Keeping Score — Literally (And a Song!!!)

Hi Readers! A friend just wrote to tell me he was dismayed to learn that at his local grammar school the kids play soccer but don’t keep score. Why not? Because this way, “Everybody wins.”

Or nobody wins, of course.  If  losing a schoolyard soccer game is too traumatizing for kids, imagine what’ll happenwhen they learn we don’t all have exactly the same amount of talent. Or candy. Or patience for a namby-pambified world wherein we try to obliterate even the most minor of disappointments, lest they crush a kid, when really we should realize that that the way kids end up happier and more resilient is by learning to learn to roll with the punches, not by avoiding them all.

Which reminded me of a song I wrote. Nice thing about a blog, you get to post your own lyrics and no hardboiled editor can say, “Nix!” (Can you tell I, too, have been disappointed at times in my career?) Voila my song:


by Lenore Skenazy

Take me out to the ballgame

For cooperative fun!

Buy me some sunscreen so I won’t burn

I just hope that we all get a turn!

For it’s root, root, root for the two teams

Whoever wins it’s the same, all the same

‘Cause we Don’t! Keep! Score! anymore

At the new ball game.

P.S. If you want, feel free to come up with some titles of classic songs newly retooled for today’s childrearing trends.  Like, “Michael Row Your Boat Near Shore.” Have fun!

98 Responses

  1. I call BS. If the kids can count, they know who won, even if everyone gets a trophy.

  2. I’m not sure exactly what their motivation is, but I would make one legitimate defense of not keeping score. Youth sports long ago stopped being about the youth for a lot of parents. Perhaps not keeping score will set the tone for some of these crazy parents and remind them that it’s about kids having fun, not about yelling at the refs, threatening other parents, etc etc.

    Whether you officially keep score or not, I’m sure the kids know who won and who lost. Although if this is just at school I guess the parents aren’t around anyway.

  3. I taught school in Fiji for a summer. My students were 5 and 6. When they went out to recess they would often return to me to tell me to tell me that they were racing. “Teacher! We race.” Who won? I would ask. They would look at me very confusedly. Then they would all say. “I’m faster!” joyfully. I’m not sure if it was their age or their culture, but they had just as much fun just running to run. Of course I would never try to tell them they weren’t allowed to decide who won, but I let them enjoy their own game.

    Don’t adults play for fun sometimes too? My husband has come home many times from playing basketball with “the guys” and told me they didn’t keep score, they just played.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is it’s not a big deal or even a sign of bigger problems with competition to not keep score. If they’re not *allowed* to keep score, that’s something, but if they are in charge of their own game, who are we to change their rules?

  4. Sorry, every single kid knows who won and who lost. Even in the non-school leagues, even the parents know. They’re not doing anybody a favor with this whole “everybody wins” stuff.

  5. Forgot to add that if it’s just playing for fun, that’s fine. Even as an adult when we play pickup hockey, we don’t usually keep score. But if it’s like for gym class or something, that’s different.

  6. I think it depends on the purpose. In grad school we used to get together to play softball. When the score got too uneven, we’d shuffle the teams and proceed. We didn’t care who won, we just wanted to have a good time playing softball.

    A bunch of the same students played in the local rec league’s volleyball games. They organized that team because the one organized by a professor was too competitive, and they just wanted to play volleyball and then go out for food afterward even if they lost every game. Which they generally did. But everyone had fun, and that was the goal.

    However, these were also people who knew they were going into highly competitive job markets. It’s not like success and failure were alien concepts.

  7. Just to echo others here; My son plays hockey. They don’t keep score in mini-mite and mite hockey. Hilariously, the kids playing know all of the game stats; shots on goal, score, assists, etc,… when the game ends you tell them, “Hey, you looked great out there! You played really hard!” and my son replies, “Yeah, I got 4 assists and a goal! We won 7 to 4!”

  8. I’m going to semi-defend as well. Y kids’ sports don’t keep score either. Of course the kids keep count. That’s fine. But what it prevents is the temptation for coaches or parents to deny the weaker players the opportunity to have a good time.

    There should be competitive sports for competitive kid, and so that kids learn that there are winners and losers in life. But what’s wrong with having some that aren’t?

  9. I have to agree with KateNonymous. I think there is wayyyyy too much attention given to competitive sports for the younger kids. When I was growing up (you know, the free range days), no one played on competitive sports teams until junior high. You didn’t have competitive games until at least 4th grade. Prior to that, it was more about the skills – kicking, throwing, etc – than an organized game.

    Many kids in my son’s class have been playing on competitive soccer and baseball teams since kindergarten. My experience is that it’s more about what the parents want than the child. To see if my son were interested, I enrolled him in a 3-day holiday soccer camp and while he enjoyed it,what he enjoyed was kicking the ball around. He found the games boring! (And yes, there were winners and losers.)

    I don’t think everyone should get trophies but I also don’t think kids want or need competitive sports so early. It should be about the fun of the the game, not about who is going to become the next (insert your favorite sports star here).

  10. I think there’s a fine line between co-operative and false non-competitiveness.

    For example, in Aikido, there are no winners or losers, but there never was – its structure is based on co-operative learning and mutual improvement. That being said, most sports (and most martial arts for that matter) ARE competitive in nature. I think de-emphasising the importance of winning might not be a bad thing, but removing it from an activity which has always been competitive doesn’t make sense.

  11. Well, life is inherently competitive – humans are not inherently socialist animals like some insects – and it seems to me futile to deny that reality, or to try to shelter children from it. Schools should be preparing children to win competitions, not avoid them.

    As to those suggesting that sports “just for fun” may be just as rewarding for children and adults alike, my personal reaction is quite the opposite. I used to be quite a decent tennis player, but never great. I lost more matches than I won, I am sure. But I really hated it whenever someone – better or worse than me – would suggest that we just “knock the ball around” instead of playing a structured match with score kept and a declared winner. What was the fun in that? I would much rather lose than never have the opportunity to win.

    One of the things which distinguishes the US in a positive way from many other countries around the world – and one of the reasons for its historical success on the world stage – is a culture which embraces competition. The US is setting itself up for an even faster decline if it forgets that.

  12. My daughter had the proper reaction to not keeping score, “They say everybody won but we scored more goals.”

    Actually, I now prefer not keeping score. Everybody knows who won but it de-emphasizes winning. The coaches and parents can concentrate more on skills and team work rather than just winning.

  13. I coach soccer at the K-2 level in a league that doesn’t keep score and everyone gets a trophy. Most of the kids know how many goals have been scored by each team. I let them know that, in this league, goals are worth zero, so the score is always 0-0. They are fine with that. So they will say “we scored 4 goals and the other team scored 1 goal.” “What was the final score?” “0-0” “Who won?” Nobody. The score was 0-0.” For some reason, that makes perfect sense to the K-2 set. Also, when we get to the part where I hand out trophies to everyone, I make sure they know that these are souvenirs of them being in the league, just as they might come home from a vacation to NYC with a foam headdress from the Statue of Liberty. I use the handing-out ceremony as a training session on how to receive a trophy (Both hands empty. Shake hands with the right. Take the trophy with the left.) and assure them that if they keep practicing their soccer skills, someday they will receive the type of trophies that are only given to winners, hence they need to know the trophy-handling protocol. That makes sense to them as well, and gives them a dream to shoot for. Some of their parents seem to enjoy that approach as well.

