Sports Psychology and Youth Soccer: The Impact of Banning Standings


The intersection of sports psychology and youth sports, particularly soccer, presents a complex and hotly debated subject matter: the impact of banning standings in youth leagues. Jurisdictions like British Columbia, under the guidance of BC Soccer and Canada Soccer Association’s recommendations, have taken bold steps in reshaping the competitive landscape by eliminating standings in youth soccer leagues. This move, aligned with the principles of Long-Term Player Development (LTPD), shifts the focus from immediate results to comprehensive player growth—a decision that holds significant implications for the mental and emotional development of young athletes in locales such as Burnaby, Coquitlam, and New Westminster. The import of such policies transcends the immediate athletic sphere, touching upon broader considerations of wellness, motivation, and sportsmanship.

This article aims to elucidate the multifaceted implications of banning standings in youth soccer, exploring the rationale behind such decisions and their consequent impact on all involved stakeholders—players, coaches, parents, and wider soccer communities. It will delve into the philosophy of Long-Term Player Development (LTPD), investigating common misconceptions about winning, losing, and developmental progress. Additionally, the influence of parental attitudes and coaching perspectives on this issue will be scrutinized, alongside considerations of alternatives to traditional standings. By casting a comparative glance at the approaches of other countries, such as the UK and Canada, this piece endeavors to provide a comprehensive overview of the topic. Moreover, the crucial roles of parent and coach education in fostering a positive and developmental sports environment will be emphasized, culminating in a discussion that aims to inform and guide future policy decisions in the realm of youth sports.

Understanding the Debate: To Keep or Not to Keep Standings in Youth Soccer

The discussion surrounding the maintenance or elimination of standings in youth soccer is multifaceted, with various stakeholders presenting compelling arguments on both sides. This debate is rooted in the philosophy of Long-Term Player Development (LTPD) and its implications on the mental and physical well-being of young athletes, the coaching strategies employed, and the overall culture of youth sports.

The Philosophy of LTPD and Children’s Development

The Canadian Soccer Association’s Long-Term Player Development model advocates for the removal of standings for children under the age of 12. The rationale is to shift the focus from winning to skill development, teamwork, and enjoyment of the game. At this pivotal age, children are learning crucial life lessons through sports, such as dealing with disappointment and understanding the importance of practice and improvement. The absence of league standings encourages a healthier perspective on competition, emphasizing personal and team growth over winning.

Impact on Young Athletes

Critics of standings in youth soccer argue that the emphasis on winning can lead to undue stress and anxiety among young players. They highlight that children, when freed from the pressure of league tables, experience disappointment in a more transient manner, allowing them to recover quickly and maintain a positive attitude towards the game and their peers. This approach fosters a more enjoyable and less stressful sporting experience, which is crucial for the mental health and development of young athletes.

Coaching Strategies and Competition Structure

The structure of competition within youth soccer significantly influences coaching methodologies. A system that prioritizes winning above all can lead to a ‘win-at-all-costs’ mentality, often at the expense of player development and enjoyment. Conversely, a focus on player development attracts coaches who are committed to nurturing young talent, ensuring a more balanced and enriching experience for all involved. The debate highlights the social engineering aspect of league standings, questioning whether the adult-driven emphasis on competition serves the best interests of the children.

Observations from Ontario Soccer Association

In 2014, the Ontario Soccer Association, now known as Ontario Soccer, eliminated score-keeping and standings for athletes under 12. This move aimed to prioritize skill development, athlete enjoyment, and long-term engagement in sports over the immediate results of competition. Despite facing resistance, particularly from parents, the association’s decision reflects a growing commitment to fostering physical literacy and a more positive sports culture among youth.

Resistance and Alternative Views

Despite the intentions behind banning standings, the decision has not been without controversy. Some parents and experts argue that competition, including score-keeping and standings, is an integral part of sports, contributing to fun and motivation. They contend that removing these elements may not necessarily enhance participation or skill development. Additionally, concerns have been raised about whether such policies might dilute the spirit of competition and fail to prepare children for the realities of winning and losing in life.


The debate over keeping or not keeping standings in youth soccer encapsulates broader discussions about the objectives of youth sports, the role of competition in child development, and the best ways to foster a lifelong love for physical activity. While the LTPD model and similar initiatives aim to create a more child-centric approach to youth sports, the diversity of opinions among stakeholders underscores the complexity of achieving consensus on this issue.

