Athletic Business.
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Ugh. My son plays rec soccer where there is no score or win/loss records kept, but even though the league doesn't keep score or win/loss records, every kid on that team knows exactly what the score was in each game and what the win/loss records are.
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"Kids never have time or take the time to go to the park and kick a ball around with their friends." That is because their faces are stuck on a TV, in a computer or a cell phone. Parents need to take these away for a certain length of time each day not only to give them exercise time but to teach them as adults not to waste time on these items 14 hours a day. As for the no score policy....what a joke. Humans are born competitive and will always want to "know the score".
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Raising a bunch of non-competitive kids while the rest of the world eats their lunch for them! Sheesh! Come on! We went to the ball park with our bats and gloves slung over our bikes, we'd clear a spot and keep score! The hipster generation raising ninny kids Oh My God!
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We have been playing no-score soccer for 20+ years (youth ages 4-12 years old). The only time we keep score is during a post-season tournament to give our players a taste of competition and to demonstrate the skills they have learned throughout the regular season. We are not down playing the idea of winning or competition but instead are concentrating on teaching our youth at all levels to love the game. We continue to have 300-500 youth playing no-score soccer each year and see no reason to change. We have also applied this concept to Peanut basketball. Tom's comment that - Humans are born competitive and will always want to "know the score" is only partially true. No-score soccer doesnt mean non-competitive soccer it just means that the final outcome is not as important as what you do on the field with the ball. I couldn't care less if my son's team wins or loses but I do care that he and his team are applying during the game what they learned in practice. Because when he reaches the age where the score is ultimately the only thing people are concerned about he will be ready!
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This world is raising a bunch of non competitive tree huging sensitive kids that are taught FAIRNESS. LIFE IS NOT FAIR. Tthese kids will be failures because of their parents. We use to be a country that overcame every obsticle put in front of us. Look at the 1980 Olympic hockey team. Everyone of those individuals participated in youth organized programs that kept score and assessed them individually. WHAT IN GODS NAME ARE WE BECOMING. (AYSO is a common punch line) a joke that has transformed the meaning of winning and competiting at all levels. STOP THIS LIBERAL everyone gets a trophy and ribbon philosophy. We have the olympic podium with a first second and third place finish. Nobody remembers or even cares who stands on the left and right of the person on TOP>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>. TEACH THEM TO WIN AND THAT FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION.
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Tough issue because of the nature of team sports with head-to-head competition vs individual sports determined by personal performance. I ended up in shot put and a very little running in T/F. I'm more attracted to those sports where I'm working to improve my own skills, technique, and performance (powerlifting, Highland Games) regardless of who else has entered the competition. Knowing my own performance level and the previous performances of my competitors, I pretty much can figure out where I'll end up in the field. However, I'm focusing on my own performance since that's the only thing I can control. In the situation of youth team sports, coaches/organizers can still promote long-term love of the games while still maintaining those games' realities of keeping scores and standings. Winning/losing are part of life and anyone old enough to play should learn how to do both early on in the safe contexts of sports. That way, in the long run, kids will learn to be more resilient and cope with disappointment later in life.
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Why play a "game" if you are not keeping score? If that's the case, stick to practice only. What about the cause-and-effect relationship here? If I score more goals than the other team, should that not result in a win? Having played competitive sports (soccer and hockey) until the age of 23, I think that this is creating a society of mediocrity where its acceptable to be average. If I work harder than the other team, and score more goals than the other team, then I want to be recognized as the victor.
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Until recently, I was a volunteer coach for 20 years in our city recreation league for basketball and baseball. As adults, we can quickly lose perspective when our kids step onto a field or court. We are the ones who are overly concerned about score, wins & losses and we pass that on to the kids. They struggle with handling their parents disappointment, the embarrassing yelling and humiliating sarcasm. If anybody has something to learn its us. "Teach them to win and that failure is not an option"? Are you serious?! Save it for college & the pros, if the kid gets that far. Every athlete fails; no one wins all the time. There are many other lessons that can be learned through athletics aside from winning. How to be a gracious winner ,for instance, showing appreciation and respect for your competitor. I don't agree with trophies for 'participation'. I think it does more harm than good. But adults have as much to learn as the kids.
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My son played no score flag football and scored baseball.. I don't see that the score matters as much as getting the kids a coach that knows the basics and can teach effectively enough to pass the skills onto the kids... I myself was very athletic and skilled and have enough ability to train the kids of all ages...except that the drive for each kid to achieve getting better at their own speed has been destroyed by the adults that don't want the kids get hurt emotionally...giving participation ribbons..give us a break... If you want a kid that has to be babied then keep him/her home...I want to see each kid working hard..achieving not only his/ her best but the best for the team that puts in the best and hardest work each and every time. Life is not fair or easy..unless you want someone else to take care of you...
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Winning teaches kids to be gracious and losing teaches kids to want to work harder to become better the next time. Why would a player want to improve their skills if the games have the same outcome anyway? This is like when a kid's parents complain to a coach that their kid isn't getting enough playing time, so the coach makes the kid a starter. What did the kid do to earn that? In the same way, what's the point of playing a game if you have nothing to earn? Why not throw out the grading scale in school then? Kids have to realize that working hard to improve themselves gives good results. Winning is fun and losing is not, and sports are ultimately about having fun, right? Being competitive is not a bad thing. I have played soccer since I was 4 years old and when I was little there was no better feeling than playing my heart out to get a win. And same today. Winning and losing teaches life lessons, like the fact that there are some things you're good at and some things you're not. I quit baseball because I didn't enjoy it because I'm not good at it, not because there was a score during the game. Knowing that my opinion means nothing, I'm going to go to sleep now because I have a soccer game tomorrow, and I want to play the best I can, whether we win or not.