Thursday, May 13, 2021

Making youth soccer less competitive: Better skills or a sign of coddled kids?

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With summer ablaze and recent World Cup fever stoking inspiration, soccer fields are sites of athleticism, friendships and fun. But for some parents, soccer has also become a source of tension.

In 2014, soccer teams that were affiliated with the Ontario Soccer Association eliminated score-keeping and standings, and also restricted travel, for athletes under 12.

In so doing, the association essentially removed competition from games involving players under 12. The shift was part of what was called a long-term player development strategy.

Some psychologists have argued that a focus on skill development may be more beneficial than competition for children in sports before age 10. They say this shift lets children develop the necessary spatial cognition and other motor skills needed to successfully navigate the complexities of rules and how to play competitively. Parents and coaches are reminded that for children to successfully compete in sport they must have learned how to co-operate.

Some see less competition at younger ages as a necessary response to the values of a more child-responsive and inclusive society — and cut-throat competitive sport cultures. But others simply think the sports are under threat.

Eliminating competition

At the University of Waterloo, we’ve studied how the process of change unfolded for under-12 soccer in Ontario. We found the sources of the OSA change were a shift in values and a desire to improve play at the national level. We also noted significant parental resistance.

The OSA said eliminating competition for the early stages of athlete development is proven globally and incorporates well-established holistic approaches. In a communications video, John Herdman, who formerly coached Canada’s women’s national soccer team, and now Canada’s men’s team — and who is British — discussed and promoted the changes.

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