The Philosophy Behind Long-Term Player Development (LTPD)

The rationale for LTPD

Long-Term Player Development (LTPD) is a comprehensive framework designed to maximize a player’s potential and long-term involvement in sport throughout their life. This model is akin to methodologies used by doctors and psychologists to understand human development as a series of distinct stages from infancy through adulthood. LTPD is player-centered, ensuring that recreational players have fun while also providing opportunities for talented players to further their development along the Canada Soccer Pathway. The model emphasizes that competitiveness comes from within, advocating for an environment where learning is prioritized over winning. This allows children to be less afraid of making mistakes and more willing to take risks to try out new skills learned during practice.

Washington Youth Soccer’s implementation of LTPD aims to expose parents to the most comprehensive, holistic, and modern-day player-centric developmental methods and ideologies used by successful countries across the globe. By focusing on the correct areas of a player’s development at each stage, LTPD ensures that children’s soccer education is facilitated correctly by their coaches and clubs, holding clubs more accountable for the services they render.

Impact on players under 12

For players under the age of 12, LTPD focuses on removing the emphasis on winning to prioritize skill development, teamwork, and enjoyment of the game. Research supports that it takes a minimum of 10 years or approximately 10,000 hours of ‘deliberate’ training for an athlete to reach elite levels, highlighting the importance of early involvement in the FUNdamentals stage and discouraging early specialization in soccer. A multilateral program that encourages participation in various sports leads to more successful performances at later stages of development.

The model outlines a structured support plan to guide clubs, coaches, and parents in assisting all players in reaching their full potential. For 5-12 year olds, the developmental belief is «Preparing to Learn,» with stage-specific focuses such as sparking imagination and creativity, developing movement skills, and encouraging total involvement, expression, and enjoyment in small-sided jamborees for 5-7 year olds. For 8-12 year olds, technical mastery, skill acquisition, and the development of confidence, goal-setting qualities, and improvement indicators are emphasized.

Soccer is considered a late specialization sport, indicating that the development of a soccer player is a long process where players gradually progress from a simple to a more complex understanding of the game. This development process is cyclical and reiterative, emphasizing the importance of a practice environment with variable physical demands and encouraging players to think for themselves. Through play, children learn teamwork, become aware of others, and learn to control emotions, highlighting the importance of a stimulating and enjoyable level of participation that fosters perceived physical, mental, and emotional growth.

In conclusion, the philosophy behind Long-Term Player Development (LTPD) is designed to provide young athletes with a holistic approach to their development, focusing on physical, technical, tactical, and psychological skills. This model is essential for developing players who can play at the highest level and enjoy soccer for a lifetime, ensuring that the needs of players are at the forefront of their development journey.

The Misconception About Winning, Losing, and Development

Learning from Losses

Losses, often perceived negatively, hold intrinsic value as learning opportunities for young athletes. Coaches play a pivotal role in reshaping this perception by encouraging athletes to view losses as moments for growth and improvement. Reflecting on what could be improved rather than dwelling on the defeat helps in building resilience and a positive mindset towards challenges. It is crucial to congratulate young athletes on their effort, reinforcing that losing a game does not define them as losers.

Real Lessons in Sportsmanship

Developing good sportsmanship is fundamental in youth athletics, offering a prime avenue for children to learn vital life lessons such as respect, humility, and grace. These lessons are imparted through the respectful treatment of opponents, coaches, and officials, highlighting the importance of teamwork and cooperation. Parents and coaches serve as role models, demonstrating and emphasizing the significance of good sportsmanship. By rewarding and praising children who exhibit good sportsmanship, and discussing its value within the team, a culture of respect, humility, and cooperation is fostered. This not only contributes to the growth of well-rounded individuals but also enhances their sports experience by embedding a healthy competitive spirit and a collaborative mindset.

Youth sports prioritize learning the fundamentals of the game, developing athletic skills, and ensuring enjoyment. It’s essential to convey to young athletes that success is not solely measured by wins but by personal growth and development. Parents significantly influence their children’s attitudes towards sportsmanship. Modeling good sportsmanship by showing respect for all participants in the game and fostering a positive cheering environment helps children develop a healthy attitude towards competition. Additionally, teaching respect for coaches and referees’ authority and the value of teamwork further instills the principles of good sportsmanship. These practices encourage young athletes to be gracious in both victory and defeat, emphasizing resilience, humility, and the true spirit of sportsmanship.

Losing is an inevitable aspect of sports that, when approached constructively, offers young athletes invaluable lessons in resilience, handling adversity, learning from mistakes, and appreciating hard work. These experiences are critical for their development, not only in sports but in life’s broader spectrum. Coaches and parents play a crucial role in ensuring that the emphasis on winning does not overshadow these developmental benefits. Creating an environment where success is also measured by personal development and enjoyment can significantly impact a child’s ongoing participation in sports. High stress and a lack of fun, stemming from an overemphasis on winning or poor relationships with coaches and teammates, can deter continued participation. Conversely, a focus on skill development, coupled with a supportive and inclusive learning environment, can foster a lifelong love for the sport.

