If your child is playing in a football league and the other team is winning big, do you want the opposing players to lay down and let your kid’s team score? What about fining the other team $200 if the opposing coach does not cooperate?
That’s exactly what’s happening in the Northern California Federation Youth Football League, where a league for children 7 to 13 year olds is now suspending the coach for one week and handing the team a $200 fine it wins by 35 points or more. It’s called the “mercy rule.” The league’s deputy commissioner says the rule teaches compassion and sportsmanship.
Some players and parents said the … mercy rule is hurting the team and the players’ development. “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,” said Kelly McHugh, a concerned parent. McHugh’s son is the kicker for the Sutter Huskies and said the rule means her son isn’t doing as much on the field. “I can’t kick field goals or practice my field goals,” said James McHugh, 13.
It’s certainly controversial.
I understand the intent of the rule. And to the league’s credit, they do actually keep score. But by urging teams to let other teams score, they’re failing to teach all the kids valuable life lessons. If my son was losing by 35, I’m sure I wouldn’t be having too much, fun, either. But instead of pulling my kid out of the league or proposing a fine, I think I’d be sitting in the stands wondering what lessons a blowout could teach him. Perhaps I could tell him about famous politicians that lost (Abraham Lincoln) or famous sports stars (Michael Jordan got cut, you know). He might learn something about that, sure, but I’d want to give him something more significant.
I’d probably not tell him everything in one conversation, but I’d want him to learn: Life isn’t going to let you score. You’re going to have to learn to get up after each loss in life, even after each blowout, and go forward. Losing in sports teaches you to cope with losing in life — and ultimately, to look again and again to Christ. You may not get into your first pick for college or get your first pick for a job. Too, you’ll probably be turned down a few times by girls you like. Besides, if you are playing football only to win, and not at least for the mere joy and comradery of the game, then you shouldn’t be playing.
As a Christian father, I’d probably also tell him how losing big teaches humility, a key biblical trait (James 4:6), and how we should congratulate the other team, no matter the score. And I’d tell him that this world isn’t our real home, and how getting blown out – how losing, for that matter — helps put things in perspective. Maybe God is telling us that football isn’t all that important after all. Our real home is in heaven, and we should walk off the field with joy.
There’s another lesson for those kids getting blown out: Maybe football isn’t your best sport. I must acknowledge that I do “let” my son wins races in the yard, but I also make sure I beat him some, too. That way, he learns lessons about winning and losing. But there’s surely a difference between a father letting a child win and a child of the same age letting him score.
What do you think?
Michael Foust is an editor and writer who blogs about parenting and fatherhood. He loves his family and also really likes popcorn. Interested in re-posting this in your publication or on your blog for free? Send me a message in the comments section below (the message won’t go public).
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