  14. I played baseball my entire childhood (I’m only 27, so it wasn’t too, too long ago), starting with tee ball at about age 3, up through junior high (when the school district said I had to play softball instead of baseball and I quit entirely in protest). When we moved off of the tee, the league started keeping score. I’m a competitive person by nature, and losing every once in a while (or, one season, every single time) taught me how to be a good loser. And on the other side of the coin, parents and coaches emphasized not being a total shithead when we won.

  15. No score keeping for the littlest ones. That’s fine with me. But once they’re old enough to figure out who won, well you might as well go ahead and acknowlege it and let them enjoy the victory. Good chance to teach good sportsmanship to both teams, too. These are necessary life skills. If the parents are the problem, then punish the parents. Tape their mouths shut. Whatever. But let the kids win or lose and learn how to handle either one with dignity and respect for the other team.

  16. When I was in high school, our field hockey team stunk. We knew it, and it was OK. We went to every game, we played hard, and we lost. No one cried about it, no one quit because of it, it was just how it was. It would have been insulting for someone to have said that we were all “winners”. We knew we weren’t very good. We didn’t need someone blowing smoke up our butts for us to keep playing.

  17. “But I really hated it whenever someone – better or worse than me – would suggest that we just “knock the ball around” instead of playing a structured match with score kept and a declared winner. What was the fun in that? I would much rather lose than never have the opportunity to win.”

    Then definitely, you should never just knock the ball around. But not everyone is like you. Some people ARE far less competitive than others, and that’s neither good nor bad. That is, it’s good that they vary, but one is not worse than the other.

    I agree that giving everyone a trophy and calling them all “winners” is completely bogus. But as a former kid and parent of kids who tend to be small less coordinated, some of us appreciate the opportunity to run around and kick a ball without getting blamed for being the one who makes the team lose, or never get to play. Competitive kids can have the opportunity to play competitively in other arenas, but without some non-competitive arenas, the less competitive kids would never get to have any fun playing sports AT ALL. Some kids won’t be “spurred on” to be better by competition because they just aren’t good at sports, so the whole thing is just misery if it’s constantly competitive.

  18. When I was in school (many years ago) we had field days, where the whole school was divided in half. We all wore our team’s color and participated in relay races, tug of war, etc. At the end of the day, one of the teams (half of the school) was announced the winner. It was fun and harmless.

    When my kids were in elementary school they had already replaced field days with Game-A-Rama. It was a series of cooperative games that had no winners or losers. It was painful to watch as the kids currently not playing had absolutely no interest in what was going on, and the kids actually playing showed only slightly more interest because they weren’t competing for anything, not even bragging rights. One teacher actually got in trouble for keeping score.

    I’ll agree that maybe preschool kids don’t need to keep score, but please, lets start teaching the elementary kids how to be gracious winners and losers.

  19. I think it depends on the age of the kids. Really young kids (4-6) are just learning the basics of running, dribbling, shooting goals. Most of them can’t actually play soccer at all. They might keep score in their own minds, but they are also immature enough that they can get overly focused on the score to the exclusion of the other things they are supposed to be learning. Their parents can also have a learning curve about how to be parents of athletes, especially if this is their first child. It can be a useful corrective for the *parents* to be put in a situation where they have to think about, and talk with their child about, something other than the score.

    By the time kids are 7 or 8 they have more motor, cognitive, and social skills and can probably start handling and learning the lessons of friendly, fair competition. At that point, I would agree that trying to “protect” kids from what is a fact of life is counterproductive and even harmful.

    Also, some people (both children and adults) are naturally more competitive than others, regardless of age. One of the commenters above wrote that he hates just knocking a tennis ball around and would rather play a more structured game. I personally feel just the opposite. I would rather knock the tennis ball around and I sometimes find structured games to be stressful and unpleasant. I’m not particularly athletic and I was a late bloomer in school. I grew up in the era of always keeping score, even at very young ages, and sports scared me. I didn’t learn how to be a good winner or loser in that system, I learned how to get out of gym class and avoid sports–something I’ve had to work to get over as an adult, for reasons of fitness and health.

    So I think there should be room for both types of experiences in kids’ sports, to get and keep more kids involved in sports (not just the naturally competitive kids), especially with childhood obesity on the rise.

    I was pretty disappointed in this blog entry. I would have expected better from Free-Range Kids.

  20. I try not to turn the comments here into a debate, but allow me to respond quickly to pentamom.

    I certainly agree that not everyone need be competitive at sports – in fact, I am generally not at all “sporty” – and for that matter have zero interest in watching competive sports. I don’t know anyone who has viewed fewer football games, basketball games, soccer games, etc., in their lives than I have.

    BUT, I do think that it is very important the all kids be taught that being competitive/being successful IS an important concept, and is fundamentally a good thing. We don’t need or want all of our kids to excel at sports, if that is not their strength (as it was not mine) but we do need all of those kids to be excelling at SOMETHING.

    That is why the “everyone wins” approach is so potentially dangerous – if it develops into a culture in which competitiveness is viewed as a fault. Having lived much of my life in other cultures outside the US, I have seen the economic effects of cultures which not only do not embrace but in some cases actually shun competitiveness.

    In fact, I consider it perfectly healthy for non-sporty students to compete in sports – and fail. Been there and done that. Instead of being told that we are all great, we are all contributing to the team, etc., I learned that I was not going to be a star athlete, and I had better focus my energies elsewhere, where I could excel. That is a very valuable – even if sometimes painful or even humiliating – lesson.

    When I have occasion to mentor aspiring youngsters in my profession today, I am often struck by just how many of them seem to have been pursuing their dream for years without apparently having had the OPPORTUNITY to be knocked on their butts in a competitive environment and learn that they are never likely to reach the required level in their chosen field – and that they desperately need to reconsider and retrain.

  21. Priceless song!

    My daughter’s flag football team is part of a league that is among one of the only ones that keeps score.

    Thank goodness. I’d rather see some tears for kids who lose, than have children walking around with over-inflated egos.

  22. If you sign your child up for a competitive sport, you should probably prepare your child for a bit of disappointment just in case they do lose a game, but I don’t think you should shelter your child from experiencing any type of disappointment. Tell them, that you can’t win at everything, but the more you try and the harder you work, the outcome can possibly be different the next time around. Kids need to learn about how to handle disappointment sometime during their lives.

    My five year old daughter begged me to sign her up for soccer which they will start practicing for on Friday. It’s a pre-k to 1st grade league in which they DO keep score. It is required however that all kids are allowed to play an equal amount of time. I think that’s actually a fine balance for the kids in their age group. They learn how to win and lose graciously, while not being afraid that if they aren’t good enough to play that they won’t be benched. Afterall, how does one learn to play a sport if they are never given the opportunity to go out on the field and practice their skills in a real live game.

  23. Waaaay back when I had time to watch TV John Stossel did a report on competitiveness between schools. That US public schools should ‘compete’ for kids and the most desirable schools win similar to the Netherlands.

    The most memorable quote? A school principal in FL who said “Competition is un-American.”


  24. “Twinkle twinkle little stara, but don’t expect to wear a tiara.” ps: We need that vitamin D, but we need that sun-screen too.

  25. I love that song.

    My kids are 3 and they know who does what better (not because I point it out, either). Like everyone else, there are areas where each of them totally rocks, and areas where they, er, don’t. Can’t think of a better time for them to learn this than now, when it’s simply a matter of fact and doesn’t figure into self-esteem. Then later when one of their classmates puts them down for being, say, shorter than kids half their age, they can think to themselves, yeah, but I kick some butt in dance.

