What’s the Score? 

One of the first questions, when someone arrives on the scene of any game, is: “What’s the score?” Why is that? Well, The score is valuable information. It is the quickest summation of a game possible and the most basic determination of which team is having more success. If you walk up to the field and you find out your football team is losing 14-0 you may not know why (bad play, errors, great plays by the other team, etc.) but you know your team is behind and that is not good. If you arrive at that same game and find your football team up 14 – 0 you know that your team is in a good position to win the game and you feel good because after all, winning is what matters, right? Winning may be all that matters at the professional or collegiate level where coaches are compensated very well and measured on wins and losses. So for them, the score matters, winning matters.

Everyone enjoys winning more than losing. That’s not a secret. Winning is easy to deal with. Winning is fun. Winning covers up mistakes, disguises shortcomings and is the most universally accepted metric of success. We scored more points, goals or touchdowns than the other team, so we are better than them. It doesn’t get any more straightforward than that.

In contrast: no one enjoys losing. Losing is tough. Losing is not fun. Losing magnifies mistakes, errors and shortcomings and means you got outscored, your team is not as good and because of the score, everyone knows it.

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if everyone could win all the time or if we didn’t have winners and losers? It sounds nice, but by definition, if there is a winner there must be a loser. So if the score is what determines who feels good and who feels bad, then by eliminating the score then no one is a loser, right? We all understand that this couldn’t be more incorrect. Don’t fool yourself: whether there is an official score being kept or not PEOPLE KNOW THE SCORE. The truth is, speaking about youth sports specifically, the score is not the problem it is the attitudes, coaching, lack of improvement based goal setting and constant focus on the importance of the score that is at the real heart of why losing is such a difficult subject to tackle.

But it doesn’t have to be as difficult, or negative, as we oftentimes make it for the kids. Keep certain things in mind about the score and everyone involved with your team will be in a much better place, no matter what the final score is.

Winning isn’t everything and losing isn’t the end of the world.

If your sole/overwhelming focus, as a coach, player or parent is the score then, yes, it may feel like a win is everything and a loss is devastating. That should never be the case in youth sports. The score is important but focusing more on skill development, individual and team goals unrelated to the score and having FUN, will help to provide proper perspective for everyone. It is not easy to do and requires a constant sustained effort but when done correctly it improves the experience for everyone. Focusing on improvement will keep everyone motivated, learning, developing and succeeding during the inevitable ups and downs of a season. It also helps to TEACH the children how to handle both winning and losing. That experience will be significantly more valuable, and have longer-lasting effects on their development as people, than the final score of any youth game.

Winning doesn’t mean you played well and losing doesn’t mean you played poorly.

Anyone who has played sports for any amount of time knows that there are many ways a game can play out. Two ways that stand out the most are 1. Games where you did everything right and lost on the scoreboard and 2. Games where you played very poorly and still won. Many reasons can play into this: your opponent’s skill level, weather, other outside influences or just old-fashioned bad luck. A team will always take a win over a loss that is not a question but a win doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to improve on and a loss doesn’t mean you are in dire straits and need to revamp your whole approach. Keep perspective. No matter whether the team wins or loses, a truly effective coach will use that performance to teach the children how to be a better team between the lines and better people outside the lines.

Demonstrated Improvement is more important than the score.

A big step toward the team, or a player, accomplishing bigger goals, is accomplishing smaller goals along the way. Small successes keep them engaged, motivated and believing they can reach the loftier goal. If every week your team is demonstrating that they are learning and showing improvement then the success and winning will follow. The key is to keep them focused on achieving goals, that are unrelated to the final score, and analyze their performance based on those goals. To be effective, these goals have to be set, defined and focused on during your week of practice and reinforced before and during the game. Maybe your soccer team lost this week but you gave up 2 fewer goals on defense than the week before. Maybe your team only struck out three times this week and last week they struck out 8 times. They may not have won the game but you have shown the team that if they focus they can improve. You can see my article here on GOAL SETTING

You can’t make it perfect but you can make it better:

As with everything in life we can always get better, learn more and improve. Reading these articles is not going to make you an expert overnight, that’s not realistic and shouldn’t be a goal of yours. What is realistic is trying to get a little better each day, week, practice or game with handling the situations surrounding the score. This goes for parents, coaches, and athletes. If we all get 1% better every day then by the end of the season, the situation will be vastly improved. Everyone will feel more confident and prepared when the next season comes around and you face similar situations.

Did players, parents and coaches, “try their best, learn and have fun”?

Here is the final key. If everyone involved, athletes, coaches, and parents can answer yes to all three of these questions above, then that is more valuable than the score. If everyone can truly say they “tried their best”(focused), learned (demonstrated retention of knowledge) and had fun: then what else is there to youth sports? You may have won some and lost some but the scores of the games will go unremembered soon after the season ends but the lessons children learn can last them a lifetime.

The youth game should be focused on learning skills, improving the understanding of concepts and growing as a person through the valuable challenges and experiences that sports can provide. The ups and downs of a game, a sports season and a sports playing career are very much akin to the challenges of day to day life. AND just as in life there is a score being kept and the score matters. To avoid the score completely is disingenuous and I believe, does a disservice to the children because it robs them of a fantastic opportunity to learn about how to deal with winning and losing, or success and failure. In youth sports, the score is almost irrelevant the moment the game ends. You can’t change it, no one’s livelihood is dependent on the outcome and there will likely be more games to come; so why are we overly focused on the score? Hard work, setting goals, teamwork, respect, sportsmanship, focus, self-confidence, learning how to handle success and disappointment are all things we use in real life every day. So let’s do our best to make those lessons what the children remember most.

If you are a parent coach looking for some guidance on navigating the waters of a youth sports coaching I offer online coaching to answer your questions and help you create a positive experience for you and your team. For any comments or questions please email: Chris@coachchrissports.com