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


How to Set Goals To Maximize the Youth Sports Experience

Playing sports is number one about having fun. That we know. One of the most important aspects of having fun is having success. In sports, most success is based on the score: if you win it was a success; if you lose it was a failure. That focus on the score and the value placed on it at the youth level (you won and you lost) is why keeping score is oftentimes viewed negatively. Keeping score is not the problem, the problem is the disproportionate amount of emphasis placed on the final score in determining the success of a player or team. Don’t be mistaken, there is nothing wrong with keeping score and/or winning and losing. And there is nothing at all wrong with wanting to win. Experiencing and learning from both winning and losing is an important part of the sports experience, even at the youth level. It is the emphasis placed on the score and the inability of the adults involved to understand how to handle the score and effectively use it as a teaching tool, that is the true core of the issue. To change the “score/winning = success” focus that plagues youth sports, we have to learn to measure success in different ways and set goals accordingly. Setting goals is an important factor in providing consistent motivation, measuring development/improvement and taking the focus off of the score, which will allow the athlete (or team) to have measurable success no matter how the final score shakes out. Here are simple ideas/guidelines to keep in mind when setting goals for your team or athlete.

Set Realistic Goals:

Any goals you set must be realistic for your athlete or team. You don’t want to be too ambitious and be faced with a situation where the athlete or team can never have any success, that isn’t any fun, doesn’t teach them anything and will only serve to demoralize the group. Also, don’t set goals that are so easy that accomplishing them requires no effort or motivation, that offers no benefit to anyone. If your child scored 10 goals in the previous soccer season and is moving up to a higher level of competition shooting for 15 goals is probably not realistic. But if your child scored 10 goals during the previous season and is in the same league, the same level of competition with a year more experience and physical development, then 15 goals might be a realistic goal. Each case is different and has many factors but if you set goals too lofty they never learn success, set them too low and they never experience having to challenge themselves. Neither is particularly helpful in terms of teaching, development or encouraging participation.

Give the child a say in what their goals should be:

Ask your child their opinion on what their goals should for a practice, game or season. You know them best and can help them to set productive, realistic goals. If your child tends to be a little more apprehensive/cautious, challenge them a little more show them that they are capable of more than they believe they are. If they lean towards wanting to do everything and setting lofty goals, you can help them realize that what they are shooting for might be a little unreasonable. Consulting the coach also offers key feedback/perspective and also makes the coach aware of the specific goals and allows the coach to help support the player during practices and games. By giving the child a say and then discussing it with them, the child will feel more empowered and energized to achieve all they can.

Discuss what it will mean to achieve the goal/Why is this goal important

Context is important. If the child doesn’t know/understand the value, or the importance, of accomplishing a particular goal, then they likely won’t be as invested in achieving it. They need to understand what accomplishing the goal will mean, in order to become committed to it. Using the 10 goal example from earlier in this article, If you said: ” I want you to score 10 goals because I want you to score 10 goals” that doesn’t mean as much as: “scoring 10 goals this season, against better competition shows you improved tremendously and your hard work and practice has paid off.” The same number of goals, against the improved competition, likely means vast improvement.

Don’t pick too many/Focus on what your team needs most:

If you have more than three goals at a time, then you have none (and even three might be too many). You can’t focus on everything so focus on what your team/athlete needs most. The great thing about goals is they can be fluid and changing as the season goes on. You may start out thinking your baseball team needs major help in catching fly balls so you focus on it and during the first game, they are perfect at fly balls but made five throwing errors. That next week of practice you can bet that you should focus on the most common throws that need to be made in a game. Once the throws are under control, you may notice they are striking out an extraordinary amount of times per game. That next week you will focus on getting the team extra swings in the cage. Focus on what the team needs and never on more than three goals at any one time.

Make them 100% self-improvement based (not competing with anyone else)

This is crucial. The goals should be 100% about self-improvement. It should never be a competition against anyone else. Here is what I mean: Setting a goal of: “scoring 10 points a game this season vs. the 8 points they scored per game last season” is a healthy goal. Setting a goal of: “Scoring more than another kid in the league”, not so healthy. Both may very well lead to the increased scoring but one puts the focus on themselves (which they can control through effort and work) and one puts the focus on someone else (which they have no control over). Always focus on self-development and the results will happen.

Build on the goals each week/game:

This is very effective in promoting the development of skills and leads to exponential improvement. If the first baseball game of the season your child’s goal is to “get on base three times” and they accomplish it but in the process, they also struck out once, great! The next week add to that goal by setting the goal of “get on base three times and no strikeouts”. If they accomplish that then next game “get on base three times, no strikeouts, and steal a base”. This challenges them to keep what they accomplished and build on it. Of course, it’s not realistic to expect them to accomplish everything each game and that’s fine. The point is to challenge them to push their limits and show them they can accomplish more than they think.

Goals should ALWAYS be in line with the team goals (Don’t put your goals before the team): 

I am a big believer in the power and experience of being a part of a team. Everyone bringing different talents and skills together to achieve a common goal. In a team situation, putting your goals above the team, to the team’s detriment, is not acceptable. Example: A child on a baseball team has a goal “to steal a base every game” and so every time the child gets on base they attempt a steal. Even if they are successful most of the time there is still a large percentage of the time that they hurt their team because they get thrown out costing their team an out and a base runner. They may get their “one stolen base a game” goal but it will cost the entire team a ton of opportunities. That doesn’t show respect for the team and won’t earn them any respect from the team either. This is where consulting the coach is a good idea to get input to as what some appropriate goals are for your child might be and how they can be in-line with the goals of the team.

Kids are never too young to learn the power and benefit of setting goals. Setting a goal, creating a plan, putting in the work and then achieving that goal is a tremendous feeling and can help them build the mindset of success. Setting a goal, creating a plan, putting in the work and falling short can help build a mindset of determination and perseverance. Experiencing successes and failures, and learning how to move on from both, are necessary, and important, in the development of children. BUT It’s not necessarily whether they succeed or fail (both are valuable experiences) it’s about the process. The process of setting a proper goal, working towards it, learning how to handle the result and moving forward. 

Thank you for reading. If you have a topic/idea you would like me to discuss or thoughts on the article please feel free to reach out to Chris@coachchrissports.com.