    They don’t really know about scores yet (I’m not much of a sports spectator myself), but it is just a matter of time.

    And I am looking forward to the day they are math-savvy enough to learn the card games I played with my siblings in the “good old days” – war, poker, pinochle, etc. Don’t think I won’t let them kick each others’ butts.

  26. Goodness, I’m cranky today— or is Free Range that’s cranky?

    In my free range childhood, I can’t tell you how many unsupervised games in the neighborhood were completely derailed by arguments over scorekeeping. (Given that some of the participants couldn’t count reliably yet, this is not unreasonable). In the end, at least half of the time we/they gave up counting score because it was too much trouble and they’d rather play the game.

    Maybe I’m the only one who remembers the sheer annoyance of being taught how to keep score and forced to do so in volleyball, basketball, tennis, etc. in PE?

  27. I’m amazed that so many commenters are supporting this no-score-keeping nonsense. As someone who played competitive sports from age 7, I can assure you that losing (even regularly) does no permanent damage to a child’s psyche. On the contrary, competition – both winning and losing – provide a fantastic incentive to learn, to practice, and to give it one’s all. I pity the children who, being denied the reward of a job well-done, are taught that sports are just about aimlessly expending energy.

    It’s possible, of course, that a child would be terribly uncoordinated or unmotivated to try to succeed at sports, but if this is the case, how much can he really enjoy it anyway? Surely there better ways for him to get exercise. Pushing an uncoordinated kid to play sports and then telling him he’s just as much of a winner as the star athlete is as dumb as pushing a tone deaf kid to play the piano insisting that his music is as beautiful as the prodigy’s. Who would do that?

    As to those of you who point out that adults, playing recreationally, don’t always keep score – I assume they don’t keep score just because they can’t be bothered, not because they can’t stand the psychological pain of losing.

  28. Sara: I’m pretty sure we agree that adults don’t keep score “because they can’t be bothered not because they can’t stand the psychological pain of losing.” Why do you assume the children aren’t doing the same thing?

    General readership: Just as en example of someone who isn’t athletic but enjoys sports, I never went home crying when my fourth grade volleyball team lost every game the entire season. In fact I enjoyed playing very much and knew that I was probably not the exception to the crummy volleyball players on my team. I bear no psychological scars. I think as free rangers we all agree on that point. However, I prefer not keeping score, and when we don’t keep score I *don’t* know who won. Gasp! Heck, even when we do keep score I don’t usually realize until the end of the game that my team stunk, or was awesome.

    Maybe one of the “better ways for him to get exercise” is *noncompetitive* sports.

  29. I agree with Melissa. As others have pointed out the kids know the score anyway.

    As for competitive games and the criticism of parents and coaches on this post, let me tell you about our hockey tournament this weekend. A team from Canada was invited and we all knew they would take the whole thing. However, parents and players from both teams could be found socializing before and after games. The Canadian team brought pins from their country for all our kids and even though they had punded us in our game, our kids stayed to cheer them on in the championship game. Everyone hears the negatives about youth sports but we have stories like this from all season. Competitive sports are not all bad.

  30. Kids always have the option of playing without keeping score outside of the competitions. We used to do that when keeping score was kind of a downer. For example, when one “contestant” was so much better that the other knew up front he’d be creamed. We’d just make up different rules to fit the situation. There are lots of times when it’s more fun to not keep score – but that’s called practice. It doesn’t mean it’s evil to keep score in an actual game.

    Those who really abhor competition needn’t join the team. I dropped out of chess because I didn’t like the “all I care about is killing you” mindset. No harm done; I had other ways to keep busy. My brother went on to win awards, and that’s great too.

    The saddest part of this is that adults don’t trust kids to figure out their own ways of dealing with the reality of competition. I’m wondering what this says about America. Is there a generation of adults who (a) can’t remember their childhoods or (b) were themselves too incompetent to cope or (c) have been brainwashed to believe they “would have been” better off if life was all sunshine and flowers? To me, (c) is scariest of all.

  31. Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall

    Humpty Dumpty was caused great injury by the Smith and Son’s Wall and Masonry company after having not been duly informed of the dangers of wall-sitting and falling from said unsafe structure built by the obviously very negligent Mister Smith and his equally liable offspring.

    All the king’s horses and all the king’s men likewise failed to protect Humpty from himself and were promptly included in the list of defendants of Humpty’s soon-to-be-class-action lawsuit.

    Also, Humpty’s personal injury lawyer bought himself another Porche.

    The End

    (Hey, it might not rhyme, but I did my best and surely that deserves an “A” for… well, my time. And now it deserves an A+ for having to justify it!)

  32. People seem to be mixing voluntary organized team sports for kids, where the kids sign up, with pick-up or PE team games.

    Is it possible that such policies are not there to protect kids who can’t handle losing, but to protect kids who have to play but aren’t any good from getting bullied and hassled by those who are competitive and don’t want the ‘losers’ on their teams?

  33. I don’t think anyone here is saying that competitive sports are all bad, or that they should be eliminated from life or from society. We’re just talking about a temporary elementary school-age learning experience for little kids. It’s a pretty big and logically questionable leap to extrapolate from that to hand-wringing over the development of a “dangerous” national culture and a “namby-pambified world”. Isn’t that the kind of overgeneralization and fear-mongering that Free-Range Kids is supposed to be against?

  34. Mind you, it could be one way for England to win this year’s World Cup…?

  35. I agree with Jenne – it seems that Lenore’s original post was about PE games, although maybe I got that wrong.

    I remember the utter humiliation of getting picked dead last for kickball week after week after week. The wonderful series that didn’t last, Freaks and Geeks, showed this scene so well, I would’ve thought they were at my school. It was humiliating and painful. Yet kickball was a regular part of PE during good weather.

    I think competition is great if you have any kind of skill at all. Not so great if you absolutely no skill and I don’t think you should be forced to compete. My son – the one who prefers to kick the ball around – loves chess. He’s not even bad at sports; he just isn’t interested in the competitive aspect of it. He’d rather check mate.

  36. Our coach does a two step process. When she is teaching – no score is kept because “We are drilling not playing”. After she teaches – then they keep scored games. The same rule applies in Soccer Club.

    My kids keep their own score on recess games. The only rule is if I have to come over there to settle something – the game is OVER. (After the 1st or 2nd time I have to come over there, It doesn’t happen again)

  37. Edit: Woops, Porsche.

    I’m with sara and am pretty surprised at the support for not keeping score, especially in traditionally competitive sports and activities. Don’t doubt for a moment that kids aren’t keeping track of that sort of thing, even if it happens in ways that parents and teachers don’t notice (who has the best / biggest / latest and greatest toy, collection, clothes, bicycle, car, etc). We all do, and not just when we’re school age.

    At least a couple people mentioned the distinction between emphasizing winning and losing as a learning experience, and over-emphasizing it to the detriment of the kid’s life experience. Forcing a kid to play a sport they don’t like and can’t play well is a failure of parenting, not a failure of competition itself.

    Besides, athletic ability occurs in a normal distribution… or in other words, there will always be someone worse than your kid (or your kid’s team) at basketball if they play enough games, and vice versa.

