by Beau Dure - Soccer America
â€śCoach, whatâ€™s the score?â€ť asks the 7-year-old soccer player.
â€ś0-0,â€ť says the parent coach, repeating what he learned in the instructions from this club.
â€śNo, itâ€™s 5-1,â€ť says a teammate.
Kids are going to keep score, no matter what you tell them. And coaches will keep a quiet tally anyway, mostly to keep an eye on whether teams are balanced.
So the question that needs to be asked is not, â€śWhen do you start compiling those scores?â€ť Itâ€™s â€śWhen should those scores matter?â€ť
At this point in the conversation, someone will invariably scoff that the question is a sign of American ignorance. â€śAt East Wensleydale United FC, WE were battling for every point we could get at U-5!â€ť
Not if youâ€™re playing youth soccer -- OK, football -- in England today. Englandâ€™s FA recommends â€śtwo weeks of trophy events, three times a seasonâ€ť for U-8s. That moves up to four weeks at U10, then six weeks at U-12. By U-14, full league standings may be kept.
(Also a side note and reminder: Poke around in those rules and regulations, and youâ€™ll see that the cutoff for age groups is Aug. 31, even though U.S. policy-makers insisted we had to change to birth years because the rest of the world does it. See page 6 of the â€śStandard Code of Rules for Youth Football 2018-19.â€ť Thatâ€™s another conversation.)
And in case a club isnâ€™t poking through all the rules and regulations, perhaps a headline like, â€śFA REITERATES GUIDANCE NOT TO PUBLISH YOUTH LEAGUE RESULTSâ€ť will get the administratorsâ€™ attention.
Across the Channel, Belgium no longer keeps standings below age 14.
Close to home, blame Canada.
U.S. Soccer's Development Academy doesn't keep score or post results at the U-12 level, and it doesn't publish standings until U-15s.
In my area, we split the difference. When we split into â€śrecâ€ť and â€śtravelâ€ť at U-9, our rec league publishes standings, though a lot of parents never glance at them. (At least at the younger ages. Rec soccer has this odd tendency to turn into bloodsport around U-14, when a lot of the less serious families have moved on to other activities.) The travel leagues donâ€™t publish standings until U11, and coaches discourage parents from doing the back-channel communication that would let them fill out a spreadsheet.
The goal is obvious -- coaches should be focusing on development, not winning, at these early ages. Theoretically, travel soccer is where kids develop, so itâ€™s no surprise that travel leagues are less likely than rec leagues to keep track of results. A travel coach should feel free to mix things up and give a kid a shot at playing goalkeeper without worrying if she gives up a couple of goals right away.
Some parents might not see it that way. Theyâ€™re the ones whispering on the sidelines: â€śWhy does this coach leave Olivia in goal? Janey is a much better keeper. We should talk to the director of coaching. Does anyone know who that is?â€ť
Yes, a lot of parents are ignorant. But even if you have parents who have fully grasped the concept of development, the competitive instinct is difficult to restrain.
So the English model of having a few â€śtrophy eventsâ€ť each year provides a nice outlet. Maybe Olivia gets a full run at goalkeeper in a game with no trophy at stake, but then the coach gives the gloves to Janey when the games â€śmatterâ€ť -- at least, as much as any game at U-9 matters.
To some extent, U.S. clubs do the same thing. The leagues might not keep score, but the tournaments do.
But leagues should do a better job of keeping track of scores, at least in house. If a U-9 or U-10 team is winning or losing all its games by double digits, maybe itâ€™s time to revamp the schedule, even if you donâ€™t have official promotion and relegation at this age. A 15-1 game isnâ€™t good for anyoneâ€™s development, no matter how many â€ścomplete 30 passes before you shootâ€ť rules a coach puts in.
Itâ€™s not really either/or. The winning vs. development debate isnâ€™t just two sides. Itâ€™s a spectrum. The goal should be to develop playersâ€™ skills while also introducing them to meaningful competition.
Right now, a lot of U.S. youth groups are doing the right thing. Perhaps by accident. Maybe itâ€™s time to embrace it, refine it and let coaches and parents understand what theyâ€™re doing.