When was the last time you and your friends grabbed a basketball and played “just for fun” on the neighborhood courts? Or going to the park to kick around the soccer ball with your family and friends? Nowadays, many people who play sports are not just doing so for the fun of the game, rather when we do play sports, we are always keeping score. The competitive nature of North American sports may be putting extra stress on these young athletes and taking away the fun associated with playing sports. However, there are advantages to keeping score and embracing that competitive nature.
This topic is a long-time debate that arose when Ontario soccer communicated that they will not be keeping score or have league standings for youth soccer (under 12 years of age) matches. This philosophy of not keeping score for youth sports spread into a number of different sport organizations as they saw benefits for just allowing the children to focus on playing the sport, rather than the outcome of the game.
The reason for this push of “removing the scoreboards” is because of the over-emphasis coaches, parents and others put on the young athlete to WIN, rather than having FUN; which may lead young athletes to stop playing the desired sport. When young athletes, between the ages of 6-11 were asked why they participate in sports, their answer was simple, “Because it’s fun! I enjoy playing the sport.” Bottom line is that children play sports because these activities bring them enjoyment. Why should the reason for playing sports be anything else?
The Long-Term Athlete Development Model emphasizes that children from the ages of 6-9 (Fundamentals stage) should be focusing on fun-based activities, with structured competition involved. The next age group includes athletes from 8-12 years (Learn to Train stage) should be focusing on about 70% practice and 30% competition-specific training. The Long-Term Athlete Development Model suggests that children in this age group must focus on learning the skills and concepts of the game before participating in any competitions. However, that does not mean remove the score-keeping aspect, as this model still suggests that competition is necessary at every level. Ensure that coaches are focusing on the skills involved with the game and that the young athletes are having fun.
In my opinion, keeping score is not just there for the young athletes; however, I would even say, it plays more of a role with those watching and coaching. While keeping score and focusing on the expectation of winning, coaches are more likely to engage in strategic tactics to win the game, involving benching the “weaker” players in clutch moments; therefore, putting more stress on the young athletes. There should be less emphasis on who’s winning and losing during the game and more focus on the skills developed.
According to a study, children are afraid of failure in sport because of the parent’s high expectations for their children and the punishment they may receive when they don’t play to the parents’ standards. With that said, if the young athletes were just playing basketball by themselves in the gym with no coaches or parents spectating or informing them on what to do, would keeping score still be an issue? That is the question to answer…
I think that it is all a balancing act. How do we teach children to always try their best on the court while trying to win games; but, also teaching them that even though they may perform their best, sometimes they might lose. Winning and/or keeping score is not a negative aspect in organized sports and I feel that it should be a part of competition. This teaches children how to win with respect and lose with dignity. Besides, I think that even when the LED screen is not on, children of all ages are still keeping score in their head, whether we like it or not.
I think that the main goal of playing sports at a young age is to develop a skill set, improve on those skills, and prepare for competition. Furthermore, in order to measure the skills of the individual and/or team, I think competition is needed to evaluate those skills performed in the sport. In my opinion, keeping score, especially as children get older, is an important aspect when playing sports. Competition is natural for human beings and children need to be taught that if they work hard, good things will come out of it; however, also coping with failure, learning how to overcome it, and knowing that not everything always occurs as expected.
What do you think on this debate of keeping score for young children? Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts and opinions below.
Chery Bennett is the Domestic Development Intern at Canada Basketball. She is currently pursuing her Graduate Certificate in Sport Business Management at Humber College, and has a passion for basketball and a former athlete within the sport.