We’ve just registered Chatterboy for his first soccer season – he’ll be in the Under 6s. We thought long and hard about it, as we’re not sure he’s going to enjoy it at the beginning, but think it’s really important to learn a social sport that you can continue throughout life.

So we found a few friends of Chatterboy’s who will also be starting in the under 6s (sadly the girls we knew weren’t interested) and thought we could sweeten the deal by having them all in the same team so that they could have fun together. As an added benefit, we might be able to carpool as we criss cross our bit of Sydney to go to all the games on Saturday mornings.

No way apparently. The club explained to us that because, in a few years, they will be grading them properly by ability, they have to grade them now, even at the very beginning, to toughen them up for the idea that they can only play with children of the same ability. You have to make friends with the people dumped in your team.

Now in one sense, I understand the idea of grading by ability. I have been tentatively pushing for Chatterboy’s school to think about ability grading as they go into Year 1, particularly for the top and bottom ends of the ability range (where I and the research think it makes most sense, providing the curriculum is also differentiated, as the range is greatest). However, I find it ironic that it is quite socially unacceptable to talk about ability grading at school this young (even after a year of teaching the kids and starting to understand their strengths and weaknesses), but that a soccer club can happily and without apparent opprobium choose the teams totally by grade and ignore the considerable pluses the children might get from playing with friends.

Learning to deal with people different from yourself is always quoted as a reason not to have ability grouping in a school setting. In a sport setting, which in theory is something you do for fun, that’s clearly not a consideration.

I really hope Chatterboy likes his soccer – it’s the favourite game to watch of both Mr Penguin and me (although I’ve never played it) but I wish it wasn’t getting so serious so young.

  5 comments for “Grading

  1. January 30, 2007 at 6:38 pm

    Soccer is a good choice. I still play it regularly (Monday nights with the guys from work). Sadly, my ability has not improved much from when I was about 10, but it keeps me somewhere close to reasonably fit.

  2. January 31, 2007 at 1:58 am

    Supermum’s been busy setting up a little toddlers soccer group, though she missed the first session (when they finally got together) due to dudelet’s leg issue. Apparently, they’ve agreed that next time, each three year old will bring their own ball so I suspect it might have been a little less structured than the grown-ups had intended…

    Hope he has more innate talent than me (though if he’s inherited his mother’s all-round affinity with sport and physical coordination he’ll be fine)

  3. January 31, 2007 at 3:29 pm

    I’m surprised to read this as my son’s soccer club (a very big one in the east) does not grade by ability until age 8. And even then, the ‘best’ kids can try out for A grade and the others (which is the vast majority) just play in whatever team they’re put into, and can definitely arrange to play with friends. The team as a whole is very loosely graded so that their opponents loosely match them. (My son’s team was under-graded, so they won all their matches by too high a margin.) A lot of boys and girls from his class play soccer and are often in teams together.
    One reason I’d argue against ability grading in school at year one and two level is that children develop at very different paces. You’ll see that some kids who don’t appear to be anything but average now have leapt up and are doing very well by the end of year two – around age 7-8 is a big developmental turning point which children reach at different times.

  4. January 31, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    And (I meant to say), ability grading which puts some capable children into a lower level can have a very depressive effect on them – telling them they’re not bright and causing them not to try.

  5. February 2, 2007 at 9:43 am

    My son is in a ski class and has informed us in no uncertain terms that he doesn’t like it because he doesn’t get to ride the Summit chair. In other words, the class is too easy. And in fact he’s grouped with 3 other 5-year-olds, only one of whom is as good a skier as he is. One is really, really uncomfortable with the snow & the cold and the coach spends a lot of time with her…

    I was going to say that soccer is different because there’s so much social interaction & because the whole team matters. But in skiing, there’s time to talk on the chair and time to talk at lunch, and while waiting for the others to catch up… So I’m not sure what I think of this. My tendency would be to put my kid in a class that was better matched. Hmmm. Good discussion.

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