Game changer

Youth soccer in Ontario to ignore stats, scores and standings starting in 2014

Very soon, winning and losing will be outlawed for kids.

The Ontario Soccer Association recently announced a mandate to disregard scores in youth leagues for kids under 12. Some leagues already apply the model, but beginning in 2014 it becomes mandatory.

Kingston native Naomi Conway-Hurtubise said her son’s under-6 house league games under the Cataraqui Clippers organization already function that way.

She fully understands the need for this model in her son’s league, but “older kids need to learn how to win and lose.”

“It’s not always about winning, but [kids] also sometimes need to learn that they did a good job, but they need to try harder next time,” Conway-Hurtubise said. “So if they don’t keep scores, how are [kids] really going to know that?”

Her point of view wasn’t ignored by Ontario Soccer Association president Rob Smale, who made the official announcement earlier this month. Smale said the mandate is only a “small component” of Canada’s Long Term Player Development (LTPD) model.

The LTPD intends to build growth and success of soccer within Canada. The first step is making soccer more enjoyable at the grassroots level.

That includes removing the hypercompetitive culture prevalent in youth leagues.

“Players are leaving the game at the ages of 14, 15, 16, because they’re burnt out, they’re fed up and they’re not having fun anymore,” Smale said. “Our belief is that we’re putting just too much pressure on our athletes at a very young age.”

Smale recently toured across Ontario and received mainly positive parent feedback on the LTPD initiative. He said the central challenge is conveying the larger reasons underlying the removal of scores and standings.

“There’s lots of time for them to learn, lots of time for them to know what losing is all about,” Smale said. “We still don’t have the technical, tactical, creative component of the game that we need to win games at [the international] level.”

While the Canadian senior women’s team took home bronze at the 2012 London Olympics, the men’s team is seeded 72nd in the FIFA world rankings, despite soccer being the most popular sport among youths.

“By putting a little more emphasis on training, a little more emphasis on fun, creativity, touches on the ball, passing, shooting, dribbling and all that, I think we’ll have better players,” Smale said.

Ontario was the first province to adopt the national initiative’s mandate, but Smale said all the other provinces are on board. He said the LTPD initiative under Canada Sport for Life will also make its mark on sports beyond soccer.

“Canada Sport for Life has mandated long-term athlete development across the country in all sports,” he said.

As the next three to five years unfold, “no scores, no stats, no standings” will undergo its trial. Smale hopes “common sense” will prevail among the LTPD’s critics.

“At the end of the day, the right initiatives are taking place so that our young athletes are being set up to enjoy the game of soccer for the rest of their lives.”

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