    Of all the solutions to the “problem” of hurting a kid by exposing them to the risk of “losing” a competitive sporting event, blaming the nature of competition itself seems like a strange response to me. Why not talk to the coach / trainer first and see what that person thinks? Why not analyze the opponents to try to find out what they’re doing right?

    Heck, I’ll just come right out and say it, even if it makes me sound old: Learning how to win with humility and lose with dignity (and a resolve to come back and do it better next time) is something kids today very much need.

  38. Jenne: I’m wondering what stops those kids you mention from doing it anyway. “It’s a good thing we’re not keeping score because I’m stomping your guts out” has an eerily familiar ring to it.

  39. Puh-lease. This is so lame and overprotective. Kids have plenty of ways and opportunities to play where scores don’t apply. Then there are sports like soccer, where it makes sense to keep score–it’s part of the game and great lessons can be learned as a result. The problem isn’t with keeping score. The problem is coddled kids who can’t handle “losing,” which is part of life. Let’s keep score, in the right context, and teach kids resilience and the idea that sometimes the effort and not the “result” is what is really valuable, win or lose.

  40. Like, dmd, I enrolled my son (then age 7) in a basketball camp to see how he liked it. He LOVED the drills that took up 3/4ths of the time each week, and did quite well. When they reorganized into games during the last half hour, he almost never got a chance to do much (because he was by far the smallest and the youngest) and the older kids were pushy and scary in the name of winning (because two games went on at once there was no formal scorekeeping but I’m pretty sure the refs did keep a count and announced a winner). He hated those games, but other kids really shone during that time.

    I think it’s just a matter of being explicit whether an activity is to build skill/recreation or to compete. Both have their merits. I do think that if a child enters something explicitly competitive, scores should be kept. People need to learn how to lose somehow.

  41. If this is PE for elementary kids, and they are being forced to participate whether they want to or not, then what’s the point of keeping score? I think it really is a matter of teaching the rules and getting the kids moving, more than a competition. If the kids keep score in their heads, that’s fine. But I remember playing PE games and I DID NOT CARE who won, because I didn’t want to be there anyway.

    I think the real issue is whether score is kept at actual games or tournaments, where kids sign up because they WANT to play. They need to learn that if they want to play sports, sometimes they will lose.

  42. Wow. I almost never disagree with this blog, but I don’t agree with this. I specifically found a t-ball team for my sons this year that doesn’t keep score. They’re very young and it’s their first season playing. In the fall, when they did soccer, that league also didn’t keep score for the youngest teams. To all the commenters who say that everyone knows who won, when you’re playing a game where the kids are just learning the rules and the coaches keep having to come on the field and redirect and give mini-lessons on what to do, trust me, the kids barely know where to run, and even the parents may get confused about who scored. As a kid, I played softball at age 5 and the fact that our team lost repeatedly greatly discouraged me from playing ever again. I was too young to get past all the negativity that was heaped on us for being “losers” and I decided never to do sports again.

    That said, I do think that older kids should keep score. As a middle school teacher, I encountered many kids who were so paralyzed by competition that it disturbed me. They needed to learn to win and lose with grace. You can’t learn that unless you keep score. I just think, like other commenters, that keeping score for 4-6 year olds can be more harmful than good.

  43. Never keep score in PE!!!! Having been humiliated nearly every day by my total inadequacy sports wise and developing all sorts of social problems as a result, I can totally agree with not keeping any sort of score in games that are enforced for all.

    This has nothing to do with losing gracefully, it is to do with being bashed up mentally and physically by those who knew I lost the game for them unless I stayed near an adult!

    viv in nz

  44. It’s hard to tell what the context is for this.

    At any rate, I don’t think it does make sense to keep score in school gym classes. Why?

    1. The emphasis in gym – rather than on teams! – is supposed to be on getting exercise, having fun, and learning healthy habits. Those children who don’t have fun unless they can WIN probably dominate the organized teams already. They won’t be harmed by a friendlier atmosphere for the kids who just aren’t that good… and who have a hard enough time having fun even in a more open environment, without scoring.

    2. Truthfully, there’s little enough time in gym class to have a game anyway. Keeping score when you can barely play for half an hour (after changing, taking attendance, doing your warm up, getting into teams, and don’t forget changing at the END of class) is pointless. It just adds one more task for the teacher… who meanwhile is trying to make sure (hopefully) that everybody is participating and that there aren’t any problems arising. If you don’t mind adults playing a game “just for fun” (a phrase which seems to imply that scoring isn’t fun… weird, isn’t it?), why do you mind kids doing it when there isn’t time for a set game anyway?

    As far as sports days go, well, it depends on what sort of non-competitive games the kids were playing. I’m not taking a stand on this issue, but I will note that I have played some noncompetitive games (we all have – try tag, at the end of it, who’s the winner or the loser?) that are pretty fun. The trouble is trying to translate a competitive game into a non-scored game. I’m not convinced it always works that well. Doesn’t mean there aren’t any fun games you can play without scoring, though, and one bad experience doesn’t mean it can NEVER work. (Maybe the school just doesn’t want to shell out cash for cheap-ass awards.)

  45. I’m rather appalled by this. One of the things free-rangers commonly rant about is the rise of childhood obesity, and what’s one of the prime causes of obesity? Lack of exercise. I, like many kids who grew up in the 70s, have traumatic memories of PE — being screamed at by the gym teacher, being verbally abused by the other kids because I dropped the ball, hating every minute of “exercise” because it became linked with humiliation and misery. It took me many, many years to unlearn what I’d been taught in school and learn that exercise can be fun and enjoyable.

    So you’ll have to excuse me that I’m thrilled that my daughter’s school doesn’t have competitive sports in elementary school and focuses on things like yoga, track, and joyful movement. I’m pretty sure that she’ll pick up on the all-so-important drive to compete in other areas of her live — perhaps ones that are less important than learning the exercise is fun and enjoyable.

  46. I think it is pretty natural for humans to be competitive and that any repression of a natural impulse is bad for our kids and bad for our culture. Just like my sons playing with guns (gasp!)…we are practically pacifist who don’t watch television in this house, but our kids turn everything into a gun/sword. I’m not going to stop it because that would be repressing a natural desire to understand power and violence. Same thing with competition. We are probably going to create power hungry, overly competitive monsters if we don’t allow them to learn how to win and loose gracefully when they are young.

  47. The kids are keeping score, so it doesn’t matter.
    Now that that’s out of the way, I have a song:

    Rain, rain, might as well stay
    doesn’t matter anyway
    Johnny’s on his XBox all day
    Rain, rain, might as well stay

  48. More and more, public schools are preparing kids less and less for the real world.

  49. I’ll be the first to tell you that competition at a young age is good for kids – it teaches you how to lose gracefully. I participated in competitive cheerleading off and on since the third grade. I learned so much about teamwork, sportsmenship from cheerleading. I also learn how to NOT be a sore loser during the first two years, because that’s all my squad did. My first year, we came in dead last of 13 squads, and not only were we expected to cheer for that tiny trophy, we also were expected to cheer for the grand champions, who received their jackets, banner, medals and five foot tall trophy right there on the mat, in front of everyone, while “We Are The Champions” blasted from the speakers. If you so much as pouted on the mat, you were a horrible person. And the oldest person on the floor was, maybe, fourteen, and the youngest was easily six or seven.

