I accidentally pissed off someone a few weeks ago. I was coaching a youth lacrosse team at a tournament and while the team was warming up I was on the sidelines watching my players. A gentleman with a scorebook wearing the apparel from the other team came up next to me and asked where my team was from. I told him and then he asked what our record was. I responded that I had no idea. I think he assumed that I was not the person in charge and asked to see my team’s Head Coach. I stated that I was the Head Coach, and he seemed a little taken aback by my statement.
He asked again what my team’s record was. I again responded that I did not know and I did not personally keep track of that information. After hearing what I had to say this individual became quite angry and stormed off to his other team’s bench. It took me a second to realize what was going on but then it hit me – he was fishing for information about how good or bad my team was. When I didn’t give him the information he wanted he went away and pouted. When I realized all of this I was shocked, but after the game I was downright angry.
Just to be clear my team’s record and some basic statistics are kept on a spreadsheet on a computer somewhere, but I have never looked at it. I was very forthright with this individual when I told him that I do not keep track of records or stats on my team, but he thought I was hiding my team’s record to give my team some kind of advantage or to disadvantage his team. Eventually, I moved from anger to sadness. Sadness because I’ve seen this kind of behavior before on the sidelines and in the stands, but it was never fully brought out into the open until that game.
“There are lies, damned lies and statistics” – Mark Twain.
That Mark Twain quote should tell you everything you need to know about my feeling on keeping stats at the youth level. They are not necessary and can be down right dangerous. I dislike statistics because they confirm what is already known. This player is better than that player. This team is worse than that team. When I officiate youth lacrosse games I can usually tell within the first five minutes which team is likely to win and I never look at the stat book. I look for two things. One, does the team communicate well, and two, are they going for every ground ball? That is all I need to determine whether or not one team is better than another.
While statistics confirm what anyone can figure out if they get their eyes out of the stat book and onto the field, they are also of no benefit for the youth player. Statistics benefit parents and overzealous coaches. That is it. Do they validate all the lessons the parent is paying for? Do they confirm to the coach that he is right keeping only his first lines in the game while everyone else rides the bench? Probably both. Statistics do nothing for the youth player except quantify his abilities at an age when he should be more concerned with the quality of them.
I have two standing rules with every team that I coach: The score is always “zero to zero” and I don’t care if they make a mistake as long as they are running as hard as they can. I do not care what Johnny’s shot percentage is. I do not care what my goalie’s save percentage is. I do not care what our team’s faceoff percentage is. I care that they are going after every ground ball as hard as they can and that they keep playing as if the score is perpetually tied. This approach allows for kids to make mistakes without fear.
Statistics create fear because statistics lock kids into predictable behavior. I want the kid who is eager to win his next faceoff, not the one more concerned about keeping his 80% win record going. The former kid is going to go after every faceoff with tenacity, while the latter is likely to implode if he loses one or two faceoffs early in a game. I want the goalie who forgets about the last goal he let in, not the one who is worried that the team stat keeper just put another mark in the “Goal’s Against” column. The former plays without fear, the latter turns into a hole in the net.
Truthfully, I do care about one statistic and I’ve hinted at it this entire post. I care about ground balls. In my opinion, ground balls should be the only statistic kept by teams. Let the league keep the win/loss record, but if a team wants to keep stats they should only keep ground balls. Ground balls are an effort statistic. They show how consistent your team is at getting the loose ball off the turf and into a workable possession. Without GB’s, shots and goals are simply not possible. Ground balls are the true measure of a team.
I believe we have one goal at the end of the day in youth athletics. That goal is to get the kids to want to play again the next day. That should be the statistic we are measuring – which kids stay and which kids go. If they leave because they found a different passion then more power to them, but if they leave because adults started ranking and quantifying them then shame on us.
Featured Image Credit – www.murraystate.edu