Keeping Score

By Hailey R.

Children are taught from a young age, if you want something, you have to work for it. Or at least that is how they were taught. These days they don’t have to work or fight for anything, it’s all handed to them. One of the newest controversies is over the Ontario Soccer Association not keeping score until the youth reach a certain age. There are two sides to this story. One side is to stop keeping score, let the children have fun playing and not be worried about winning or losing. Keep them in the sport longer because it is not about which team is the best but just having fun. The other side is children need to learn failure so they can get better. Competition is natural; make children work for it if they want to win. Teach them how to cope with losing and sometimes they won’t always get what they want.

Where is the change? Why is healthy competition no longer encouraged? Can children no longer learn the skills, compete AND have fun? The games haven’t changed. The soccer games children play today are the same ones that were played 20 years ago and yet there were more active children then. So why are children so afraid and discouraged by losing now? Is it the way children are brought up to think about sports? In a study by Sagar and Lavallee (2010) the answer comes from the parents. Children are afraid of failure in sports because of three reasons, punishment from parents, parents’ controlling behaviour and parents’ high expectations.

No wonder so many kids are dropping out of sports if they aren’t successful. The dropout rates for children over 12 are huge. If they aren’t going to be professional athletes, they aren’t enough for their parents. To combat this, organizations have to change the way the game is played. If there are no winners or losers, then parents can’t be disappointed in their children. They aren’t saying cut keeping score all together. Just wait until they know how to actually play.

The Long Term Athlete Development Model emphasizes more practice in the early years as opposed to games. Learn the skill, and then learn to compete and youth will be more successful. They recommend no trophies or rankings below U12. Once again, they mention that it is the parents and coaches who are concerned about the scores while the kids are left on the bench.

So here is my question. If there were no parents sitting watching, and the coaches were properly trained in youth development, would keeping score be an issue? If children didn’t have to answer for why the other team won, would losing be a big deal?

Keilman (2013) is a long term coach who has responded to some of the concerns parents have about the Ontario Soccer Association taking away the score. One of the concerns is that it doesn’t matter anyway because the players keep score in their heads. His response to this is that yes, they will. But it isn’t the kids who are affected by the score, it is the parents. But if the score isn’t official it doesn’t matter as much.

I started this blog post thinking that not keeping score was the worst possible thing they could do to children because they wouldn’t learn how to compete or deal with failure. As I conclude, I realize that it isn’t about saving the kids from the score and the pain of losing. It’s to save them from the pressures of their own parents until they reach an age that they are making intrinsic choices to keep playing, rather than being forced and hating it until they reach an age they can quit.


Grove, J. (2013, January 15). Soccer: Skills, not trophies, lead to success. Retrieved November 6, 2014.

Keilman, J. (2013, June 26). With no score, every kid can win. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved November 6, 2014, from

O’Connor, J. (2012, May 1). When there are no winners in sports, everybody loses. National Post. Retrieved November 5, 2014, from

Sagar, S., & Lavallee, D. (2010). The developmental origins of fear of failure in adolescent athletes: Examining parental practices. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 11(3), 177–187-177–187.

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7 Responses to Keeping Score

  1. gregsteele17 says:

    Hi Hailey, interesting topic you chose. Like yourself when you started the blog, I agreed with the comment that healthy competition is a good thing and still feel that way to some extent. I believe that it is a natural thing for young children to be competitive. Children are competitive an a very young children over their toys, parents , friends etc. I do not believe it is that different when a child plays a sport and there is an innateness to want to win and compete with others. I do feel that the level of competitiveness needs to be re-evaluated and that parents need to re-examine their place in children’s sporting activities. Both coaches and parents need to teach children about coping with winning and losing and how to be a good winner and loser. Taking the game off the field, court or ice with heated emotion is not what the game is all about. Increased mandatory education may need to be put further in place to teach parent’s about the psychological effects of having too high expectations of children and hazards of controlling and punishing them for not winning. However, in saying that if parent behaviour continues the way it has been going and keeping score is the only thing the game becomes perhaps organizations will need to follow new policies like that put in place by the Ontario Soccer Association and emphasize more skill development and less competition until they reach an age where they can cope better with winning and losing and the real reasons for keeping score. Greg S

  2. Julie macfarlane says:

    Hailey Great Post,
    I did not know about this issue of keeping score with children under 12 in the Ontario soccer league until now, it is a very interesting topic. I agree that the over involvement of parents in children lives today has become a big issue in youth development. The parents that hover and get angry at their child’s “failure” sends the message that they are not good enough. Also when the child gets forced into sports like you mentioned it shows that the child’s voice is not being heard or valued. I also see how keeping score can go both ways, in that children will not learn from that experience how to cope with failures and successes. Overall I agree with your end statement that the children will keep score regardless of if it is official or not and that this new rule is more for the parents so that they see the benefits of their children having fun and being active. This way the children get to enjoy and sport that they are participating in with out the added unnecessary pressure that some parents put on them. Fun is such an important part of youth development for programs. If the child is not enjoying the activity they will not get the developmental aspects that they would if they were enjoying themselves. Parents and children need to value the fun aspect of sport and not worry so much about getting a head in life.

