Why winning doesn’t matter in youth soccer…yet

I think participation trophies are bunk. But, so is winning.

When I ask parents about their kids’ soccer game they tell me the score and nearly every kid, it seems, is on a team that wins 5-1.

When we see 8 year-old’s win 5-1 in baseball, we don’t get carried away with thoughts of pro contracts when the winning team dropped 60% of the balls.

When talking about their kid’s baseball game, these parents don’t focus on the score. They say, “got a lot of work to do. Lots of dropped balls.” They know that 10 yo’s who drop 60% of the balls get cut.

They play catch in the yard.

Most parents don’t know enough about soccer. They see the 5-1 soccer win as a sign of stardom, even with the winning team’s 90% turnover ratio.

There are couple of misleading feedback loops in youth soccer that perpetuate this.

One is that 10 yo’s with 90% turnover ratios don’t get cut because of the participation culture in the U.S. Many 10 yo’s with 90% turnover ratios believe they are playing elite level, competitive soccer.

Another problem is few people are aware that competent players have low turnover ratios, which I also trace to the participation culture. When teams play against other teams with high turnover ratios within their skill bracket, to ‘keep them participating,’ high turnover ratios seems normal and people watching those games tend to think hustle and athleticism is what sets players apart. It does when neither team can do much with the ball.

A sign of progress will be when parents stop telling me the scores to their 8 yo’s soccer games, and instead say, “had fun, they won, but a lot of work to do! Way too many turnovers. We’re working on it in the yard, though!”

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