The article is about a new rule for an Ottawa youth soccer league which stipulates that if a team leads by five goals, they automatically lose! The league previously had a “mercy rule” which sought to prevent humiliation by calling the game when a team led by 5 and awarding that team with the victory. There is at least some sense in this type of rule–there is definitely an argument against making kids feeling bad about themselves by allowing a team to lose by 10, 20, or 30 goals.
When I played baseball, there was a sort of mercy rule: no team could score more than 10 runs in an inning. But even so, scoring a lot of runs didnt cause a team to lose–it didnt even cause the game to be called (I remember beating the Spartans 28-3).
But, this new rule is just plain wrong. It uses perverse incentives to send children the wrong message, punishing good teams and rewarding bad teams.
Under this rule, a team that is winning 4-0 is in the lead, but if they score one more goal, they are losers. But, what about that poor child who excitedly charges down the field and scores the fifth goal for the team. By doing what he has been taught by his coach, he has just cost his team their victory. Surely, his friends will give him hell after the game and make him feel bad for scoring.
Even worse: under this rule, a team that was down by 4 goals could easily kick the ball into their OWN goal–AND GIVE THEIR TEAM AN EASY WIN!
This isnt what youth sports are about. Youth sports are about teaching children to work with others, as a team towards a common goal. What kind of message does it send to children to award the team with the fewest points the victory and turn the team with the most points into losers?
We can compare sports to economics in one important regard. Wins and losses are little different from profits and losses. Just as a profit is a signal to a company that it is succeeding and doing things right, a win is a signal to a team that it is succeeding and doing things right. The opposite is true for losses. People take actions that tend to offer them the most rewards; a profitable company will repeat the actions that brought it these profits, and similarly, a victorious team will repeat the actions that made it victorious. I repeat: What kind of message does it send to children to award the team with the fewest points the victory and turn the team with the most points into losers?
Dubbs Galt commented to me about this issue: “Today, the message from the youth sports egalitarians is that winning and losing is everything – only that any drive for winning should be replaced with a feeling of shame for making someone else lose. These bastardizers of morals want everyone to feel the benefits of an unearned effect while completely dismissing its relationship to any real cause.
As a both a former player and coach of youth baseball, I can promise that a day later kids don’t remember that they lost 11-5. But, the lessons you learn from preparing for competition, laying it on the line during the game, and even the lessons you learn from losing badly…..these lessons last a lifetime.”
This rule sends the wrong message. It turns losers into winners and makes winners into losers.
Imagine if a similar rule was used in other sports. A similar rule in baseball might cause a child to get booed by his own teammates after he hit a grand slam (which cost the team the game). A similar rule in basketball could cause a child who mistakenly stepped behind the 3 point to cost his team the game. This is insanity.
I am glad to report that the entire world hasnt gone completely stupid, however. When I spoke with former New Mexico State QB, Carl Scaffidi about this rule, he told me “if I was a coach, I would strive to go 0-20 with 100 goals.”
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