    Losing in the early years not only made me a gracious loser, but it made actually winning that much more exciting. We won all but two competitions my third year, and I don’t think we acted any different. We weren’t cocky or anything, because, hey, we could lose the next one. And we weren’t going up against one other team – try more like seven or eight, at the least. And I had no experience with competitive sports before 3rd grade. I think I cried after the first competition when we came in fourth of five (the highest we finished that season). Nine years later, I’m yelling at the top of my lungs because my team came in ninth of twelve at a national competition. That was my last competition ever. I wouldn’t get another chance to win. Sure, I was disappointed, but we had some stiff competition. The difference between first and seventh after the first day was six points and we were sixth. We dropped three places after a less than steller second day, but we came away with something after finals and that was worth it.

    Sure, in some cases, “everyone wins” is a good idea – grade school PE, really little kids (under 7 or 8), but if everyone wins, you don’t learn how to lose.

  50. Huzzah for Amber…
    I teach gym and I can do lots of athletic things…but I’m a dork at keeping score. So, I tell the kids they can do it if they want, but that I don’t really care that much about it, and I have my mind on other things (and those other things could fill a book, believe me).
    So, they do usually keep score, but because I don’t put too much importance on it, neither do they and it’s all good.
    Also, they totally argue about the score and that’s good too! I can step in and figure it out for them, but that’s depriving them of natural assertiveness training, negotiation skills and critical thinking.
    Nobody did it for us at the vacant lot when so-and-so wanted to leave with the sweatshirt that was second base, and whats-his-name got ticked off at home plate and wanted to leave with the bat. We had to figure out how to get along.
    I think the “everybody wins” is insincere and kids know it. But, I genuinely appreciate every kids contribution to the game, and that is hugely important, and different than keeping score.

  51. David — I agree, it is important for kids to learn about winning and losing, and about competition. But I do not think that an OCCASIONAL opportunity to play without humiliation and abuse from the bigger, more talented kids (or at best without total boredom and frustration because you can’t succeed to any degree whether from being kept off the field or simply from lack of ability) removes this lesson from life.

    This is my point. I am not saying all games and play should be non-competitive. I am saying there is nothing wrong with sometimes being non-competitive as such, provided it is not part of a mentality that teaches that competition is wrong, that losing is unbearable, or that “everyone’s a winner.”

  52. And no, some kids don’t just get this from pickup games in the neighborhood, though that’s great and a good solution if it’s available. I grew up a half-generation younger than all the other kids in my neighborhood because all the houses were built at the same time, and I was a “straggler” in my family. There was no one around to play physical games with, except at school. And the kids at school wouldn’t “let” me play with them on the playground, because I was no good at anything. So PE class totally became something I dreaded because of being picked on, and found no joy in because I couldn’t accomplish anything while playing. It would have been nice if things could have been arranged so that I still “got” to play SOMETIMES (not every time, in every situation) just for the fun of it, so that I would have learned some joy in sport.

    But I’m not saying this out of being bitter at personal experience — 35 years later what happened in elementary school in PE class hardly matters to me anymore. But it does make me understand why there is benefit in OCCASIONALLY letting kids play without competition, and why it’s good that there are programs that omit it. Not all programs should be like that — in fact, not all SHOULD be. But I fail to understand why some CAN’T be.

  53. Pentamom, I agree with you.

    And in this day of overschedualization, most kids probably are in a few competitive sports by school-age anyway. The sports they HAVE to do – not because they like it or it’s important to them – let it be a little easier. It’s school, not sports. (Actually, that’s a good analogy. In math class, you’re competing against yourself. Sure, you might compare your grade to your friend’s, but mostly you’re trying to make your grade better than YOUR last grade, not the best best best. Why should gym class be different? Make your game better than your last game – not better than your classmate who creams you anyway.)

  54. I agree with those who hate the meanness of competitive sports in gym class where everyone is required to be on a team and win or lose. I hated every minute of gym class all my life. In college, I was studying to be a teacher so I had to take a class in teaching gym. I learned a few good ideas that I have never seen actually used in practice. One, gym teachers should structure activities so everyone is moving most of the time; think of what % of time kids spend just standing around in kickball / baseball type sports. Two, you can teach plenty of skills around a sport without actually having a class-wide competition. I personally would rather see the teachers spend several weeks teaching the skills with everyone moving constantly, and then end the “unit” for that sport with just one or two “games.” Frankly, teachers who have the kids play games like kickball regularly are lazy. It’s a lot more work to keep everyone doing something active. But isn’t that the whole point of mandatory gym class?

    The same goes for the pee wee level of sports. The kids just want to be active and learn individual skills. Why even have teams face each other before they are ready to actually compete? But once they have the knowledge and skills to compete, they should learn about scoring. If they are afraid of the game, scoring probably isn’t the issue.

  55. I agree with Uly an SKL brings up a great point. Because so much of PE is often based on organized sports games, studies show kids don’t really get adequate physical activity in PE. Recess is when kids reach those higher levels of physical activity because on their own, kids stay active.

  56. Wow! Talk about stirring up a hornet’s nest!!

  57. we have this rule at our school.
    but nobody cares because we all keep score and we all win or lose.
    my old preschool had a saying that was “you get what you get and you don’t through a fit.

  58. If the school’s whole PE/sports curriculum is based on non-competitive activity I think that’s really bad (most especially if it’s so that “everybody wins”). If it’s just one part of a mixed bag that includes competition, or if it’s what the kids choose to do in their recess then I think it’s great.

    I do think it’s important to have competitive sports in schools, and early on too. I know lots of people have had bad experiences in gym class – but that’s down to appalling teachers, it’s not inherent to competitive team sports. Competition and whole-class, constructive engagement in a competitive sport are not mutually exclusive. Gym classes should *not* be just about getting everybody moving. Learning about winning and losing with grace, and turning whatever experience you had as a team into a springboard to better performance for everyone should be key goals of the subject.

  59. Helen, I’m just going to have to disagree with you.

    Gym class should be about two things:

    1. Yes, getting everybody moving and
    2. Teaching children how to stay healthy through life – which means teaching them how to have fun moving.

    Most people will not play competitive sports when grown. Not professionally, and not really for “fun” either. (If they do, they may do so without scoring, as some people have commented. Why don’t you score when you’re just playing soccer in your backyard with your brothers?) So why focus on that in school gym classes?

    School isn’t about socialization. If you want to teach your kid to be a good winner or a good loser, well, that’s what playing games at home is for. That’s what optional sports – where you can pick the one you enjoy instead of being forced to not only do the one you dislike, but to lose at it anyway! – are for.

    Learning about winning and losing with grace, and turning whatever experience you had as a team into a springboard to better performance for everyone should be key goals of the subject.

    Why? Why should the focus be on team sports? Why not things where you can win by improving your own performance, regardless of everybody else?

    If team sports are so important, why not emphasize building the skills it takes to win and improving those? Practice, drill, and have a few games at the end, as another commenter said, so all the students can see their skills increase and get better.

  60. I mean, really, helen, let’s say theoretically, when I was in high school, I took the various gyms that ran like this:

    1 term rollerblading
    1 term swim gym
    2 terms yoga
    1. term health (required!)
    1 term weight room
    1 term aerobics
    1 term folk dance

    This was perfectly possible at the school I attended.

    My sister’s high school gym curriculum looked like this:

    8 terms double period dance
    1 term health (required!)

    A little unbalanced, sure, but dance is something she still does today, as an adult. It’s part of her daily life.

