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Molding equal zeroes

By Joseph Kellard
web posted January 28, 2002

My 11-year-old nephew plays in a basketball league that shuns scorekeeping. After a recent game, he informed a teammate that they'd lost.

"What does it matter?" the boy said.

This nationwide anti-scorekeeping trend in kids' sports is alarming. Its supporters often rationalize it as follows: "Kids should just have fun and not care about competition, winning and losing. They'll get enough of that later in life. And losing makes them feel bad." Translation: competitiveness and having fun are incompatible, and competition hurts the loser's feelings.

Yet it's precisely because kids will face competition, victories and defeats in virtually every aspect of their lives that they should keep score.

Actually, long before they play sports, kids face all kinds of competitions. As toddlers, they compete over how much milk they may drink, as they clutch their bottles while their parents pull them away. They compete with frostbite, by bundling up to build a snowman, and with heatstroke, by stripping down to swim in a pool. When they catch a cold they compete with germs, and, tragically, some youngsters compete with deadly diseases.

In short, countless competitions permeate our lives. And through sports, kids can learn how to compete effectively and justly, accept winning and losing, and have fun.

But where's the justice in pretending that a well-practiced team didn't win a game when it scored more points than a lazy team? By keeping games at 0-0, the anti-scorekeepers whitewash such distinctions to create the illusion and injustice that all teams are equal...zeroes.

Anti-scorekeepers supposedly want to steer kids from becoming competitive zealots who try to win at any cost. Any competitive sprit left unchecked, they believe, will turn them into a person who misguides and attaches certain emotions to victory and defeat. The person who, for example, focuses not on playing his best according to standards within his abilities, but on not losing so he can look good to others.

In addition to setting reasonable standards for yourself, healthy competitiveness lies in being self-satisfied by your honest achievements; thus having no need to rub your competitor's nose in your victory. In losing, it means accepting the fact that, for at least that game, your competition is better than you are.

And it's this distinction -- that in certain areas some people are better than others -- which both the competitive zealots and anti-scorekeepers find unsettling.

Fundamentally, they both regard it as "unfair" when an individual who works hard to develop his maximum potential and becomes a faster runner, a better speller, prettier and smarter than others.

Unable to accept that some people are better than him, the competitive zealot in defeat envies his competitors, and he lashes out at them. Unable to accept the same fact, the anti-scorekeeper in defeat feels hurt, and he stops keeping score as a way to evade all these facts.

But when they understand that speed, spelling prowess, good-looks, intelligence or any other reasonable values aren't taken from themselves or others, only then will they stop their emotional rants and start keeping score.

Joseph Kellard is a journalist and freelance editorialist living in New York. He also publishes a cultural-political e-mail newsletter. To receive information about his writing services and publication, contact Mr. Kellard by e-mail at Jkaxiom3@aol.com.

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