August 22, 2010

What happened to losing? : In the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, Neil Swidley (author of The Assist) discusses the emergence of non-scoring leagues in youth sports, the problems they attempt to solve, and whether they are successful.

posted by lil_brown_bat to general at 01:43 PM - 11 comments

No spoilers, but a warning for anyone who reads the FPP and decides to not read the article before going into a rant:

Let me save you some time: If you've come seeking affirmation for the facile argument about the so-called "wussification of American kids today," you'll probably want to stop reading now.

It's a really great article, in no small part because it picks apart several issues that are often conflated, but that are really independent and need to be considered separately. I'm looking forward to hearing what spofites have to say.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 01:46 PM on August 22, 2010

Good read, lbb. There is definitely a happy medium in between the cut-throat, win at all costs attitude that can be instilled in children subjected to intense competition and the blase, go chase butterflies and take home a trophy approach. This article and the studies it cites really seem to be on the right track to finding that medium.

posted by tahoemoj at 02:06 PM on August 22, 2010

No disrespect to the legions of dedicated adults who do right by kids as coaches and mentors, but most of the negative forces in youth activities can be traced to grown-ups.

I don't have a comment about that line. I just like it and think it is important.

The article linked a few weeks or months ago on the Ajax Amsterdam youth academy speculated that the American focus on winning kids' games hampered the skill development of individual kids. This article did not say much about the effect of no score leagues on skill development.

posted by Aardhart at 06:55 PM on August 22, 2010

Great post lbb, after reading the article I've come up with a few points.

My little league teams were undefeated from tball through coach pitch. Or so our coaches said. Not that we listened, everybody kept the score (although not always accurately). Looking back it did foster a good atmosphere and gave everyone an opportunity to enjoy the game. However, I disagree with the article when it suggests that the transition from not keeping score to keeping score can be a tough one, keeping score by ourselves and watching professional baseball always kept keeping score a part of the game.

Like tahoe said there is a good medium although it isn't always easy to find. Too much competition at an early age can turn kids off from any sport. But competition is innate in most people, I can't recall ever playing a sport where I wasn't keeping track of who was the victor.

I believe that the attitude surrounding the game is the most important. The varsity baseball coach's win win win mentality was what kept me from going out the next season. There were many times where his influence acted as a detriment to our team. The same goes for those coaches in little league who could take all the fun out of the game with their drive to win.

As the article said, when adults strive to express their love of the game as well as a fun atmosphere it makes a real difference, even when there is a winner and a loser. I ran recreation this summer for a camp comprised of kids going into 4th grade all the way to kids going into 12th grade. All the games we played had winners and losers, whether it be capture the flag or kickball, but I found that helping keep everyone involved and starting a new game right after the last one ended served to keep the kids involved and happy to be there.

posted by Ying Yang Mafia at 11:48 PM on August 22, 2010

Good article, good points. I notice everyone pointing out about what it look like the kids are feeling - doesn't anyone remember being a kid? We knew when adults were trying to coddle us. We talked amongst ourselves and knew the score and knew when a fake trophy was handed out. Adults need to let the kids play, win or lose. They know the difference

posted by bobfoot at 12:20 AM on August 23, 2010

I don't agree with the author that kids will be shocked by losing if they don't have scores in youth sports for pretty much the sand competition story he mentioned. Kids compete all the time on their own. The only thing taken out of the youth sports is that adults are not involved in the winning or losing. Kids care far too much about winning and losing, so any creative ideas we have to redirect their focus on improving their skills and having fun and learning teamwork are welcome.

posted by bperk at 09:34 AM on August 23, 2010

The article linked a few weeks or months ago on the Ajax Amsterdam youth academy speculated that the American focus on winning kids' games hampered the skill development of individual kids. This article did not say much about the effect of no score leagues on skill development.

That was immediately what I thought of.

posted by rodgerd at 05:11 PM on August 23, 2010

Great link, great piece.

This article did not say much about the effect of no score leagues on skill development.

I think it's even worth questioning the basic concept of "leagues". If leagues exist to provide a decent place to play, then fine. If they're primarily to arrange competitive matches for the benefit of the large adult coaching section on the touchlines (whether there's a league table or not) then I don't think they're valuable for younger kids.

The Ajax piece mentioned the alternative route to the Dutch emphasis on training, which is pickup play. I've probably mentioned this before, but playground football for me when growing up (7, 8, 9-y-o) was like Swidey's sandlot basketball: it started before the morning bell and ended well after the closing bell, with no fixed teams or team sizes, and kids coming in and out of the game whenever they felt like it. You kept score -- and the best kids swapped teams to even things up -- but it was all forgotten the next day. But you'd remember a ridiculous dribble, or a 1-2 off the school wall, or a shot aimed for an "accidental" ricochet off the teacher's arse.

The strictures of formal team competition, where there are so many moving parts and winning can easily come out of negativity, are set up to knock the fun and joy out of the imaginative, spur-of-the-moment competitions that kids always set between themselves. The Ajax way is to make the drills competitive; the South American way is to make the score less important than the chance to try something out.

posted by etagloh at 02:15 AM on August 24, 2010

I played soccer at primary school (so until i was about 11) and we had a school team that played matches against other school teams, but I don't remember there being a league of any description. From year to year, you maybe wanted to win a bit more against teams that beat you the previous year, but we seldom knew (or cared) what any of the other schools did against each other. Perhaps that's the middle ground: have scoring (and by extension winners and losers) in the individual games of a season, but no league. That way, as etagloh put it, each new game is just that - a clean slate.

posted by JJ at 10:07 AM on August 24, 2010

The internet, JJ and etagloh, it changes everything!

posted by billsaysthis at 11:56 AM on August 24, 2010

By golly! What's this internet contraption thy speak of? Is it the devil?

posted by BornIcon at 02:52 PM on August 24, 2010

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