The Downfall of Youth Sports – Part 2: The Effects of Not Keeping Score

Losing doesn’t make me want to quit, it makes me want to FIGHT that much HARDER.   –Bear Bryant, former football coach at University of Alabama


Continuation of the phone conversation with a leader in our city’s soccer club (see the first part of our conversation in Part 1 of this series: Overuse of Individual Skill Training here):

…”May I ask you why our club is not allowing teams to keep score in the U5-U9 age brackets?” I asked the leader.

“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.” he replied.

Boys Soccer

“I can see where you are coming from” I said,”But I have to disagree with no scoring being player-centered. Players love to keep score. When you take away scoring, the kids don’t get a chance to experience the feel of a win, and they don’t get a chance to learn how to process a loss. They don’t get to practice sportsmanship in winning and losing, and they don’t get to feel the thrill of competition. The excitement of play-offs at the end of the season has been taken away because there is no score-keeping. Instead, U5-U9 athletes play in a three-game jamboree at the end of the season where medals are awarded to every team – no winning and no losing. So, when scoring is taken away due to the behavior of adults – youth soccer becomes adult-centered, not player-centered. We need to talk to adults about their behavior instead of taking away the scoring and tournament-play from our young athletes.”

Again he replied: “We’re just going to have to agree to disagree.”

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. -Michael Jordan

In Part 1 of The Downfall of Youth Sports series, I discussed the shock I felt in my first coaches meeting as I learned that my young soccer team would be involved in individual skill development training for the first 8 weeks out of the 10-week soccer season. This wasn’t the only surprise I experienced. I also learned that the club did not allow scoring during games, and would not hold play-offs due to this practice.

As an elementary physical education teacher, one teaching tactic that was always a hit in the classroom was counting/scoring. In the volleyball unit, kindergarten students loved to see how many times they could bump a balloon up in the air without letting it fall to the ground. The students could have participated in this activity for the entire class period without getting bored, as they loved to try and beat their previous score. Second grade students loved to add up the points on their bowling cards at the end of the game to see who had the lowest score in the class. The older students loved to time themselves as they sprinted around the track in preparation for the all-school track meet. All students loved the pedometer unit where they would count their steps during activities – many of them running to get more steps than a friend by the end of recess.

During a sporting event, every player, coach, and fan knows exactly where his or her team stands by looking at the score. The score provides a base of knowledge upon which further decisions can be made in order to be successful. In other words, score-keeping allows us to know if what we’re doing is effective. In turn, scoring is a powerful motivational tool.

Zachary O. Toups, Andruid Kerne, and William Hamilton, 2009 (Texas A&M University), studied motivating play through score and found that:

Score motivates game play by rewarding behavior and providing a gauge of performance, enabling comparison and competition. Players compete individually and collaboratively to maximize score.

Team sports across the nation are taking scoring out of the game in hopes that players concentrate more on their skill development instead of concentrating on the score. Instead, players are less motivated to play as they have no measurement of their performance. In turn, competition declines significantly, and the need for collaboration decreases.

This past summer, I coached my daughter’s U7 soccer team. At the end of the season, the soccer club put on a scoreless tournament for all of the U5-U9 teams in the club. Each team played three games, and at the end of the day, every player was given a participation medal. Even though the club did not keep score, the girls on my team kept score. The girls would have won all three games as they scored more goals than the opposing teams they played. When the girls received their medals, they couldn’t understand why all the other teams were also getting medals. I explained that each player in the tournament was given a medal at the end of the tournament for participating in the tournament. Their response: “At least we still got first place!”

girls soccer

Each and every girl on the team came off the field at the end the day with a red face and a smile. I was proud of them for playing hard, playing well, playing fairly, and for having fun. They had decided on their own to use scoring as a means to reach their goal. Even though the club took away scoring, the girls intrinsically knew they wanted to keep score to gauge their success. When the club takes scoring away from our youth, they’re taking away something that makes each and every game meaningful – in many different ways.

Participating in team sports encompasses a lot – game tactics, individual skills, sportsmanship, collaboration, etc., but players work together to achieve one goal. To score the most goals in a game. It’s not truly a game of soccer, a game of basketball, a game of hockey, or a game of football without keeping score. Players need to keep score, for themselves, for their team, for the love of the game.

Sports teaches you character, it teaches you to play by the rules, it teaches you to know what it feels like to win and lose-it teaches you about life. Billie Jean King, American tennis player, formerly #1 in the world




Author’s background: Erin is certified in K-12 physical education and adapted physical education with a master’s degree in physical education pedagogy. She is also a long-time soccer player and youth soccer coach who loves to share her love of the game with young athletes.

