By Fred Engh
If you took a random poll of 100 kids playing T-ball and asked them which was more important—having a post-game slice of pizza or winning the game—I bet that at least 95 percent would choose pizza.
And 100 percent of them would have no interest in the standings. But parents certainly care!
There’s a time and place to turn the scoreboard on and post standings for all to see, but it certainly isn’t at the T-ball age. At this level all of the emphasis should be on developing skills, knowledge, and a love of the sport—not posting which team is three games out of first place. Anyone who suggests otherwise just doesn’t get it.
I checked in with some Certified Youth Sports Administrators (CYSAs) to see how they handle the issue of standings and when they are appropriate. Here’s what they said:
Rich Dixon, Assistant Athletics Manager for Greenville County (S.C.) Parks, Recreation, & Tourism: Children are born not knowing how to win or lose. They develop these social and psychological skills through personal experiences and their involvement in youth sports. The skills they develop in only a few years are crucial to how they handle things later in life. That is why it is important as youth-sports administrators to provide a proper and nurturing environment to learn how to win and lose. At Greenville County, we feel that the earliest age at which scores and standings should start is with the 9- to 10-year-old age group.
We feel that programs for children 8 and under should focus on friendship, fun, and learning each sport’s positive fundamentals. We implement this by not keeping scores, not keeping standings, and not offering playoffs for the 8-and-under age groups. At the 10U-and-above age groups, we keep scores, keep standings, and offer playoffs. Then, during each sport’s off-season, we offer a fun fundamentals season. For example, in the fall we play tackle football as a competitive program for ages 10U and up, and then in the spring we run a fun fundamentals flag-football league, where no scores or standings are kept.
Rance Gaede, Athletics Supervisor for the city of Tamarac (Fla.) Parks and Recreation Department: We took away the website standings. It was placing too much emphasis at every age. We track standings in-house and season-ending tournaments starting at age 9, but do not publish the results. They are only used for seeding, and surprisingly, I’ve not been asked about them for the past 2 or 3 years!
In our sports, we begin to keep score at age 9. We took over all sports (other than tackle football) in 2012. Prior to that, each sport was run by a different parent-led organization. Each sport not only had been keeping score for divisions as young as age 4, but also created websites where the scores and standings were published … all leading to season-ending tournaments for all ages.
We began to phase out the scorekeeping, standings, and tournaments for the younger age groups beginning in 2013. It was met with some resistance from parents and coaches, so we put together an educational campaign that explained our reasoning, face-to-face. We were going to conduct programming for the younger age groups that focused on an introduction to the sport and skill-building. Part of the campaign was to let parents and coaches know that a more competitive environment would be introduced as the children aged in our programs, but the focus would always be about building skills. We were very upfront in letting people know what we were trying to accomplish, and if it wasn’t what they were looking for, we would direct them to other options. For the most part, the really competitive parents were the minority, and some found other “homes.”
Fred Engh is founder of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. To join more than 3,000 communities by starting a NAYS chapter, visit www.nays.org or contact Emmy Martinez at email@example.com or (800) 729-2057.