    Julie M

  3. kimeagher says:

    Awesome post Hailey. My opinion on whether soccer should be scored or not is similar to your original sentiment. I believe that it’s a good thing to teach children about how to win and lose with grace but this may not be the actual issue with soccer (and other) sport leagues today. I agree that parents have a huge role to play in how their children learn to behave, think, and feel and that it would probably be beneficial to train today’s parents and the parents of tomorrow to raise their children with developmental characteristics and assets in mind. Would taking away scoring be the best thing for young soccer participants or would reducing the number of official games be better. As you said, focusing on building skill and becoming competent within the sport so they can feel confident and intern enjoy the sport more, may lead to increased adherence to the sport in question.
    As with a number of issues with sport and adolescent development, some programs and organizations just need an overhaul, a make-over. Redesign the structure of children’s sports programs to foster fun, development, and healthy competition.
    High-five is an awesome standardized training organization and they are all for competition and the absence of competition in a balanced relationship to foster positive youth development in children ages 6-12 years of age.
    So, to sum up, I agree and disagree with you Hailey. There is an issue, the presence or absents of keeping score, I believe, isn’t going to solve anything. The structure and developmental aim of the programs and organizations need to change to improve the experience for our youth and hopefully their parents will buy into the ideals and aims for positive development and we can raise an amazingly developed up and coming generation.

    High Five Website for Reference:

  4. b834z says:

    Great post Hailey!
    I think that keeping score should remain in children’s sports. It is the whole reason why we play! I remember being in Timbits soccer, and it winning was a huge deal. It taught us how to work together to earn something that we wanted. it is a shame that parents are putting so much pressure on their children to do well at such a young age. It is even more of a shame that the children feel this pressure and feel as if they may even be in trouble if they do not perform. I can remember from one of my coaching experiences that a child knew they hadn’t played well and they did not want to go home with their parents because they knew they would be mad at them. In the end we know that it is not actual anger that the parents have, they are just putting so much into their children’s activities and almost living through them. If their child doesn’t do well, then it is like they have also failed. Children do not know this though and it does more damage than good in most cases I believe. I remember feeling sick to my stomach as the player said this to me. It puts coaches and leaders in an uncomfortable position as well knowing that these things go on with their players when they are at home.
    I think parent meetings should be held prior to the strat of every league, program, etc. where behavior guidelines are set up for not only participants, but parents as well. I think that the element of competition should never be taken away in sport because that is the reason people usually participate.

  5. j6kj3 says:

    Great job Hailey, I like the fact that after reading the articles your view of it has changed.

    I remember originally reading this article thinking that it was ridiculous that they took keeping score out of the soccer league. I wasn’t thinking about the development of the child in leading a physical active life. I was thinking of all the benefits that scoring created, like competition and work ethic.

    However after reading your blog I now realize that taking the score out of the game is beneficial for the youth. It does depends on the age of the children participating in the sport without keeping score whether it will be beneficial for them. If it is the beginning levels of the sport, not keeping score would be beneficial. The children are not going to realize that the score isn’t being kept; they should be experiencing a positive atmosphere focus on play and learning fundamental movements like coordination and balance. Only at the beginning levels of sport I think it would be beneficial as it allows a more positive learning experience. When the children get older, develop their skills and rules of the game I think some competition is healthy. Provided that the competition level for the youth is appropriate

  6. erikaermen says:

    What a relatable post Hailey!!
    I think that now a days there are a lot of people who are dropping out of school at an early age or right after they finish high school, and this is certainly due to the high level of pressure parents place on their children. I think that if parents would allow their children to pick the activities they want to be a part of rather than forcing their children into an activity of the parents choice. I wrote a research paper about this topic last semester and I was able to find some research that proved that parents influence play a large role in children staying and dropping out of sports.
    In a study I read it was proven that when parents allowed their children to make their own decision about sport, they (the children) tended to enjoy the sport more and played for a longer amount of time. in contrast, when parents started putting emphasis on winning and losing – which in hand pressures the child to reach a higher level in that sport. This negativity will create a negative environment and the child will spend less time playing the sport (Truman, 2007). when thinking of the negative side of this situations, the child will tend to have a lower self-concept; which includes low self-efficacy and lower self-confidence (Truman, 2007).
    I think that as much as I love sports I would like to see children make their own decisions and not necessarily follow what their parents want. I would like to see less early specialization, which will hopefully keep children in sport longer, which will allow for a healthier lifestyle as they get older.

  7. Great post Hailey! I didn’t know this existed until now. When I first started reading your post I was agreeing that keeping score was important to show kids how to cope with losing and strengthen those skills. After reading this, I agree to stop keeping score to some extent. I believe it is important for youth to cope with failure as all sports deal with competition and there will always be a team that has to lose. Taking the score away will make the youth have more fun and not worrying about what their parents are thinking because they are there to have fun and thats all. The involvement with parents in sport has increased and it pressures the youth to harder and scares them to fail. I think parents are one of the main reasons why youth are dropping out of sports today and earlier. They raise their expectations to level that is not reachable at a young age and they lose their interest in the sport. The youth are scared to fail because they know they’ll get punished. Sadly, I know someone that their parents, more so their father, gets mad after his son loses in a soccer. He doesn’t punish him physically, but just ignores him and doesn’t talk to him for a day or two, then doesn’t even bring up the game and pretends nothing happened. By taking away the score until they reach a level of play where they can basically make their own decisions is fair because they just want to have fun. Allow the youth to develop skills, within this period of time, to cope with failure and teach them that it is not the end of the world to lose, and that you can learn from your mistakes.

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