    I can tentatively agree that deliberately trying to make competitive activities non-competitive is a bad idea. If nothing else, it’s plain silly.

    However, that does not mean I agree that competition should be the goal of schools, which seems to be what you’re saying, at least as far as gym goes.

  61. Randy – I love the last part of your post about learning to lose. Perfectly said and so true.

  62. Competitive sports are just one of many ways that young people can develop various good character traits. If my character had depended on competitive sports, I would have sold my soul to Satan long ago.

  63. Uly – I think you are reading a degree of advocacy into my post that I did not mean.

    I do think gym should be about more than getting people moving and building a basis for continued activity throughout life (both good goals, especially the latter). That seems like a very low bar for a subject that (hopefully) is taught for 12 years.

    But I’m not saying that competition should be *the* goal of gym (and definitely not the goal of school). I’m saying that competitive team sports should be a part of a well rounded gym curriculum, *along with* non-competitive and non-team activities (like dance, rollerblading, yoga, running, climbing, etc.). Which are also important and teach important skills that competitive team sports don’t.

    The reason I think competitive team sports should be a part of the curriculum is because I think they are one of the best ways (when done well) of helping kids learn about team work in a competitive environment and how to handle it well. That’s the environment most kids end up in in the work place, so I think it’s an important set of skills for schools to look to build.

    Also, learning about winning and losing gracefully in team sports means learning to appreciate your role and that of others in the outcome. In particular, I think the resilience that comes from learning to accept defeat and go forward positively when it wasn’t all down to you is really good for you – that’s not something you get in the same way from solo competitive sports.

  64. Song: Iron Maidens: Take Your Daughter to the Slaughter, which I am pretty sure has something to do with being a butcher could be turned into Take Your Daughter to the Safety Education Meeting.

  65. Alright, okay, we all win, no-one goes boo-hoo /
    alright, okay, we all win, though we scored more goals than you …

  66. We have this here for the little kids, the peewee league or whatever it is called, there is supposed to be no score.

    But all the parents keep score and after every game the kids ask the parents who won.

  67. I think the key here is the age of the kids and the amount of experience they bring to the sport. When you’re talking about little kids who are just starting to learn the sport, most of the variation in “ability” you’ll see is really just variation in physical maturity and variation in birthdays around the cutoff date. Those are sources of variation that will not be present when they get older, and it makes no sense for them to be developing concepts of being “good” or “bad” at a particular sport when they’re that young.

    In particular, we need to get away from the notion that people win because they’re winners and lose because they’re losers. This is really nothing more than a celebration of Fundamental Attribution Error, and a way of justifying gross economic inequalities.
    Research is showing, by the way, that the notion of “inborn talent” at a sport is probably a myth; what really seems to be happening is that some athletes, quite possibly for innate reasons, are able to practice much harder than others.

    I have to agree that getting ragged on for “making the team lose” at a young age isn’t good preparation for the Real World. Sure, in the workplace you’re going to get justified criticism if you aren’t pulling your weight. But if you’re not pulling your weight in the workplace, it’s almost certainly not because you haven’t hit your growth spurts yet! A cautionary tale: a friend of mine, worked as a programmer in her first job out of college (in which she was the only female programmer at the firm) and her programs worked poorly compared to everyone else’s; she was holding up her team’s performance. Right before things got really ugly, someone discovered the cause; the copy-protection code on the compiler everyone was using had some bizarre interaction with the hardware on her workstation! A new computer, and her code was suddenly up to snuff. As I like to say, sometimes what’s politically correct is also non-adverbially correct.

    I also agree with the posters who say that non-competitive activities should be those that are inherently non-competitive, not competitive activities with the competition stripped out. The latter tend to be pointless rituals.

  68. So if you don’t want to keep score, play games with your kids at home and with friends. If you put them in a league you should expect it to be run like a sport where they learn the fundamentals of how to play the game, including how to keep score. If they aren’t as “good” as other players, then you should work with them to practice more. My husband coached little league where all the kids are required to play a certain number of innings. That’s fine. But expect that the kids who aren’t as good won’t play as much. That’s how it is. We work with them during practice, but when it comes to game time those who did their “homework” so to speak, and worked on their skills, will be the ones playing more innings. I’m sick of team sports being used as a photo op for helicopter parents.

  69. Though my wife plays games for fun. I and my sons and grandson play games to win. Losing gracefully is an important thing to learn, but striving to do your best comes only with the chance of being able to win. Growing up we added competition to everything that we did. It made even the most boring activity fun.

    Let the games begin and may the best one win.

  70. “namby-pambified”–great wordsmithing!

  71. I think the problem is that the are taking the competition out of competitive leagues. I’m all for kids who just want to kick the ball around putting together games with other kids who just want to kick the ball around with no score. They don’t want competition? Great; they don’t need to have competition.

    I also think that school gym class games should be noncompetitive. If everyone is going to be REQUIRED to participate – kids who hate sports, kids who love sports, kids who are good at sports, kids who have absolutely no athletic ability whatsoever – then they shouldn’t persecute those who can’t play well. However, it shouldn’t be with the namby-pamby rationale of everyone wins so we don’t damage the psyches of all the children. It should be with the rationale that a school’s job is to teach. The focus of gym class should be to learn new skills not winning a game. Kids should be trying new sports, positions, stances, plays, etc. and not focusing on the activity that they are best at so that they can win some 4th grade gym class bragging right.

    Competitive leagues on the other hand are voluntary. If you don’t want competition, don’t join. In real life, there are winners and losers and everyone doesn’t get a chance to play and a trophy just because they show up. How are kids supposed to learn to be graceful winners and losers if they don’t actually have a chance to win or lose? How are they going to learn to bounce back from adversity if we never let them experience it? How are they going to learn that everyone is not created with equal gifts if we treat those who are great at soccer equally with those who are not? How are they going to learn to look for their own individual gifts if we tell them that they are good at everything?

  72. Pro-mandatory-competitive-sports commenters above keep saying it’s good for the kids “if it’s done right.” But how often is it done right, and what about when it’s done wrong? I think the % of time when mandatory gym classes get this right is very low. There’s no quality control when it comes to sportsmanship education in gym class.

    Sports are one part of life and I don’t have a problem with forcing kids to experience them on occasion. But I think that kids who know they aren’t into it should not be forced to do it often.

    And if we’re going to talk about real life, it would be more useful to force kids into classroom competitions. Who can finish the math facts first? Who can win the weekly spelling bee? Competitive jobs are a lot more likely to be desk jobs than physical jobs. Yet it’s commonly accepted in the USA that competition in the classroom will destroy a child’s soul. Why the double standard for sports?

  73. Very good questions, SKL, There is a first chair violin and a 100% on the spelling test, etc. All things in moderation…..

  74. There’s a first chair violin, but nobody is forcing every child to play the violin. There’s a 100%, but kids and teachers are forbidden from telling anyone who got the 100%, lest the other kids feel like idiots.

    From a free-range perspective, we ought to let kids decide whether or not team sports are a good way for them to entertain themselves and develop their finer qualities. Expose them to the sports and then give them a choice.

  75. SKL wrote: “There’s a 100%, but kids and teachers are forbidden from telling anyone who got the 100%, lest the other kids feel like idiots.”

    I see no reason why that should be the case – that is a comparatively-recent bit of political correctness (it certainly wasn’t the case when I was in school) and I believe a negative one. Fortunately, it is not universal. I was quite pleased to see that in the schools here in the Carolinas, the teachers still have no qualms about publicly congratulating the kid who got the high score on a quiz.

