If you watched the World Cup this year you probably were watching when Germany demolished Brazil in the Quarter Finals, winning 7-1. Soccer, much like hockey, is traditionally a very low scoring game. Most games are decided by 1 or 2 goals at the most. To watch Brazil, a team that was favored to win in its home country, be completely and utterly destroyed was cringe-worthy. No one likes to lose, and while losing a close game can be devastating, getting totally blown out of the water can be downright embarrassing. Part of playing youth sports means learning how to lose and lose with dignity, but when one team is running away with the score it’s hard to hold your head up high and keep trying your best.
In order to keep mismatched games slightly less painful for the losing team, many youth sports leagues (in a variety of sports) have instituted mercy rules, sometimes known as slaughter rules.
According to Little League Baseball rules, the game can be ended if the winning team is ahead by 10 or more runs after four innings.
College baseball is one of the few higher level competitive sports that apply a mercy rule. In the NCAA rules and regulations hand guide, they have what they call a “Ten-Run Rule”. It says “by conference rule, or mutual consent of both coaches before the contest, a game may be stopped only after seven innings if one team is ahead by at least 10 runs.”
In high school basketball, there is also a way to stop one team from completely disgracing the other. If a team is leading by 30 points anytime in a game, the clock will continue to run. No stopping. This will not only end the game faster, but give a smaller chance to the team that is leading to completely destroy the other. If the lead falls below 20 points, the clock will go back to all whistle stoppages according to the National High School Federation Rules.
Coach Dave Jacobsen said that it’s important that youth sports leagues have a way to deal with one-sided games. “There are very few life lessons to come out of a blowout game,” he said. “There are very few sporting lessons to come out of a blowout game. If you’re a kid who gets involved in too many blowout games, the game gets boring,” he said. “You may leave the game and quit sports altogether and miss out on life lessons.”
The Northern California Federation Youth Football League changed its mercy rule dramatically to prevent teams from winning by large margins. If a team in the league, which has players between the ages of 7 and 13, wins by 35 points or more, the coach gets a one-week suspension and the team gets fined $200. “It’s not hurting the kids, it’s teaching them compassion for the other team,” said Robert Rochin, the deputy commissioner for the league. “It’s teaching them sportsmanship.” Rochin claims their new mercy rule is a pro-active attempt to keep more kids interested in the sport for longer
“We lose a lot of football players because their teams lose so badly,” Rochin told news sources. “If they are constantly getting beat, who wants to play anymore? We lose kids all season long because of that.
However, with the new mercy rule, some players are worried that the mercy rule will actually affect their playing time and athletic development. One team has stopped attempting any field goals in order to keep the final scores lower, leaving kicker James McHugh only allowed to kick for extra points after touchdowns. McHugh’s mother told news sources that players on her son’s team are afraid to score once they get a lead for fear that their coaches will be penalized and the team won’t be able to play the following week.
Some league administrators also think the mercy rule can do more harm than good. Arlene Virga is the Executive Director of the Yorkville Youth Athletic Association, which serves over 5,000 children in New York City and has leagues in 12 different sports. “The very statement ‘We’re mercying you’ is almost worse than getting beat by a lot.” A strict mercy rule doesn’t give young people enough credit, she said. “We think kids can’t take certain things. We make things so nice for them that when they do come up against difficult things in their life they’re not prepared. It’s really okay to take a shellacking sometimes.”
Do you think the mercy rule is a good idea?