Medals for all (or none)

To avoid discouraging losers, British youth soccer (known as “football”) for seven- and eight-year-olds has banned coaches from publicizing which team has the best record in the league, reports The Telegraph. No prizes may be given. Some local associations have banned tracking results or awarding trophies for nine-, ten- and 11-year olds as well.

Scott Ager, who last season managed Priory Parkside under-9s ‘A’ team in Huntingdon, was sharply reprimanded after declaring that his team had won the league and having them photographed with a trophy by their local newspaper.

The theory is that children need time to build their skills and enjoy the game before worrying about winning and losing. However, it’s rare to see kids who don’t know which is the best team in their league.

All this has national implications.

During a visit to the Olympics in Beijing last month, (Prime Minister) Gordon Brown admitted that Labour’s decision to reduce competitive school sport had been a “tragic mistake” and promised to re-introduce it.

“We want to encourage competitive sports in schools, not the ‘medals for all’ culture we have seen in previous years,” the Prime Minister said. “It was wrong because it doesn’t work. In sport you get better by challenging yourself against other people.”

Fewer British children play on school sports teams each year. Perhaps it’s boring if nobody wins and nobody loses.

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  1. And yet, Britain had a spectacular Olympic year. Perhaps not emphasizing league standings, etc., at an early age leads to better adult athletes. Declaring some kids winners and others losers at early ages discourage the “losers” from trying sports later, in adolescence, when puberty reshuffles the deck for teens, particularly for men.

  2. I coach a boy’s 8 and 9 year old soccer team. Our league doesn’t keep score either. I’m glad because the skills needed to play soccer really are tough to master. I was told that they don’t actually expect the kids to start looking up while dribbling until this age. This is also the earliest that you can expect any passing to take place. If the kids were 11 or 12, I think the criticism would be valid. But for kids this age, they probably shouldn’t keep track.

  3. I came across this item, linked by
    I commented there.
    “And thus we breed a generation of “adequate players”. Sir Trevor Brooking will find, in years to come, that his intake of “better, more skilful players” have no concept of competition, and expect as much praise for losing as they would for winning. Let’s do the Olympics without medals, next time, hey?

    These same policies have brought us the new recruits to the working world, those who have no concept of craftsmanship and being proud of their work, those who send letters from big companies, full of spelling and grammattical errors.

    Those who think it doesn’t matter if pi is 3.1, 3.2, 3.3…….. hey, lighten up, what difference does it make.

    I have a great suggestion! Take goals out of the game altogether! And teams! just put a lot of kids on the field and give each an equal number of kicks! in no particular direction… Let’s elect presidents the same way, with no concern for past achievements…. Ohhh! sorry, I forgot… that’s the way already…”

    In fact I do have some sympathy for the view that chaining children to league tables in their early years is unnecessarily stressful. I went at age five to a tiny village school, we hadn’t enough children there to field a soccer team.
    As a result, age 11, I arrived at a big city school, and was in my first week shuffled out onto a vast sports field to play rugby football. It’s a bit similar to american football, but, fewer people, more violent, and no armour.. Most of the other kids had been playing it competitively for years, I had no idea at all what it was about. Someone chucked me the ball and then the lights went out. I lay on a muddy field with boot-stud marks over my face, every bit of my body hurting, and the noise receding, until the teacher grabbed me, pulled me upright and shouted at me for not passing the ball… “What’s passing mean, sir?” got me a smack on the back of the head. Nobody ever bothered to explain Rugby to me.
    I developed a tactic of avoiding the ball, it seemed to work. Then summer came and we played cricket. I’d be standing on a nice sunny field, and there’d be a burst of shouting, and something would hit me with great force, a leather-bound, hard, heavy ball… “Why didn’t you catch it!!!!” the teacher and my team mates would yell. “I didn’t see it”.
    Only the following year did i get an eye test, and discover that other people could actually see the ball a hundred yards away. Whereas for me, it popped into existence, coming fast, with no time to catch or dodge.
    Consequently, I was not much concerned with giving up my free time to ball-sports, and not much concerned by the muddied oafs who seemed to think the world revolved around them.
    Oh… And my father was involved with sports all his life, as a team member of three championship winning teams and then involved in organisation opf sports at a national level, until he died, aged 83.

    Thanks, Dad, for not screwing up my early years by insisting I excel in your sports.

  4. Other then the occasional, unsupported anecdote and generalized feelings on the matter, is there any reason to think this policy is a good idea?

  5. I can see not having publicized rankings for the single digit age groups. As Ms. Jacobs points out, the kids who care know the score. And the kids who don’t care, don’t know.

    For older kids (10+), there are two parallel leagues, one which just has games and doesn’t track, and another that does. I think it’s wonderful, it lets the kids and parents self segregate. Some kids just want to play soccer, and some want to compete. I wouldn’t like to deny either group.

  6. Is there any reason, or evidence, to think that league tables, awards, rankings, etc., for second and third graders are a healthy development?

    I can see a certain type of overly invested sports parent making the argument, but for those who are not living through their children, is there any reason to give young children’s play the trappings of adult, professional, sport?

    I’m not arguing against competition, but at very young ages it may discourage later participation. I also, in our area, see too many affluent families loading up their children with lessons, expensive sports camps, and such, at very young ages.

