What does the mercy rule really measure?

By Janis Meredith | Posted 7/22/2015

In 2013, the Northern California Federation Youth Football League (NCFYFL) instituted stiff new penalties for any teams that beat opponents by 35 points or more. The rule stated that those teams will be fined $200 and their coaches would be suspended from all league activities for two weeks.

The penalty was a drastic change for the league of 7- to 13-year-olds, which used to issue warnings following blowouts and required a written description that detailed what the victorious team had done to try and keep scores low.

The decision angered many parents, coaches and players who felt it held kids back from playing their best.

As a parent and coach’s wife, I can see both sides of the argument. Uppermost in my mind is what this rule is teaching kids.

Does it teach our kids to show compassion for the other team? Or does it teach them to not give their best effort at all times? I do not like to see players slow down when they are running with the ball and just walk out of bounds or let themselves get tackled.

Does it save kids from the embarrassment of losing too horribly? Or does it teach them to expect others to take it easy on them if they aren’t doing too well, a sort of “mercy entitlement?”

Is it really making the “losers” feel better? Or is it making the “winners” feel superior because they were kicking butt and now they can just play around because the other team stinks so bad?

Do our kids learn how to play with excellence? Or do they learn that it’s OK to be sloppy?

I strongly believe that we should teach our kids to show compassion through youth sports. Teach them to play clean, help opposing players up, recognize good play on the opposing side, help hurt players and apologize for injuring another player or for taking a cheap shot.

But I’m not so sure that keeping kids from the emotional hardship of losing too badly is really doing them a favor. Instead, it feeds a victim mentality and stunts the growth of persistence and strength in their lives.

Janis B. Meredith, sports mom and coach's wife, writes a sports parenting blog called JBM Thinks. She authored the Sports Parenting Survival Guide Series and has a podcasting series for sports parents. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.