12 Replies to “The Downfall of Youth Sports – Part 2: The Effects of Not Keeping Score”

  1. I can understand the desire not to make children feel like losers from an early age, but this does seem pointless to me. If you’re not used to winning and losing, how do you learn that it might be worth risking everything and doing something extraordinary when it looks as if all is lost?

    1. Exactly! And, as coaches, it is our duty to teach our young players how to process wins and losses. Teach them that it’s okay to lose, and how losing is actually beneficial (this is how we learn to play better). We also need to teach them how to win, and how to treat the opposing team after a win. Thanks so much for your thoughts, April! I thoroughly enjoy our blogging interactions. 🙂

  2. It breaks my heart that the actions of parents has any bearing at all on the decisions made about how the children participate in sport activities.Clearly, something is amiss.
    I think doing hard things, putting oneself out there to triumph over circumstances and achieve a new level of mastery, is worthwhile whether or not there’s a “win” in the end. But, you make an excellent point. Measurement–keeping score–does matter. Try baking a cake without measuring the ingredients…you’re as likely to get a soupy mess as an edible masterpiece. We need to know how much of something we have or need. How many goals equal a win? How many balloon bumps equates to my personal best? These are means to an end, not an end in itself. I think that’s what the parents who make competition into an evil miss. When it’s ONLY about measurement you might have a cake. But you don’t bake a cake to have it–you bake it so you can eat it! That’s the point. We measure scores and skills as part of producing something of value.
    As you so rightly point out, learning to win and lose with grace produce something of great value. Measurement is not bad. Rewarding a win isn’t bad. Losing isn’t bad. Like baking a cake takes careful steps, eating a cake takes restraint. Eating the whole darn thing is a guaranteed tummy ache and a lot of extra calories. Like making a losing team feel like dirt, or a winning team into heroes, too much of anything fails to satisfy.
    I’m really enjoying the insight in your series, Erin. You have a unique and powerful perspective.

    1. Angela, this comment of yours is the best! You make a perfect analogy comparing baking a cake to keeping score in a game. I feel like I should highlight your comment in my new post! 🙂 And you are absolutely right when you say “I think doing hard things, putting oneself out there to triumph over circumstances and achieve a new level of mastery, is worthwhile whether or not there’s a “win” in the end.”

      Individual performance is very important even in team play. I remember my coach speaking to individual players on my team when something was done well. He even handed out certificates at the end of the year to highlight individual strengths. It feels good to be recognized for individual strengths.

      Angela, I’m so glad you are enjoying this series. I feel like our thought-processes are on the same wave-length, and that we could have unending conversations that run deep. 🙂 Thanks for your support and friendship!

  3. It’s interesting that the girls decided on their own to keep scores themselves!

    Like your other post, I don’t understand this. I think learning the joy of winning is important, but it is even more important to teach kids resilience if they lose. Teaching children to lose gracefully and still have fun is just as important as learning the game.

    1. I’m in the same boat as you, Josy! I don’t understand the direction our club and many other youth teams are traveling. And, yes! The girls keeping score was their idea. I had nothing to do with it. Competition is innate, and I guess they did what they felt needed to be done. I was happy for them. 🙂 Thanks for taking the tie to share your thoughts, Josy. <3

  4. This is interesting Erin, and surely sports by their very nature are competitive, so how can they be competitive if there is no winning or losing, or no way to measure improvement? As a fan of a British football team who rarely wins though I’d be quite happy at times if no-one was keeping score 🙂

    1. Ha! Well, you just wait. Your team will have it’s day. And, you are correct – a game is very difficult without scoring. Hopefully the U.S. will get their act together very soon. 🙂

  5. Again, preaching to the choir! So sick of participation medals and such. And I totally agree with you. The parents need talked to. I have a post with 2 videos showing parents (within 24 hours) behaving badly. These parents need to get their act together and keep it together.

    1. Exactly! Or, the poor kids will be chased away from sport by their own parents. I’m lucky that I haven’t had any parents with bad behavior – yet. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time.

  6. drallisonbrown says: Reply

    As you know, (like you) I am an educator and have slowly watched this mentality seep into all aspects of life – sports and education, particularly. All (square) kids are pushed through the same (round) hole, no one should be recognized for their achievements (others might feel bad), and grades/trophies are handed out simply for showing up. This process erodes desire and effort, in my opinion. What’s the use in giving your all when your teammate/classmate will receive the same amount of credit for doing little to nothing? This is a brave post in light of the current state of society, where everyone’s a winner and we strive for mediocrity. Thank you!

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, Dr. Allison. I do know that you feel the same as is evidenced by your posts. Such a sad state education (including the education of sport) is in. I do hope it changes, but I don’t think it will be anytime soon. Sad for today’s children.

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