Sports without Numbers: Good or Bad for Kids?
Are you a competitor, or do you shy away from all-things-scorekept?
It's a question more complex than it sounds. Looking inside myself, I have to say, "Yes and no." When it comes to personal goals, I'm so competitive with myself that it's probably counterproductive at times. Yet when faced with the opportunity to participate in a competitive sport or activity - volleyball, poker, even Trivial Pursuit - I freeze up and pray for a way out. If you want to know why I think I'm this way, you can read more here, but that isn't the focus of this blog post.
Instead, I want to focus on what might be best for our youth who are learning about competition right now. What should it look like? How competitive should it be? I ask this because I recently read a fascinating bit of news about the Ontario Soccer Association. In an attempt to focus on skill-building rather than cutthroat competition, the association is phasing in a plan in which all leagues with players 12 and under will no longer keep score or statistics of any kind.
Yep, you read that correctly - the only kind of numbers that will receive any kind of attention in Ontario's children's soccer games will be numbers on the clock. No winners, no losers, no scores, no records, and no trophies. Just soccer, sans vuvuzelas.
The Ontario Soccer Association claims that it loses thousands of kids every year because of the current over-competitiveness of the sport. They cite overbearing parents, mean coaches, and a generally anxiety-provoking atmosphere that takes the fun out of playing soccer. It wants to turn this environment around to something focused once again on physical fitness, camaraderie, and fun.
As you can imagine, this announcement has produced strong reactions on both sides of the issue. Those against the change express dismay and disgust at the thought of playing soccer without keeping score. They claim that doing so will prevent children from learning to compete - an important skill for future challenges in life. They fear that kids will lose all motivation to work hard because everyone is rewarded, regardless of effort or skill.
On the other hand, some are delighted about this change. They ask why it took the association so long to recognize that it's not appropriate to put children under 12 in such stressful situations when they are still developing their sense of self-esteem and discovering what they like and don't like to do.
Honestly, I'm not sure how I feel about this. When I think back to my childhood and my traumatic experiences in gymnastics, I think I would have welcomed an opportunity to play a sport without working myself into a state of hysteria about the possibility of losing. On the other hand, I learned some pretty valuable lessons from that experience. It may sound funny, but I don't think I would have persevered through years and years of graduate school to earn my Ph.D. if I hadn't survived the gymnastics gauntlet of my youth.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this controversial issue. In the meantime, I'm going to make a cup of tea and play some Boggle over lunch, because I just can't resist trying to beat my own best score. Now that's the kind of competition I can handle.
Keilman, J. (2013). Without a score, every kid can win. Chicago Tribune (Kindle version).