Wolf: Keeping score is part of life

Fun is always paramount in youth sports - but winning and losing provide valuable lessons

Headline this week: ‘Kids hockey should be about fun, not scores: minor hockey groups

Views: Exactly what’s so wrong with keeping score?

From the files of our never-ending quest to bubble-wrap our children, protecting them from all that is negative and scary, comes the latest tale of trying to make sure no one ever feels bad about anything.

Seems a minor hockey squad (eight-year-olds) in Ontario managed to eke out a 41-0 win over a rival team in recent action. Interestingly, though officials involved said there weren’t a barrage of complaints, the news of such horror quickly spawned the usual array of examples of groups working to ensure losing big isn’t a thing.

Perhaps I’m a tad curmudgeonly here, because the notion of fun being paramount in any sport remains sacred, especially for the kids. But on many levels, sports also offer a remarkable chance for kids to learn about life.

Part of life is learning to deal with failure — or defeat.

We seem determined to forget that (and not just in sport) a lot more these days.

This incident reminds me of a news story a few years ago about a children’s soccer league (up to age 18) that instituted a rule that said any team that got ahead by more than five goals would lose by default.

I say again what I said then… what? (I could include a ‘TF’ in there as well)

If delicate little Billy’s team is losing 6-1 and an unsportsmanlike cad on the other team happens to score one more, they lose.

C’mon.

When I was a sports-mad lad, I hated to lose. My Little League baseball team went 59-0-1 in three years and decades later, I’m still bitter about the tie. Even playing my sister at tiddlywinks was high-stakes competition.

In any sport, I was always taught to play as hard as you could, all the time. If the result was too overwhelming for the other team, too bad.

If you did your best and still lost, that wasn’t the end of the world either. I remember once in school, a touring British rugby side came for an exhibition and beat us by about 386 points.

Did we shrivel and cry and feel bad about ourselves? No. It made us realize just how much work had to be done to get better.

Our coach reminded us there was no shame in losing, to hold our heads up and keep working and maybe one day we’d be that good (no chance, but the sentiment was correct).

I played on soccer teams that won 32-0. Hockey teams that lost 14-1. Powerful teams winning tournaments was seen as a positive, not ‘oh, no, is there some way to divide up the teams so everyone’s equal?’

Now, I get that many arguments that begin with ‘well, that was the way they did it when I was a kid, and I turned out OK’ can ring hollow. We must evolve. But it seems more and more that we must coddle our little ones and not ever let them lose a game or fail a test or deal with hardship of any sort. In turn, we can reasonably expect a host of youngsters who believe the world owes them a living.

Life isn’t always fair. There are winners and there are losers. Learning to deal with those situations at a young age isn’t going to harm anyone. And even if you tell them you’re not keeping score, many of them will be keeping it in their heads anyway.

I still coach kids baseball. My approach will always be it’s all about fun and learning how to play the game. Get out there and get after it and we’ll worry about the result later. But if it reached a point at a ‘keep score’ level where it was a tight game in the last inning, then everyone might be told “we need two runs” or “we can’t give up more than one” so they can get a taste of how to react in a more competitive situation.

Get excited when you win, try to figure out what you can do better if you lose. Little kids whose team loses a blowout game won’t be permanently scarred, they’ll still just want to go to Dairy Queen.

Trying to teach them it’s not OK to excel, or that changes will always be made to protect them from big losses, just might not always be the best course of action.

VIFD editor Philip Wolf can be reached at philip.wolf@blackpress.ca or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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