Sizing Up Scoring

If you poll recreation professionals on the Top 10 issues they face in youth-sports programming, everything from parent behavior to coaches’ background checks make that list.

And near the top of that list is another headache-inducer: keeping score at games.

That’s right--the age at which the score should be kept in youth sports is a hotly debated topic in the industry.

I recently received the following letter on this subject from Penny Hernandez, program coordinator for the city of Vacaville Community Services Department in California:

I would like to ask your opinion on scorekeeping. We have a total city population of about 100,000 people, yet we are still a small hometown. I offer a recreation winter basketball league for grades one through six. Over the past few years, parents and coaches have gotten out of control. Kids are crying as they lose a game in overtime and, of course, the blame always is directed at the officials or the scorekeepers. This year we made a departmental decision not to keep score. Boy, were we ever attacked by parents and coaches. We still want to try this out, and see what the outcome could be. What are your thoughts on keeping score in this age group in a recreation league? We play a 10-game season. We don't keep stats, we don’t have first place or playoffs, and there are no all-stars or all-star teams. After the season ends, it ends.

Disturbing Duplication

The scenario described above takes place in youth programs all over the country.

So here’s the deal: When recreation departments first offered sports programming for kids many decades ago, it was based on giving them a positive outlet for their leisure time.

Kids showed up, played, and had fun.

Then, with the advent of sports on television, parents began drawing comparisons with what they saw on the screen to their own kids. All of a sudden, they wanted scoreboards, standings, championships and all-star teams. Whatever was done at the professional level needed to be duplicated in T-ball programs and youth-football leagues.

All this created the “that’s my kid out there” attitude, and with it, all of the emotional outbursts that now accompany many of our youth athletic events.

Unfortunately, an inordinate number of people still don’t realize what youth sports are all about.

Now, to the tricky part of Penny’s question.

AYSO Gets It--Do You?

It is safe to assume that the majority of parents think a rercreation-department director is destroying the very fabric of this country anytime a youth game is played where the score isn’t kept. But, until I saw an American Youth Soccer Organization game between 10-year-olds where no score was kept, I wouldn’t have thought a director could get away with it.

AYSO does get it, and provides a model for all youth-league sports in this country, and anywhere else for that matter.

It does work.

I was surprised that here in my South Florida community there are tons of parents signing their kids up and attending games in which the scoreboards aren’t turned on.

And you know what?

There is no yelling, belittling or embarrassing behavior typical of so many overly organized youth-sports programs.

Stand Strong

So my advice to Penny, and to all the other recreation professionals who also deal with this same issue, is this: Stand strong and tell your superiors that your community should be one that puts kids first, and that kids under the age of 9 are playing for the sake of playing, learning, and having fun.

If parents want to put their kids in a pressure-packed youth-sports program, then let them find one outside your department. After all, the people in your city who pay tax dollars to provide your facilities are counting on you and the entire department to look out for the best interest of all the kids.

The National Standards for Youth Sports, which is the voice of recreation professionals nationwide on what is best for children in sports, states that scores and standings should not be emphasized for ages 8 and under; and that for ages 9 and 10, the score can be kept but standings should be de-emphasized.

What do you do in your programs? Are the scoreboards turned on for all your games? Do you have policies in place outlining at what age scores are kept? What about your parents--how do you handle those who insist that scores should be kept?

Clearly, when it comes to youth games and scores, there are many questions--and some challenging answers.

Drop me an e-mail on how you handle the issue of scorekeeping in your program--I’d love to hear what works for you and your young athletes.

Fred Engh is founder and CEO of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla., which has been advocating positive and safe sports for children since 1981. He is also the author of Why Johnny Hates Sports, which is available on He can be reached via e-mail at