Jean Côté (pictured here; twitter@jeancote46) with Matthew Vieri-
maa, Jennifer Turnnidge and Blair Evans of Queen’s University.
Professor Côté co-edited the book Conditions of Children’s Talent
Development in Sport (2013).
BY DEFINITION, sport
is an activity that involves
competition with other
individuals or teams.
studies report that the
excitement and/or challenge of competition is
one of the top reasons youths participate in
sports. Advocates of abolishing the practice of
keeping score in youth sports suggest that sports
should be about fun and skill development
instead of winning.
When young people meet with friends to
play hockey, basketball or soccer, they keep
score. Even when games have lopsided scores,
kids often modify them to keep the competition
equal between teams—keeping the game challenging and enjoyable.
We agree that when winning becomes the
central focus of youth sports, something needs
to change; however, competition is one of the
features that makes sports so attractive to youths
in the first place. The issue is not that competition and keeping score are inherently to blame
for current problems in youth sports. Rather,
problems arise when adults use competition to
satisfy their own desire to win, which overshadows the short-term enjoyment of playing a game.
Below are five recommendations that
should be considered in the design of sports
programs for children (under the age of 13) that
would help preserve the enjoyment and effort
associated with keeping score.
● Avoid using results of games, tournaments
or league standings when selecting athletes to be
members of elite teams.
● Prevent unbalanced competition by rebalancing team rosters during the season to ensure
that all kids have opportunities to win and lose.
● During games, coaches should have the
ability to trade players when the score becomes
● Avoid the long-term tracking of competition results such as win-loss records and championships.
● Adapt the structure and rules of the game
to create more scoring opportunities and
engagement from players (e.g., three-on-three
hockey, a smaller area of play).
There is no evidence that a policy of not
keeping score during games will increase participation and reduce dropout in youth sports.
However, when engineered correctly, competition and keeping score can focus players’ attention, enhance enjoyment, foster interpersonal
relationships and develop character. C
Richard Way, CEO of the Sport for Life Society (
recently co-authored Long-Term Athlete Development (Human Kinetics,
2013). Follow him @Richard_Way and Sport for Life Society @CS4L_ACSV.
FIRST OFF, KIDS are
competitive with or without scoreboards and
standings. When kids
play street hockey or
pickup basketball, they
keep score in their heads.
When they see teams that aren’t balanced, they
switch players to ensure even competition. Kids
naturally value being competitive.
Parents over-organize sports. Parents and
administrators want kids to emulate adult competition, but kids are not adults. They just need
to play. Kids don’t need scoreboards highlighting the score, or standings to remind them that
they are either winning or losing the majority of
their games. Let the big loss or win slip from
their minds so that they are able to enjoy sports
in the moment. Give them a chance to learn
and develop without lingering consequences.
If we remove scores and standings from
youth sports, it will allow coaches to focus on
skill development, physical literacy and giving
kids equal playing time in all positions. Coaches
will not be pressured to win. Therefore, they
will not pigeonhole certain kids into positions
that are most likely to result in a win. They will
not leave inexperienced or younger, smaller
kids on the bench as they play their stars in
order to run up scores or rise in the standings.
Without scores and standings, kids will not
only enjoy the experience more, but they will
develop the knowledge, skills and ability to play
the game confidently. By the time they start
keeping score at ages 12 and 13, these children
will be equipped to handle different situations
and positions, and be better prepared to suc-
ceed. They will be better athletes.
The great fear people have when they hear
about youth sports leagues removing scores
and standings is that children will not learn
how to compete, that kids will grow up expecting all situations to be even and fair, and that
they will not develop the necessary resilience to
overcome defeat or failure when they face it in
the real world. However, removing scores from
youth leagues will actually better prepare kids
to handle competition—both in sports and in
the real world. They will be intrinsically motivated rather than depend on external rewards
to do well. That is the athlete and employee that
I want. C
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