Scoreboards--Keep ’em turned off at the younger levels

By Fred Engh

As a recreation professional, I have plenty of opportunities to see children participate in different sports at all levels.

I remember watching baseball and softball games as a parent when my kids were young. I marveled at the skills some of the kids possessed, even those as young as 7 and 8 years old. The games were exciting—and many were well-played, too.

But then came basketball season.

That’s when my wife and I would sit in the stands and cringe watching the same age group, with the final score of games being 8-6. And that was on a good day.

Watching these kids who were fairly new to the sport, I realized that the idea of keeping score for this age level was completely unnecessary. There are so many skills to learn—dribbling, passing, and shooting—that turning the scoreboard on really serves no purpose at these beginning levels.

Now, I’m sure that some people will disagree.

Keeping score at youth-sporting events is a much-debated issue. Should the score be kept all of the time? Or at what age should those scoreboards be turned on?

My organization recently received a question from a youth-sports administrator who captured just how tricky this issue really is:

“In reviewing the National Standards for Youth Sports, it says that for ages 7-8, scores and standings should not be emphasized. Our department is exploring moving to not keeping score in our youth-basketball programs at that age range. Can I please get some feedback if that is the right move to make?”

So we shared this question with Certified Youth Sports Administrators (CYSAs) around the country. Here’s what they had to say:

Tory Miller Mocock, Facilities & Program Supervisor III for the city of Raleigh (N.C.) Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department: “I would agree with the idea that 7- and 8-year-olds should not be keeping score. At this age, many kids are just starting to learn the game, and to add a score and overly competitive aspect to that can be overwhelming for them. We aren’t hurting players by focusing on skills and the rules of the game. These kids have the rest of their lives to compete; there is something to be said about having the opportunity to learn the game without the pressure of strict competition. The [city’s parks department] believes that all participants 8 and under should have the opportunity to learn the game. These are considered instructional leagues with emphasis on participation, learning, and fun. No scores or win/loss records are kept, and there are no tournaments involved. We strive to teach fundamental skills and rules, teamwork, and sportsmanship in a fun atmosphere with the leadership of well-trained volunteers and staff.”

Rance Gaede, Athletics Supervisor, city of Tamarac (Fla.) Parks and Recreation: “The city inherited a pre-existing program from a group of volunteers. The program actually held playoffs for every age group from 6 on up. Every game counted and the scores of each game were important as to “seeding the tourney.” Since we now have control, we have eliminated standings and playoffs and will, by next spring, not keep score in the games. I’ve also coached in other leagues where scores were not kept for younger divisions. It works fine as long as parents and coaches are educated to the fact that these younger leagues are for introduction to the sport and the development of skills to make the experience fun for the child.”

Ricardo Ceja, Recreation Services Manager for the Los Angeles Parks & Recreation Department East Region: “In my experience in conducting youth-sports leagues, I suggest the following: I recommend you follow the Standard and don't sway from it. Now the Standard does not say a league cannot keep score, but recommends not placing importance/emphasis on the score. Our department does not place too much emphasis for keeping score for recreational non-competitive divisions at ages 4 to 6 and ages 7 to 8. Below are some ideas:

·         Have a quick, pre-game, 1-minute meeting to remind coaches why they are there. 

·         If you play in a gymnasium, don’t use the large scoreboards; use a small portable scoreboard. Parents and coaches will get the idea. 

·         When a team goes up by more than double digits, automatically adjust the home team to 0 and away team to 0 and just use the time clock. We do this on about 50 percent of the games, and we have not received a complaint from the coaches, parents, or players. 

·         NAYS has some large signs that can be put up to give coaches and parents a clear message. Add something relating to score in non-competitive divisions. 

·         Use parent and coach meetings to remind them about the scorekeeping policy. 

·         Use newsletters, email blasts, the city’s website, and social media to get the message across.

·         Focus on giving a sportsmanship award (a sticker or pin) to a player at each game. 

·         Create a survey and see how parents and coaches respond, and be sure to involve the park staff, parks and recreation commission, and city council. City council or county field deputies will thank you for keeping them informed on any changes to a parks and recreation policy.

Fred Engh is founder and CEO of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla. He can be reached via email at To join more than 3,000 communities by starting a NAYS chapter, visit or contact Emmy Martinez at or (800) 729-2057.