I was involved in a conversation recently regarding a youth athletic program that employed the philosophy of NOT keeping score in basketball games. I have heard of this practice several times before in different sports, and I’m not sure where I stand. However, I think I lean more toward dismissing the practice as flawed.
Growing up, I was athletic…as were most kids during that time in history. Video games were years away, and the world was a much safer place, so our youthful years were filled with exercise, games, and sports of all kinds. When school was in session, we stopped at home just long enough to drop our books and change our shoes. Then it was off to the baseball field, basketball court, or the closest football game. In the summer, it was non-stop sports, from the time we got up until the street lights came on. We kept score in all of these games, although admittedly we didn’t really care too much. Still, we knew who won, because the next day, we would play it over again, and the loser one day would try that much harder to win the next day.
Man by nature is a competitive animal. During our hunter/gatherer days, we competed for food, a suitable mate, and a desirable cave (those last two may be reversed – for some of us anyway). In reality, we still do compete for these – and many other things in our daily lives. Sometimes we succeed (win) and sometimes we don’t (lose), but I think there’s a healthy side to this delineation. When we win, we learn that hard work and sacrifice lead to success. In the realization of a goal comes the understanding that the euphoria of achievement trumps the sting of failure. Winning isn’t everything, but it is the ultimate point of any competitive contest. Without competition, you don’t have a game. Losing exposes us to the realities of life. We will not always get what we desire, because in fact, that is an unrealistic expectation
Here’s a radical thought. Maybe by taking the win or lose aspect away from sports, we are setting kids up with an unrealistic set of values. By having them play games where the outcome is irrelevant, we are saying that regardless of the outcome of the contest, everyone wins. I know that doesn’t work in war or business. The one that doesn’t win definitely loses. If your company loses a large account, jobs may be cut, and pressure is ramped up to replace the revenue. That’s real life. Your boss won’t shake the competitors hand and say “Nice job Carl…glad you got the account instead of me.” That’s not how it life really works.
To summarize…if kids want to play sports, make it count. It will prepare them for life, and get them some exercise in the process. They will learn to respect superior talent, and deal with disappointment and adversity. They may hopefully learn to win with class and lose with dignity, and come to the realization that life isn’t always fair. I don’t have a degree in psychology, but I have extensive experience as a coach. I’ve been through winning and losing with scores of kids, and I think that their parents had more of an issue with losing than the kids did. Of course, it helps if you teach kids from the very beginning that they won’t win every game, and that lessons from your losses will lead to wins later on. That was my hope when I coached. I wanted kids to take something away from the game that was more important than the game itself. I still talk to some of these kids (now in their 20’s and 30’s), and I think I was successful.