    Actually, maybe we are on to something here. I rather like the idea of our schools teaching competitiveness, and not only in gym class. Why not have every child learn an instrument (though hopefully not the violin…), have every child study computer programming or robot design, have every child participate in model UN or debate, and therefore give all the students an opportunity to win or lose with grace in the areas of their strengths, and the areas of their weaknesses.

  76. Andreas: There is 100% on the spelling test, but more than one person can get 100%. Also, if you improve from 65% to 85% you get that feeling of accomplishment even if you can never be THE BEST because three other kids have that spot sewn up.

    Helen: Truthfully, I don’t think gym class is equipped to teach that. I think it’s a waste of time that could be spent on what gym is supposed to be about – fitness. Teaching teamwork, teaching competition, there simply isn’t enough time in a class period to do this and also manage other things. Something has to go… and that really means the something that can be learned later or in activities that the kid chooses.

  77. Fortunately, it is not universal. I was quite pleased to see that in the schools here in the Carolinas, the teachers still have no qualms about publicly congratulating the kid who got the high score on a quiz.

    My mother endured that in school, and I did as well sometimes. I don’t know whether or not it made the other kids “feel bad”, but I guess it did – she heard about it later from them, and I (very unpopular kid) DEFINITELY did. What favors are you doing to a kid when you’re setting them up to be the outcast?

    I guess this does teach cooperation and teamwork, though. If you know you’re going to be publicly outed as the one who caused the teacher not to grade gently (because, as happened to my mother, her good grade “proved” that the subject had been taught well, even though nobody else got higher than a 76) or the one who the teacher wants everybody else to copy, well, you’ll rapidly learn to collaborate with the other students in rigging the test scores so everybody gets about the same – either through cheating or through throwing your own grades.

  78. Actually, gym classes should be varied in their content so that nobody feels like just because they had a positive result one day that they are the BEST. Kids progress physically just as they can academically, and improvement can be satisfying in either regard.
    I go back to Amber’s comment about the coddling of kids through the trials and tribulation of the experience. If they are presented with the right mix of physical experiences they will have a variety of reactions and the surrounding adults can help shepherd children gracefully and give proper perspective and balance.

  79. Uly: in my view it is a sad day indeed when a teacher, a parent, or a student, places a higher value on popularity than on real achievement.

    As many have observed, popularity is overrated, and fleeting, and curiously in the end (though perhaps not in high school) real achievement tends to lead to popularity.

    How many single 30-something women out there would love to find a successful neurosurgeon to settle down with? How many are desperately seeking the guy who was voted “most popular” or “most sociable” in their high school yearbook?

  80. Competition is fine. Learning how to lose is fine. But if the competition gets heated during recess, it spills over into the classroom afterwards and sometimes for days on end. In my experience, it wasn’t the losers who created the most tension/problems – it was the winners. Or the athletes who felt that they should win every time and blamed someone less athletic when they didn’t.
    Not everything has to be about winning or losing. We’re also losing our ability to play recreational sports – kicking or throwing a ball around because it’s fun. Kids are taught that they have to do their absolute best on the field, every. single. time. they’re on the field.
    It’s a lot of pressure, and it makes for some very unpleasant games.
    Sometimes the point of the game is winning or losing. Sometimes it’s about trophies, meaningless or not. Sometimes, like at recess, it’s just about playing. That’s a free-range attitude, too.

  81. Uly – The idea that life fitness is what gym is primarily about is a fairly new one brought on by the increasingly sedentary lives people lead. I think life fitness is actually quite difficult as a goal for gym in schools because it’s such a false environment for developing the habits that will make and keep one fit. Not that some people don’t find something they love and manage to keep that up after school, but over all it hasn’t managed well as we can see from the increasingly sedentary lives that we do lead.

    I know competitive sports seem to have a history of being taught poorly. And I don’t claim that if it was done in a fashion that I would consider good then no one would hate it. But I know that a varied gym curriculum can do a good job of teaching the sorts of skills I talked about, along with leadership, tactics, team building, perseverance, and a host of other soft skills that are valuable in modern life because I went to a school that did just that.

    A varied varied curriculum and gym teachers who weren’t simply focused on the elite are critical – just as they are in most subjects.

    In contrast I have had universally terrible music classes in school. I’m horribly bad at music and was made to play the triangle in pretty much every group ensemble (that’s the equivalent of always being picked last in gym) and was asked to lip synch when we sang (which I guess is like being put on the bench and never asked to play).

    My mother had similar experiences with music which made her incredibly self conscious and loathe to go anywhere she might be asked to sing – even birthday parties. I guess I built up more resilience (maybe through all that sport I did) because I brushed it off, but I regret that I spent hundreds of hours on a subject that has left me with nothing. I suspect there’s a lot I could have got out of it if the teachers had had any interest in a kid who didn’t have any apparent talent.

    I don’t think that means kids shouldn’t be asked to perform in front of others in music – just that the teaching ought to be a lot better than I received.

  82. andreas – Yes, exactly!

  83. Uly: in my view it is a sad day indeed when a teacher, a parent, or a student, places a higher value on popularity than on real achievement.

    I don’t think being able to show that you know how to spell more words than your classmates indicates real achievement. Showing that you’ve improved from last week to this week, sure, but showing that everybody else was willing to collaborate and you weren’t? (And you might find that sad, but that’s what goes on a lot, you know.)

  84. Uly – The idea that life fitness is what gym is primarily about is a fairly new one brought on by the increasingly sedentary lives people lead.

    I’m not sure. I think I’ve read things from the early part of the last century indicating that gym class was primarily for exercise and that sports programs were new or regarded as frivolous in many places. Calisthenics was the order of the day. (Okay, admittedly I’m stealing this directly from The Great Brain, but the author based this upon his own life, so he knows what he’s talking about… right?)

    I’ll go ask around and see if I can dig up any information on this one way or another. And of course, you can show me your sources, right? I’m sure they’re better than TGB 🙂

  85. Helenquine, if you switched it around the music and PE in your story, you would have my story. How would you have felt if you’d been forced to participate weekly in a “singing perfect scales” competition? That’s how I felt when I was forced to play ball in gym. (And I was physically very healthy, just not experienced or interested in sports.) Like you said, I regret that I spent hudreds of hours on a subject that has left me with nothing. And, I don’t even suspect there is a lot I could have gotten out of it if I had better teachers. I might have enjoyed it, but I don’t think it would have made me a more successful adult. I am not even sure gym at any level should be compulsory, but if it is, at least they should focus on physical fitness and movement skills, in my opinion.

    As for the secrecy re 100% papers / relative grades, it has been a trend for decades now, but I guess it’s not universal. Some kid recently made a big stink in the media because the teacher posted the highest scoring papers on the bulletin board. An uproar ensued but it seems there are still many people who don’t see a problem with this.

    I think maybe the jury is still out regarding how good competition is for kids. I’m for letting kids decide how competitive they want to feel. Parents and teachers need to teach them how to be considerate and compassionate in all areas of life, including all kinds of competitions.

  86. Uly, correct me if I’m wrong but haven’t you more than once told people on this blog that anecdotal experience doesn’t count for anything? Why then should we take what the author of The Great Brain says as fact when it is just based upon his own personal experience?