The narratives of renowned athletes like Bear Bryant and Michael Jordan, who embraced failures as stepping stones to success, underscore the importance of perseverance and resilience. These stories highlight that measuring performance through scores and competition is essential for motivation and personal growth. However, the shift towards eliminating scorekeeping in youth sports, intended to focus on skill development, has sparked debates on its impact on motivation and competition. While some argue that it diminishes the drive to excel, others believe it allows for a more concentrated effort on personal and team growth. Despite these differing views, the essence of team sports remains in striving together towards a common goal, emphasizing the invaluable lessons sports impart about life and character.

Parental Influence and Its Impact on Youth Soccer

Overly Competitive Parents

Kids with over-involved parents often report less enjoyment of the sport, more stress, and sometimes it leads to athletes quitting the sport altogether. Instances where parents have jumped in and coached from the sidelines, giving their «tips» to the players, are not uncommon. Parents engaging in confrontation with referees, loudly arguing their opinions during their children’s games, further add to the pressure on young athletes. Some parents attempt to win over their child’s coaches, potentially through financial contributions, in pursuit of getting increased playing time for their kid. This behavior reflects a scenario where parents seem to be living vicariously through their kids and treat their kids’ experiences as their own, sometimes overlooking the fact that it’s their child’s moment to shine, not their own. The pressure from parents who believe their child is destined for greatness, without recognizing the realistic outcome of their child’s sports involvement, contributes to a stressful environment for the young athletes.

How Parent Behavior Affects Children’s Experience

Overparenting has become an increasingly common occurrence within youth sports, challenging program providers to engage overinvolved parents positively while supporting the needs of youth athletes. The term ‘overparent’ describes parents who are excessively involved in their child’s life, risk-averse, and abnormally preoccupied with their child’s well-being and success. Various types of overparents, including Helicopter Parents, Intrusive Parents, and Lawnmower Parents, have different impacts on youth athletes, leading to childhood anxiety, low self-efficacy, and a belief that personal success or failure is not within their control. This can result in increased self-doubt and, paradoxically, narcissism, where the child thinks they are better or more deserving than their peers.

Research shows that parental pressure is related to stress and negatively associated with enjoyment and motivation in sports. Children perceive moderate to high levels of parental involvement and pressure, moderate levels of directive behavior, and low levels of praise and understanding. Excessive active involvement, insufficient praise and understanding, but satisfactory directive behavior on the part of parents, have been reported, indicating a misalignment with previous findings that highlighted the positive correlation between active involvement, praise, and understanding in club-level athletes.

Parents play a crucial role in their children’s initial sport involvement and provide concrete and emotional support throughout their sport careers. However, the nature of parent involvement in organized youth sport has often been debated and criticized, with both positive and negative implications to children’s experience. Parental behaviors, including dreams of fame and viewing their child’s sport experience as an investment for the future, tend to project their lives into their child’s sport successes, focusing on winning rather than on the child’s skill and motor development, enjoyment, and health.

To address the negative outcomes of overparenting and overly competitive behavior, parents should be educated on the importance of supporting, not coaching, and remember that youth sports aren’t just miniaturized versions of professional ones. The focus should be on making youth sports fun, encouraging kids to play pick-up sports in the neighborhood with no timekeeper, no stat-keeping, and definitely no parents. This approach can help mitigate the negative effects of parental pressure and over-involvement, fostering a healthier and more enjoyable sports experience for young athletes.

Coaching Perspectives on Standings in Youth Soccer

Coaches’ role in development vs. winning

Coaches often find themselves at the crossroads of development and winning, a balance that is crucial yet challenging to maintain. On one hand, the essence of sports is competition, where the objective is to win. However, in youth soccer, this goal sometimes overshadows the more important aspect of player development. Coaches are tasked with instilling a «winning mentality» in young athletes, emphasizing the importance of giving their best effort in every game and practice session. This mentality is not solely about winning games but about fostering a culture of continuous improvement and striving for excellence in every aspect of the sport.

The development of a winning mentality involves teaching players to be hungry and determined to improve, which, over time, naturally leads to winning games. It’s crucial to understand that while there is a score at the end of the game, the real victory lies in the players taking ownership of their technical development. Coaches play a pivotal role in guiding players to understand that an hour of practice a week is not sufficient for substantial improvement. Watching teams play, observing whether they are encouraged to play out of the back, pass to the keeper, and take chances, provides insights into a team’s focus on development over merely winning.

