Sometimes the evenhandedness of today’s kids sports competition leaves little room for actual, well, competition. Trophies-for-all and ribbons-just-for-participation are commonplace among kids’ sports in the United States these days.
But such a desire to spare the little athletes’ feelings extends to a new level in England where one youth soccer league has imposed a rule designed to avoid the humiliation not only of losing, but losing big.
The Telford Junior League lists only scores of 1-0, or 0-1 or draws in the 20 soccer divisions for age 16 and younger. All scoring will be eliminated next season for ages 11 and younger, according to the Daily Mail newspaper.
“If someone else wins, the children do not need to be embarrassed,” League Assistant Secretary Stephen Groome told the newspaper.
ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser thinks these rules create a world that is excessively overprotective and unrealistic.
“It’s idiotic,” Kornheiser says. “How does that prepare you not just for life down the road, but how does that prepare you for sports down the road?”
Dan Gould, director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University in Lansing, thinks the British policy has some merit.
“Rankings and publications of youth sports results can take on a life of their own and this could help put it in perspective,” Gould said.
But while Gould thinks the British policy could be effective with younger children, as kids get older, it would be impossible to enforce.
“By 8 or 10 years old, they can distinguish effort from ability. We probably focus too much on competition at too early an age and not enough on long-term training and intrinsic reasons for playing sports. … When they get to be 11 on up, they know if they got killed or didn’t, so don’t go fooling yourself that people don’t know the score.”
One youth soccer coach and sports blogger cheered the Telford policy and would support it coming across the pond to the United States. Dan Levy, lead national writer for the Bleacherreport.com , said there is an overemphasis on scoring in U.S. youth soccer.
“I coach 4 year olds and they’re stealing the ball from each other in order to score,” Levy said. “The thing about soccer is there can be 1,000 touches [of the ball] in a game and only one is a score. But they’re all important. The kids need to learn that.”
Trying to deprogram kids’ emphasis on scoring above all is difficult, Levy said. “I like the idea of a win or a loss; it’s like a pass-fail type of grade. I think it’s unfair for kids to run up the score.”
But ESPN’S Kornheiser has a different solution for how to deal with a humiliating loss.
“If you don’t like losing,” he said, ”score a goal next time.”