Editorial: Scorekeeping for kids doesn’t add up

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The Ontario Soccer Association (OSA) has caused quite a stir with its recent decision to remove scores and standings from all leagues for players 12 years old and younger. The OSA says removing the scores and standings will allow coaches to focus on developing players instead of worrying about results.

When you take the pressure to win out of the game, proponents of the decision argue, you also take away the need to play the biggest, fastest, strongest players all the time to ensure victory. You allow coaches the flexibility to place players in all positions on the field and encourage experimentation and creativity.

The OSA is also implementing other changes that include smaller fields and nets for younger players, as well as games with smaller teams to ensure more time with the ball for all players.

This decision hasn’t been met with complete agreement, to say the least. To some parents and sports advocates, including famed/notorious sportscaster Don Cherry, you can’t have sport without the competition that comes from scores and results. And that’s a fair point. But the OSA isn’t removing scores altogether — it’s only removing scores until kids have had ample opportunity for development. By the time scores and standings are introduced, kids will be developmentally prepared and mentally mature enough to handle that pressure. There’s no reason to impose the adult game on young children.

That said, removing the scoreboard is really only treating the symptom. Score, like age, is just a number. Can a dispassionate record of digits on a scoreboard damage young athletes irrevocably? Probably not. It’s the behaviour of others that amps up the stress on a young competitor. The feeling of letting down the team and, in many cases, being ridiculed by so-called teammates, has been a powerful force on many of us. It’s up to us now, as elders, to educate and support kids in understanding that childhood is not merely a brutal meritocracy.

What’s worse than other kids, however, are coaches and parents who focus on that scoreboard over all else. Adults who scream vague but vitriolic directives at eight-year-olds, like, “Get your head in the game, you idiot!” are the ones who should be banned. A teacher who verbally abused pupils daily would not last long in most schools; why should coaches or parents be exempt from the same behavioural standards? Sports associations everywhere should put their energies into tighter regulations and disciplinary measures for abusive adults rather than simply banning the benign scoreboard. Scoreless soccer is a first step, not a final solution.

In the end, it’s not the kids who are complaining. Most kids are competitive by nature — they’ll know who potted goals and what the final result is, scoreboard or not. With these new rules, they won’t be benched because they’re not big enough, nor will they have to fear the wrath of a tyrannical coach if they make a mistake. And that’s progress, if you ask us.

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