The Northern California Federation Youth Football League put news rules in place this season to keep strong teams from blowing out weaker ones. If any team wins a game by more than 35 points, that coach will be fined $200 dollars and suspended for a week. Teams must also bench their starting line-up if they lead by 28 points or more at the half.
The justification of the “Mercy Rule” is that sports need to be all-inclusive and fun for everyone. “We lose a lot of football players because their teams lose so badly,” said Robert Rochin, NCFYFL’s deputy commissioner. “If they are constantly getting beat, who wants to play anymore? We lose kids all season long because of that.”
Many parents of players are not happy with the rule because they feel it cheats their children out of a chance to develop and also poses a risk to their safety. Kelly McHugh has a 13-year old that is a kicker for a team, but he rarely gets used for fear of running up the score. She said: “Now they are afraid their coaches are going to get suspended and they are not going to have a coach to come out here and play football.”
“The kids who are in the position of trying to protect their coach are backing off and are at a higher risk of being injured,” added parent, Brent Moore.
The league considers the issue a no-win situation. Some parents think the rule is too harsh while others don’t think it goes far enough. It’s certainly a matter of perception. The parents of the kids getting slaughtered are going to complain that nothing is being done to protect them and the parents of the kids on the top teams are going to feel their children are not being given a chance to excel.
Ultimately, the league feels the fines and suspensions are justified. “It’s not hurting the kids, it’s teaching them compassion for the other team. It’s teaching them sportsmanship,” said deputy commissioner Rochin.
Once again youth sports gets a little sillier. We already have leagues that do not keep score and give trophies to everyone. Parents that have never played sports, or at least were terrible at them, who live vicariously through their children, spur these types of rules on. As long as everyone gets equal playing time and regulations force parity, they can keep the lie alive that their little doodlebug is destined to turn pro.
I know of what I speak, I am a youth ice hockey coach. Over the years I have encountered many parents that had kids who could barely skate that genuinely felt were a lock to make the NHL. These are the parents that complain about playing time, poor officiating, and scores being run up. They think they are protecting their children, but what they actually do is make the team sports experience miserable for their little ones. The kids just want to compete and have fun. When the parents bring the anger in, it negatively affects them.
The league I coach in does not have a mercy rule and certainly no fines for running up the score. A few years ago our team lost a game 18-1 (that’s equivalent to losing a football game by 126 to 7). I was not happy with the opposing team’s coach for his lack of sportsmanship but the kids didn’t care. They understood the other team was much better than them and I let them know they tried their best. In the locker room after the game the only thing the kids were worried about was if I had brought snacks and juice boxes for them.
We are doing our children a great disservice by watering down youth sports. Important life lessons are lost when we apply the PC principals. Some people are better at things than others. It takes hard work to achieve your goals. Life is not always fair. This whole thing reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut’s short story Harrison Bergeron, where the title character has his superior strength and intellect hindered so he will be average like everyone else.