Why Are People So Infuriated By ‘No Score Sports’ For Young Kids?

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I realize that it started years ago, but I’m relatively new to this whole “No Score Sports” debate. Sorry that I’m late to the party. My daughter doesn’t even participate in organized competitive sports yet, so I have no idea if our local leagues keep the scoreboards blank or not. But I learned one thing, the mere mention of youth sports refusing to keep score sent my Facebook feed into a tailspin of angry, indignant parents standing up for their kid’s right to lose.

In 2001, Sports Illustrated published a now infamous study showing that 70% of kids quit sports by age 13 because they are no longer having fun. A major factor behind the lack of enjoyment? Supposedly parents, coaches and referees are too intense. Let me just say, any adults that refute this claim might have a hard time proving their point after you witness the vitriol they apply to the debate of “No scores.”

Recently, a close friend commented on his son’s basketball game. His six-year-old little boy just started playing. In the first game, he scored some points and got a couple rebounds, but his team lost the game. While reporting this fact to his Facebook friends, the proud papa included, “Now get this, believe it or not but they KEEP SCORE and there are winners and losers!! THE HORROR!!!! His team lost, and heres the hard part to believe, not a single kid cried or had to start any kind of therapy to deal with it!!!”

While I totally realize that he was being sarcastic, I was surprised that the laid-back dad I know cared one way or another about his 1st grader’s sports philosophy. But the “No Score” slamming didn’t end with the original poster. Plenty of commenters chimed in, “Totally unheard of…no crying or therapy because they lost…how UnAmerican of them!” More mock horror, “You are still in America right? Here’s the big question tho….how many mom and dads cried?” The comments went on and on, all decrying the awfulness that is “No Score.”

I have to admit, my initial reaction was, “Who cares? What does it hurt to remove a little of the competitive pressure for very young kids who are just learning a sport? As they get older, they’ll start to learn about sportsmanlike conduct and losing graciously. They’ll find out that life isn’t always fair and that you can’t always be the best at everything.” And yet, people really seem to be bothered by the seemingly controversial idea that a sporting event would be played without winners and losers.

For a little insight, I turned to my own husband, who isn’t particularly passionate about the topic, but definitely sympathizes with the “No Score” opponents. “First of all, it’s not the way that things were done when we were kids. And you know people aren’t huge fans of change in general. But more than that, an important part of sports is learning how to win and how to lose. Competition is good for kids. It helps them work harder and see the rewards of practice.” These are all very valid arguments. And for older children, I completely understand the need for a little more intensity in the game. After all, the stress may drive less talented players to quit early on, but it also might keep gifted players working harder to hone their craft from a young age. Competitive drive can do wonders for some kids.

Personally, I feel like there’s a place in children’s athletics for both schools of thought. Some kids don’t work well with lots of scrutiny. They need the more relaxed, fun approach of “No Score” to get involved in activities they find intimidating. For others, the  competition is important and they should be able to run up the score as much as possible if they so choose.

However, I think it should be the kids who make the decision of which type of league they’re interested in. It seems like parents who sneer at all that sissy “No Score” nonsense might be the very same intense adults who are driving kids out of sports before they finish middle school. After all, it’s your child’s activity, not a chance for the parents to show that they’ve created the better offspring. Above all else, these activities are supposed to be fun for kids. If a little healthy competition makes that possible, then wish your kids the best of luck and try to keep calm on those bleachers. If your child would rather participate in low-key intramurals for the rest of their life, then wish them the best of luck and try to keep calm on the bleachers. Either way, you should be supportive and encouraging for your child. “No Score” isn’t the enemy, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only right choice.