  7. Richard Nieporent says:

    The purpose of playing sports or for that matter any game is to try to win. You go to practice to improve your skills. You play a game to see how well you can do. No it is not necessary to keep score in the 5 and 6 year-old leagues when the children don’t really have the skills to play the sport. However, when the kids get older that is not the case. Having coached soccer for 8 to 11 year old boys, I can assure you that they keep track of the score and they want to win. However, for those who are worried about their self-esteem, once the game was over they quickly got over losing. It did not scar them for life. The league I coached in had B teams, A teams and travel teams. Thus children of all skill levels were able to compete.

    Why do we have people arguing against human nature? Boys are naturally competitive especially when it comes to sports and since we don’t want to “discriminate” against girls we also push competition on them. If you are so concerned about competition then remove it from the girls leagues, but don’t remove it from the boys leagues. We have already made schools “anti-boy”, now you want to make sports that way also?

    I grew up in NY City and we didn’t take part in organized sports. However, we formed our own teams and kept track of the scores when we played. On the basketball court where there were more players than basketball courts, the team that won stayed on the court and the losing team was replaced. Yes, we managed to survive that terrible blow to our ego when we lost and had to wait our turn to play again.

  8. Learning to persevere in the face of criticism is more important than winning at a youth sports event. That’s a real life emotional skill. A trophy is just a piece of junk that takes up room in your house. Plus if you start thinking of yourself as a “winner”, you may be afraid to push yourself to the next level because you’re more afraid of failure. So who is the real winner? If you believe Carol Dweck’s book, it’s the people with the growth mindset. Results are a natural part of life, lets just get on with it.

  9. We play games to see who WINS. Kids will practice skills because they want to win, not just because.

    Perhaps rather than taking away the possibility of winning and losing, we should be teaching our kids to have healthy attitudes toward competition, how to gracefully win, and how to gracefully lose. Because take it from this elementary school teacher, our children are sadly lacking in good sportsmanship, not just in athletics, but in life, these days. They think they should be rewarded all the time, whether they’ve earned it or not. And seriously, does life work that way?

  10. The wonderful irony of this debatelet is that while us hairless apes quite naturally order ourselves hierarchically we now have a rationale that allows a person to put themselves high up on the hierarchy by pretending that they’re above such base considerations as trying to climb the hierarchy.

  11. I think there’s some confusion here. The cited article wasn’t about keeping score in a game, but about keeping track of a season and publicizing the results. Honestly, I agree with the league and think it’s fine to introduce competition gradually. E.g., don’t score games at 6 and under. Score games but not seasons at under 11. Full competition at 11 and above. I think it’s quite possible to see something as a good thing yet not appropriate for all ages, or appropriate in different amounts.

  12. How do you square the “full competition at 11 and above” philosophy with the fact that some kids (all 4 of mine) were in high school at 13? Had they not had years of elite sport experience, none of my team-sport players would have had much chance of making their JV team, let alone playing, let alone eventually playing varsity.

    The gap between elite players and others encompasses not only skills and tactics, but overall fitness. There simply is not enough time in a school-season framework to acquire these things. All a school coach can do is promote teamwork and the good/honest ones will admit it. The success of the team is heavily correlated with the number of experienced elite players on it. In individual sports, it is also common for competition to be such that non-elite players don’t make the team, let alone regional playoffs and the state tournament.

    Should the kids who are eager to become seriously involved in sports be denied the opportunity, just because all are not that interested?
    People don’t seem to have a problem with the high school music director expecting those kids wanting to be part of the marching band (or jazz band, orchestra etc) to be able to play an instrument well. Why should sports be any different?

  13. “…British youth soccer (known as “football”)”

    American “football” is a latecomer, and therefore should be called something else – perhaps “Commercialball”?

    “…those who send letters from big companies, full of spelling and grammattical errors.”

    Yea, even in these hallowed pages thou canst find passionate progressive letters from master teachers, replete with murdered idioms and butchered spelling. ‘Tis unseemly to be concerned about such – after all, if the students cannot read, why this kerfuffle about spelling and grammar?

    They met Wren & Martin in a dark alley, and W&M did not emerge from it.

  14. For those unaware of the way soccer works in rest of the world, the best of the 13-14 year olds are drafted by professional clubs (like Arsenal and Manchester United in England, Ajax in the Netherlands etc). The clubs not only provide soccer training, but also regular schooling. For the kids with that kind of talent and dedication, access to playing with and against the best really matters. Without a multi-level system from early years (and I’m not including preschool), the chance to develop high-level skills by age 13 or so is unlikely.

    In this country, look at the Bollitieri (?sp) Tennis Academy, which does the same thing. Of course, nowdays most of those kids (like Maria Sharapova) aren’t Americans – I’ve read comments from those coaches that American kids aren’t willing to work that hard because it would interfere with their social lives, but that’s another issue.

  15. “American “football” is a latecomer, and therefore should be called something else – perhaps “Commercialball”?”

    In Brazil we call it “American Football”.

  16. Gridiron football sounds reasonable enough, alongside association football (soccer) and rugby football, and other variations.

  17. Soccer is a 3rd-rate sport that seems to mirror the chaos of disorderly societies. Isn’t the object not to win but to run around in a large grassy field trying to kick a ball out of bounds? I guess I had it wrong, but I’ve never been able to stay awake long enough to see what happens after the running and kicking begins.