Influence of league standings on coaching strategies

The presence or absence of league standings significantly influences coaching strategies and the overall approach to youth soccer. In environments where standings are emphasized, there’s a noticeable shift towards a «win-at-all-costs» mentality, often at the expense of player development. Coaches might prioritize short-term success over long-term growth, leading to practices that do not necessarily foster skill development or a love for the game. On the contrary, when standings are not the primary focus, coaches have more freedom to prioritize development, encouraging creativity, problem-solving, and a possession-oriented style of play.

This developmental approach, however, does not always translate to immediate success on the field, especially at younger ages or when players have not yet reached a certain skill level. Coaches must then educate both players and parents about the long-term benefits of their methods, emphasizing the importance of patience and consistency in development. Competing to win in everything is crucial, but learning how to compete—against oneself, teammates, and opponents—is a fundamental part of development that coaches aim to instill in young athletes. This comprehensive approach to competition prepares players for success as they continue to develop.

In summary, the coaching perspective on standings in youth soccer highlights a complex balance between fostering a competitive spirit and ensuring the holistic development of young athletes. Coaches must navigate the pressures of winning while prioritizing the long-term growth and enjoyment of the game for their players. By focusing on development and educating stakeholders about its importance, coaches can create an environment where young athletes thrive, both on and off the field.

Alternatives to Traditional Standings

Skill Development Focus

In the realm of youth soccer, the emphasis on skill development over traditional standings is gaining traction. Activities and exercises designed for young players, such as «The Ouchie Game,» «Red light, green light,» and «Freeze tag,» focus on improving ball handling, directional techniques, ball control, speed adjustments, balance, and dribbling. These games serve the dual purpose of enhancing soccer skills while ensuring enthusiastic engagement and social development, which are paramount at this stage of a child’s growth in sports. The transformation from drills to games underlines the importance of creating a fun and positive mindset towards soccer, encouraging healthy interactions among young players. This approach aligns with Fred Rodgers’ perspective that «Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is the work of childhood». TGA Premier Sports classes embody this philosophy by promoting a learning environment where children can participate, play, and build confidence without the pressure of winning or losing.

Non-competitive Leagues

The shift towards non-competitive leagues in the United States marks a significant change in the landscape of youth sports. Historically, competitive leagues for children under the age of 12 were scarce, with an emphasis on winning each game rather than focusing on seasonal standings. This approach encourages children to enjoy the game, compete, and enhance their team skills without the added pressure of league standings. It fosters an environment where fun, competition, and learning are the primary goals of youth sports. As stated, «Children like all of us, want to win that game they are in. What they aren’t interested in is ‘Which team is better over the course of the season'». This perspective supports the notion that each game should be treated as a unique opportunity for growth and enjoyment, rather than as part of a larger competitive framework. Coaches play a crucial role in facilitating this environment, ensuring that youth sports remain about fun, competition, and learning.

These alternatives to traditional standings in youth soccer highlight a growing recognition of the importance of focusing on the developmental needs of young athletes. By prioritizing skill development and non-competitive play, coaches and leagues can create a more inclusive and enjoyable sports experience that fosters long-term love for the game.

International Approaches: A Glimpse into the UK and Canadian Models

UK’s ban on competitive leagues for U8

In an effort to shift the focus from winning leagues to improving young players’ skills, the Football Association in the UK implemented a ban on competitive leagues and cups for boys and girls in the under-8 age group. Starting from the next season, no league tables or results will be published for this age group. This decision was made to counteract the excessive emphasis on winning, which often led to coaches and parents encouraging tactics that prioritized immediate results over skill development, such as instructing players to «lump it forward» in hopes of securing a win. Sir Trevor Brooking, FA director of football development, emphasized that while competitive matches would still occur, removing league tables at such a young age was a step towards better development practices. Despite some resistance, particularly from parents, the underlying aim was to foster an environment where skill and development are prioritized, allowing children to enjoy the game and learn at their own pace without the pressure of having to achieve a specific result.