  87. I’m conflicted on this one, TBH. (Bear in mind that I’m a klutzy non-athlete with a very athletic kid, which is forcing me to deal with a lot of my childhood issues…)

    On the one hand, not allowing kids to keep score if they want to is stupid and fascist and ridiculous. If they’re interested in who’s winning, they’re going to be keeping score in their heads anyway. And those kids are probably not that interested in playing with the kids like me in any case.

    On the other hand, given the context in which many kids play sports (and do other activities) these days — which involves strict hierarchies of skill and talent, elaborate league structures and schedules, intense competition at ever-younger ages, serious sacrifices of everyone’s leisure time and money, and, often, rabid overcompetitiveness on the part of parents. My daughter has one friend who does tae kwan do three times a week; one who plays hockey as well as dancing competitively 5 hours a week; one whose parents are grooming her as a competitive swimmer; and one who does hockey in the winter, soccer and baseball in the summer, and competitive highland dance all year round. (And those are only the kidsI know about, and only the activities that are physical in nature.) My daughter is SEVEN. She is, to my knowledge, the only child in her class at school who gets to pick her own extracurricular activities and isn’t required to do any if she doesn’t want to. (Well, except Sunday school. I do make her go to Sunday school.)

    Also, schoolyard pick-up games where no one keeps score are not a new phenomenon. My mother, who will turn 69 this year and grew up in a small town in Connecticut, had her own baseball bat as a kid and brought it to school every day for the purpose of playing “scrub”, which is a baseball/softball/rounders variant in which there are no teams/sides: everyone who isn’t batting, pitching, or running the bases is in the field, and if the fielders get you out, you go out in the field so somebody else can bat. Most of the kids (of both sexes) played scrub most days. They never kept score in any way, but not because some adult told them not to — just because it wasn’t necessary to the game.

    I think actually the message here should be that adults need to back off a bit and let kids play more, period.

  88. SKL – Well, for several years I pretty much was made to perform every week in a setting in which it was clear I was the worst in the class. So, you know, what I said before: Competitive team sports as a part of gym = good. Competitive team sports as all you ever do in gym = bad.

  89. Life is competition so we need to get over that one, pronto. It’s not one way or the other though. Why not both? I believe it’s best for kids to participate in a variety of sports, and other interests – some competitive, some not and let them explore and have fun instead of tracking them into a soccer career or an Olympic gymnast at a very early age. Let them just try a bunch of different activities and find out what they like!

  90. Uly – Sorry, my mistake, I was hooked on fitness in the terms of your other point earlier (“2. Teaching children how to stay healthy through life”). So yes, I agree that fitness has always been a goal of gym.

    On the history – I don’t really have sources because I picked this up years ago when I was in school, so this is from memory and just my understanding, with a very UK slant: Competitive team sports like football have their roots in independent schools (so definitely not just calisthenics!). The violent, lawless games with pigs bladders etc. that people engaged in in the middle ages became codified (1500s?) and eventually developed into various versions of football (~1800s?). Fitness was a primary value attached to the playing of these sports (healthy body, healthy mind etc.) but the character building aspects were also considered extremely important and school traditions developed around these.

    With the introduction of state education (late 1800s) gym, where it was provided, was very utilitarian – drill etc. A bleak and joyless approach in keeping with much of the schooling. I could rant for years about the classism inherent in some of the ideas as they were introduced into the state system in Britain.

    And in a more extreme fashion, since Western civilization can trace roots to the Classical world, the tradition for finding physical education important for building a well rounded citizen can be traced back to ancient Greece’s Gymnasiums.

    In brief, in my opinion: Yes – fitness important. No, not just calisthenics!

  91. My two boys (age 11 and 8) play soccer and have been playing in teams since they were 5. They also play almost every day at school (we live in New Zealand where children are still allowed to play their own games outside during morning tea and lunch breaks!). Even if the referee didn’t keep score they would always know exactly what the score is – they are good winners and good losers. They also enjoy having a kick around and practicing their skills without having to score.
    We also have an annual soccer match – the kids against my husband and I. It is hotly (but fairly) contested and we never just let them win. This year they beat us for the first time and they were rightly very proud of their achievement.

  92. Why then should we take what the author of The Great Brain says as fact when it is just based upon his own personal experience?

    We shouldn’t. That’s why I fessed up from the start that my source is really shaky and stated my intention to see if I can find some actual research that backs up… any of us. I felt it was better to be honest (even if it weakens my argument) than to mislead people into thinking I know more than I do.

  93. (And to be even more honest – it wasn’t even his own personal experience! It was his brother’s. Sad but true. Or maybe true. Can’t see why he’d lie to us, but as soon as I figure out where to start I’ll be reading up on it. I’m suddenly fascinated and I feel like this quick interest might last me days before I get bored with it!)

  94. Really, competetive games will never be co-operative games. No-one keeps score? I bet the kids did. Ultimately children need to learn a couple of things about competitveness: natural talent will give you an early get ahead in life but even less talented people might eventually get to the lead position through practice and perserverance; both individuals and teams work best when they understand and work with both their strengths and weaknesses and you can only find out which are which in the to and fro of life; success is the only really important thing in life; success only comes through giving it a go; failure is inevitable if you are giving it a go but just a sign that you haven’t found the successful process; if you haven’t failed this week, you just aren’t trying; be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses; there will always be a faster gunslinger come to town so it is your own capabilities that you are trying to improve; a coach / mentor / advisor who can take an objective view of your situation is worth their weight in gold; take seriously provided advice humbly and practice it. Your worth is not in beating the other team, there is no greater joy than exquisitively executing a complex performance. For many of this, in sports, such execution is a rare event, but in life we should try to find avenues in which it becomes reasonably frequent. Competition is not about sport, it is about our whole education. Parents must realise that they are their children’s No 1 coach.

  95. Free rangers should send this coach some support? I mean if he can win by 100 points, let him. (espn blog about a high school coach)

  96. Ingrid – as long as it is being done without obnoxious attitude, but is rather just a matter of this coach pushing his athletes to turn in the very best performance possible in a league where the opponents are mostly very weak, I’m all for it.

    Actually, I find it a rather horrific thought that any team would NOT strive to do their very best, just in order to spare hurt feelings on the part of the losing team.

    Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a public comments feature to rebut this author’s article.

  97. You know, David, I was always taught that it’s bad manners to trounce somebody just because you can. Not to mention bad sense – who wants to play against somebody who not only wins every game, but wins so thoroughly that you have NO CHANCE to catch up? (Of course, that’s what handicaps are for.)

    It’s one thing to do your best when you’re up against an equal. But when you “do your best” when you’re up against somebody who clearly is nowhere near your level… that’s like checkmating a five year old in three moves. Bet you feel real good. It’s not classy.

  98. Uly – in this case we are not talking about adults playing chess with a five-year-old. We are talking about high school students playing other high school students from similar-sized schools in the same league. In other words, kids who have every expectation of having a similar level of accomplishment. If one team has a much higher level of accomplishment because they have worked much more passionately than the rest, what is wrong with them showing it?

    According to the reporting I read on this situation, the coach already IS rotating all of his players in so that they all get experience playing – it is just that he has them all at level of performance that they ALL can trounce the competition hands down.

    I am all for equality of opportunity, but not for pretending that outcomes will – or should – ever be equal, or even close.


    (finding it amazing that I have been drawn into a discussion of sports, which I normally find so completely disinteresting)

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