It is a question as complex as what is the meaning of life? Does God exist? What happens after we die? How did the universe start and where does it end? Is it OK to drink Pepsi if there is no Coke on the menu?
The question is: should scores be kept in children’s sport?
Some associations do keep track, others do not. Some stop adding numbers to the scoreboard if the margin starts to blow out.
There was news this week of another junior AFL league in Victoria scrapping score keeping.
The rationale, I suppose, is to protect the confidence of kids and get them to focus on participation, learning new skills, being active, and having fun.
All wonderful goals.
But goals, or baskets, or points, or tries, are ultimately what sports are about.
Sport should also reflect life skills like being a good winner or loser.
Being on the giving and receiving end of drubbings taught me a lot.
Representative soccer tours to the mainland really drummed that in, with double-digit loses not uncommon against the NSW teams.
(The age group below mine featured future Socceroos’ stars Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton to put the gulf into perspective.)
It wasn’t the best feeling but it didn’t ruin my childhood, it just made me think, “man, those kids are really, really good, they must practice heaps”.
The mercy rule should not apply in sport either.
Playing under-18 soccer, our side was mostly aged 14-15 as the older kids eligible at the club were playing in the higher grades.
On a windy and wet day at Somerset we got such a thumping that the referee lost the pea in his whistle from signalling all the goals.
At one point, confused from the latest shrill blast, I thought he’d blown for full-time and went to shake an opponent’s hand only to embarrassingly realise it was another goal and there was still 10 minutes of torture to endure.
But it taught me some life lessons: if you’re not on top of your game, you’re going to be shown up; there are always people working harder than you; there are always people better than you; life isn’t an equal opportunity game, you have to earn success.
(I wish one of them was not to give up, but I’m pretty sure that’s what most of the team did.)
We went through that season without winning a game until those older kids came back in the final match and secured three points. That was a terrific feeling, and worth the wait.
I’ve been on the flip side too, beating teams heavily. There is something disrespectful about easing up or showboating.
The only time I’ve wished scores would take a back seat was Australia’s opening game at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Germany utterly destroyed the Socceroos from the outset and how it remained only 4-0 was a mystery.
Yes, the focus on children’s sports should not be about keeping score.
It should be about participation, developing skills, learning teamwork and having fun.
Parents should respect that and not make winning the ultimate goal – there is nothing uglier than the ugly sideline parent – you can bet the kids know the tally, so why all the effort to avoid reality?
The occasional big win or loss will reveal a lot more character.
- Mark Baker is Fairfax Tasmania managing editor