Football chiefs are keeping kids’ match results secret so they can focus on having fun - a move slammed as ‘gobbledygook’ by a former All Whites captain.
Scores for junior football games will not be made public in a bid by national administrators to take the focus off winning.
Football New Zealand says the change will help boys and girls learn to love the game for its own sake - but former All Whites captain Steve Sumner last night called it "gobbledygook", saying many kids were competitive and wanted to win.
Coaches were told last week that league tables for Auckland Football Federation's 10th grade players would no longer go online, in order to boost participation and ensure a "player-centred" game.
In an email, a local Mini Football co-ordinator wrote the changes would remove barriers and ease the pressures of a "win at all costs" mentality.
"It is extremely important that we meet the needs of young players and focus on the development of them as individuals and install a life-long love of the game."
The move follows guidelines introduced by Football New Zealand in 2013, which state the emphasis in Mini Football - for 9- to 12-year-olds - should be on player development and motivation, not results.
While the junior guidelines recommend that no scores for under-12s be published, many regions, including the Auckland and Northern football federations, have decided to take league tables offline only for children under-10.
The reduced focus on results aligns with similar policies introduced in recent years across all kids' sport, such as allowing teams to share football championship titles, getting some children to swap teams at halftime, or preventing rugby teams winning by more than 35 points.
Auckland's acting football development manager, Angela Wallbank, said the federation felt that "just allowing kids to play football" really brought the game to life.
In Mini Football, the children weren't yet playing with a full team, and had only just been introduced to having a goalkeeper. Games and training were very much focused on development, Ms Wallbank said.
"They're not worried about the score; it's about having fun and getting touches on the ball. The result of a goal doesn't have as big an impact."
Auckland had removed the league tables for 9th grade (9-year-olds) last year and 10th grade (10-year-olds) this year. The gameday score was still noted down for grading purposes, but was not published and wouldn't necessarily be communicated to the kids.
A spokeswoman for the Northern Football Federation said guidelines sent from the national football body encouraged it to stop publicising results for teams of 12-year-olds and younger, but it had decided to make the non-publication cut-off at 10th grade.
She said some parents had initially been against the idea, but the majority had come to appreciate what changing the rules was encouraging. "It was different. There were a few teething issues the first year we introduced it. But since then, it's been really good and it's really positive. The focus is on the kids and their game."
The Waikato-Bay of Plenty, Central, Mainland and Capital federations also do not publish results for under-10s. The policy is described as a "player-centred" rather than "coach-centred" approach.
But Steve Sumner, who led the All Whites to the finals of the 1982 World Cup in Spain, is opposed to it. "That just sounds like gobbledygook to me. When I was a kid, that would have turned me off, not turned me on. I just wanted to win."
Mr Sumner said while the policy might work for some kids, those who were competitive wouldn't like it.
"Kids will want to know their results and their place on the table. I used to keep my own. I just don't get it at all," he said.
"If it hurts the team that's at the bottom, then they should do something about it."
Waikato University sport and leisure studies associate professor Clive Pope, a children's sport expert, said he fully supported the change.
"Invariably you find that one of the reasons the score becomes important is that that's the first question parents ask," he said. "That can actually send the wrong message to kids, who will then disengage."
Professor Pope said league tables were an adult model that only introduced ultra-competitiveness.
"These aren't little adults, these are kids."
Focus on fun
• In early 2015, Howick Pakuranga Principals' Association introduced a fair-play charter so if teams were winning by huge points, coaches were allowed to intervene.
• In 2012, Auckland football organisers were accused of "living in cloud cuckoo land" after allowing children's teams to share championship titles.
• In 2011, the Rugby Union introduced rules to prevent children's teams winning by more than 35 points.