Canada’s Wellness to World Cup model

Canada’s approach to youth soccer development is encapsulated in the Long-Term Player Development (LTPD) model, which is designed to promote lifelong wellness for all soccer participants and optimal performance for elite players. This model is based on the understanding that player development is a multifaceted process that respects the physical, mental, and emotional maturation of players. LTPD aims to provide a logical training, competition, and recovery program that aligns with the natural development stages of players. It addresses traditional gaps in the player development system by offering integrated training and practice programs, applying scientific principles related to growth, development, and maturation, and providing optimal competition structures at all stages of development. The model has seen implementation not only in Canada but also in Ireland and the United Kingdom, indicating its potential to significantly enhance long-term player development. LTPD is player-centered and supported by coaches, administrators, sport science, and sponsors, focusing on eliminating developmental gaps, guiding planning for optimal athlete performance, and establishing pathways for player development for all levels of ability and ambition. The model also emphasizes the importance of creating a competitive yet enjoyable environment that discourages over-competitive behavior in adults while fostering a love for the game that encourages players to stay involved in soccer throughout their lives.

The Crucial Role of Parent and Coach Education

In the realm of youth soccer, the education of parents and coaches plays a pivotal role in fostering an environment conducive to the holistic development of young athletes. This section delves into the significance of educational programs tailored for these crucial stakeholders and explores strategies to mitigate the competitive pressures often associated with youth sports.

Educational Programs for Parents and Coaches

Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer has taken significant strides in ensuring that young soccer players receive the best possible development opportunities by offering coaching education courses through US Soccer’s Grassroots Licensing. This initiative not only equips coaches with the necessary skills and knowledge to train players effectively but also instills confidence in parents about the quality of coaching their children receive. The Grassroots coaching model emphasizes the accountability of coaches, akin to the expectations parents have from teachers, ensuring that all players, regardless of their age, benefit from quality training.

Moreover, the importance of proper parental involvement cannot be overstated. Research suggests that expertise in sport parenting involves maintaining a balance between supporting the coach’s authority and being actively involved in a child’s sporting life. Collaborating with coaches, trusting their strategies, and fostering open communication contribute to creating a positive experience for young soccer players, paving the way for their long-term success in the sport. To enhance the credibility and effectiveness of coaches, undergoing proper certification and education is crucial. These programs offer insights into sport-specific techniques, tactics, and the physical and psychological training needed to excel as a coach. By engaging in ongoing learning, coaches demonstrate their commitment to providing the best training and guidance for young players, creating a supportive and constructive environment for them to thrive in.

Reducing Competitive Pressure

The landscape of youth soccer is often marred by competitive pressure, leading to stress and burnout among young athletes. To counteract this, setting realistic expectations for players is essential. Recognizing that not every player will become a professional soccer star and celebrating individual growth and achievements can help alleviate the burden of unrealistic expectations. Coaches and parents should also be mindful of the importance of maintaining a healthy balance between soccer, school, and family life to prevent burnout and ensure that sports remain a source of enjoyment and development.

U.S. Soccer’s leadership in establishing Club Standards, revamping coaching education, and mandating playing environments and rules conducive to development marks a significant step forward. The feedback from instructors and candidates at U.S. Soccer’s newly revamped courses underscores the quality of instruction and learning taking place, contributing to the overall progress in the field. Coaches are encouraged to view themselves as part of something bigger, adhering to the Code of Conduct and behavioral expectations set by their organizations. This approach fosters a collective effort towards achieving goals that prioritize player-centered development and the enjoyment of the game.

Engaging parents in the process is equally important. Informing them about the environment their child is part of and supporting them through engagement and awareness initiatives can enhance the sports experience for both the child and the parents. By building relationships with parents and making them part of the process, coaches and clubs can work collaboratively towards the shared goal of providing a nurturing and developmental environment for young soccer players.

In conclusion, the education of parents and coaches is fundamental to the development and well-being of young soccer players. Through targeted educational programs and efforts to reduce competitive pressure, a more positive, supportive, and development-focused youth soccer environment can be cultivated.


Throughout the discussions on banning standings in youth soccer, the article has delved into both the advantages and limitations of such a policy, underscoring its potential to shift focus towards player development, enjoyment, and the mental well-being of young athletes. The example of British Columbia, adhearing to recommendations from the Canada Soccer Association’s Long-Term Player Development plan, illustrates a proactive approach to fostering a sports environment that values growth over immediate success. This strategic shift aims to cultivate players who are not only technically proficient but also psychologically resilient, capable of handling the highs and lows inherent to competitive sports.

Moreover, the discussion brings to light the complexity of balancing competitive urges with developmental needs in youth sports. While the immediate impact of banning standings has sparked varied outcomes across locales, the underlying principle seeks to reframe the metrics of success in youth soccer. Ensuring that such policies are thoughtfully implemented and accompanied by education for coaches, parents, and communities is crucial to their effectiveness. Ultimately, the focus on long-term development over short-term victories promises to enrich the youth soccer experience, nurturing a healthier, more inclusive, and enriching environment for young athletes to thrive.