Competition in youth sports is vanishing

Posted: December 12, 2014 in SOCCER, SPORTS
Tags: , , ,

By Jason Sutclifffe

Sports used to be easy–the objective, simple, easy to understand, you are there to win. If you win all your games than you’re in first place and if you’re in first place than you’re the best team and if you’re the best team, you get the big trophy. That is what you were playing for, the glory of being the best, the big trophy. What used to be black and white is now a weird shade of grey.

Eight years ago the Ontario Soccer Association (OSA) implemented a grassroots program for youth soccer in Ontario. Under the new program scores, standings, promotion and relegation have been removed at both the house league and competitive levels for kids under 12-years-old. There are a large number of people who take issue with the changes especially at the competitive level. Bert Lobo has been involved in player development and a coaching for over 30 years, and is one of the people, that believes the grassroots program should not apply to kids playing elite soccer.

“Overall it’s okay, I don’t believe in long-term player development the way they ‘ve got it set up; no scores, no standings for the competitive level,” said Lobo. “What is the incentive, and then you just can’t turn it on and say now you’re thirteen now you have to play to win.”

According to the OSAs grassroots advisor, Carl Horton, the OSA has created a healthy environment for kids to learn the game of soccer.

DSC_0196         “We have not removed competition we have just removed scores and standings,” said Horton. “Children are allowed to go out there, and if they make a mistake it’s ok, because no one is going to lose the game. No one should be shouting at a player from a parents and coach’s perspective. There allowed to make the mistake and they will learn from that mistake.”

North Americans grow up in a highly competitive environment. It is a challenge to convince parents that winning and losing is not important or that keeping the score is unnecessary.

The face-lift to youth soccer, and at the request of parents across the province Bert Lobo removed himself as a registered member of the OSA and created the Youth Soccer League of Ontario (YSLO). The YSLO is a league, which does not operate under the OSA banner and holds on to the traditional concepts of youth soccer. They keep scores, standings, scoring leader stats, etc…. The league completed its first season and Lobo says things are very promising.

“We ended up with over 4000 members,” Lobo said. “Whole clubs are not joining but its individual teams that are starting to join.    It is all quality teams that are joining because they are looking for a pathway that is not offered to them by the OSA system.”

Where Lobo shines and where the kids can benefit the most is from his connections. Lobo has been networking himself across North America and Europe for years. He has helped numerous players and teams get into tournaments where they are showcased in front of university scouts from across the USA. He is also in part responsible for a local 9-year-old, Toronto boy being scouted and signed by Chelsea of the English Premiere League a couple of years back.

According to Horton, it is these sort of early pressures that has 70% of young athletes quitting sports by the age of thirteen because the game is no longer fun. These are the reason’s the OSA created and implemented the grassroots program.

“Children don’t have the coping skills to deal with winning a game, losing a game, promotion or relegation,” Horton said. “We are creating an age and stage appropriate learning environment for children, to fall in love with the game, learn the game of soccer, and to become a better athlete. “

DSC_0180          Lobo sees things a little bit differently. In fact it is right there in the leagues slogan: Winning and losing builds character. A statement he stands by.

He believes the only reason his league didn’t have major success in its first year was due to fear. The OSA made parents fearful of their children losing opportunity and exposure.

“People were scared, the OSA kept threatening, if you leave the system your kids not going to play for Canada,” Lobo said. “Where do you get that from? If you are that good, are you kidding me, they are going to be knocking at your door.”

In fact it is quite the opposite Lobo says, if you are trying to enter an elite showcase tournament in the USA. They want to know what level you’re at, what place you finished, how competitive you were, the level of competition you have played against. If you have nothing to give them. They have nothing to go on. In many cases a team will be denied on a lack of history.

“You have these high level opportunities that are not available by being a member of the OSA,” Lobo said. “If you don’t have a record, they don’t know how good you are, they really don’t care. “

The OSA distributed a survey to youth soccer players last year asking them why they played soccer and Horton described the results as amazing and insightful. He revealed it wasn’t competition or trophies that kept kids playing soccer.

DSC_0089

“Children don’t care about winning a trophy, and children don’t care about promotion or relegation,” Horton said. They want to go out, they want to have fun, they want to play with their friends, and they want to be healthy.”

It is important to understand, Horton said, the OSA did not take competition out of soccer; they only simply removed the scores and standings. Horton made the point that if you put a ball between two, seven-year olds they are going to compete for it that is natural. However, kids don’t care about standings and scores.

Lobo disagrees that kids don’t care about scores and standings, and says the number of kids dropping out of the OSA every year supports that. The YSLO in its first year had 4000 registered kids, and the interest in the league has been growing by staggering numbers going into its second year.

“I could say definitely 50,000 are going to leave,” Lobo said. “I got contacted by an organization who has 168 teams in their league. They have pulled out of the OSA; right there that is 3500 kids. One club contacted me they wanted to join that is another 4500. The numbers start adding up.”

It is clear that the OSA is not going to change their stance on youth soccer in regards to scores and standings. However, it is also clear that there is always going to be a large number of people who believe that sports are competitive and that learning to win and lose is an important part of life. For those people Bert Lobo has provided a choice. The YSLO, a league dedicated to keeping competition in sport.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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