Soccer leagues in Ontario will have to skip keeping score and toss away league standings as of 2014, for all players under the age of 12. Some soccer associations have already adopted the new procedures, which are intended to put the game’s focus on development of players instead of championships.
Before anyone jumps to the wrong conclusion, this decision is not about protecting Precious Snowflakes from the pain and humiliation of losing an under-7 soccer match. The idea – which is worth supporting – is to make the sport as much fun as possible and keep kids playing for life.
Players under 12 in Ontario will soon start playing on smaller fields with fewer players, all part of the plan to get each child more touches of the ball.
If you think about the countries that produce the best footballers – Brazil, Argentina, Ghana – kids play for fun, not in leagues. And the key is to spend as much time with a ball on your foot, not to stand around waiting for a turn at a kick.
Canadian kids used to approach hockey as a free-form sport. It was played outdoors from dawn to dusk with a puck or lump of snow. The lucky kids had lights. We played keep-away and often in groups of many ages that forced the youngest kids to try their hardest for a chance at possession of the puck for more than the briefest moment.
Discovery and skills grown though simple play stay with you for life and winning a game doesn’t provide a guarantee that any player got any better while playing the game.
If the new process means more players play the game of soccer for longer, it makes it more likely the phenoms will be discovered, which is better for everyone as a whole: kids, parents and every soccer fan.
And if the “fun first” theory is successful, might hockey throw away the scoresheet and follow suit? If so, maybe our national winter sport would draw more children, keen to get better every week and every year.
Without an emphasis on winning, we may see some coaches depart soccer. Those that leave are likely the ones who see their team’s results as a reflection of themselves. They will be replaced by coaches who want to teach skills while making every practice and every game fun for the kids. That will mean greater retention and – no matter how you measure it – success in the long term.
Kids will adapt faster than parents (they always do) and after six or eight years, no child will remember the system working any other way.