Wussification – or worthwhile?

I’m of two minds about a report at The Blaze.

Have you heard of the so-called “mercy rule”?

It keeps youth game scores artificially low by preventing more powerful teams from winning by lopsided margins.

Squads in the Northern California Federation of Youth Football often ignored the mercy rule in years past and received only warnings after violations.

. . .

The NCFYF has added teeth to the mercy rule this season for its age 7 to 13 teams, instituting a $200 fine for squads that win games by 35 points or more and a one-week suspension for violating teams’ head coaches, according to KCRA.

NBC Sports’ Dave Briggs called the move the latest chapter in the “wussification of America” and a “ridiculous rule,” saying it teaches “lesser teams that there’s always someone there to cushion to blow.”

But league brass beg to differ.

“It’s teaching them compassion for the other team,” Rochin said. “It’s teaching them sportsmanship.”

There’s more at the link.  Here’s a video report about the problem.

I agree, it sounds like wussification at first . . . but there are other factors to consider.

  • This only applies to elementary and middle school kids, as I understand it.  High school football isn’t affected.
  • I’m sure we’ve all seen reports of parents egging on their kids, demanding that they be given more time on the field, suing, abusing – even assaulting – coaches who they believe are holding their kids back, and so on.  If this ‘mercy rule’ removes or minimizes opportunities for such parents to behave in those ways, that can’t be all bad.
  • I note that Little League Baseball also has a mercy rule.  It seems to be applied firmly and (apparently) fairly, even in the Little League World Series, and doesn’t appear to have attracted anything like the controversy that this football mercy rule has engendered.

On the face of it, I’m not sure that a mercy rule in football for players below high school level is necessarily a bad idea.  I note, too, that those objecting to the rule in the video report above appear to be those with a vested interest in doing away with the rule.  Their opinions are not exactly impartial.  However, since I was raised in a very different sporting tradition (yay cricket!), I’m not the best-informed person about the American sporting culture.

What say you, readers?  Let’s hear your views in Comments.



  1. I've always seen the mercy rule enforced by the officials. I think here in OK, they use it in softball at the HS level.

    The case in California is a community league, AFAIK, not one sponsored by any school system, and most leagues I've been affiliated with at that level don't have a full officiating crew.

    If the league isn't going to have officials there to enforce it, I don't see how they expect their coaches to reign it in, especially when they see college football games in the early part of the season with scores like 80-7.

  2. I think it's ok for the younger kids. I'd rather see sportsmanship and personal development at that level than cutthroat competition.

    Also, in Little League the implementation is a lot cleaner.

    Instead of fining teams etc., they just end the game. That makes more sense to me.

  3. I have never seen a problem with the mercy rule when dealing with elementary and junior high school sports. Especially in those cases it is painfully obvious which team is in control, ending it early doesn't change the win/loss column. I would note that this also keeps intentional injuries down, as kids who are getting trounced have a tendency to shift focus from the ball to their opponent.

  4. Let's go all the way with this. When one team achieves a substantial point lead – let's use the 35 point delta already established – the other team gets "Mercy Points" awarded for "being victimized," allocated on the curve.

    When Team A reaches a 35 point lead, Team B receives 3 Mercy Points. For a 40 point lead Team B gets 5 MPs. At a 45 point delta, Team B gets 10 Mercy Points, producing a negative delta with each additional Team A score. At a 60 point difference, Mercy Points go up to 12 and Team A must take one player off the field for each additional touchdown or field goal. That way if Team A keeps scoring, Team B can actually win the game by doing nothing. This should effectively destroy any concept of scoring.

    50% of a Team's Mercy Points can be applied to future games, so a team that accumulates enough Mercy Points can become the season champion without ever having to score in the championship game.

    If we're going to completely destroy any metric of performance, let' s destroy it completely.

    We can start in California. They're good at this sort of thing.

  5. I'm not American either, I grew up with what they call soccer. And yeah, I was in a lot of onesides games when I was a kid. In the case of soccer, the score usually dont get too big, because most teams have a "mercy" attitude. Once they have a comfortable big lead, they tend to slow down and focus on playing the game well rather than just running up the score. I don't think many games got worse than maybe 12-0 or so, without needing a mercy rule.

    Loosing big time after time does drive kids away from sports, a few of them might go to better teams but many just quit. Loosing isn't a problem for kids, loosing big time after time is. There's a difference.

    I really cant see the point in beating up a bad team even more, when it's kids we're talking about. Once you are ahead that much, it's really not a game any more, it's just stronger kids beating the weaker kids.

    I cant see any wrong with a mercy rule of some sort for kids games, as long as it's just that, a "mercy" rule to keep the scores from being ridiculous while still showing a big win for the better team.

  6. I used to coach youth football, and the mercy rule was:
    When a team is 28 points ahead, that team would switch to full time defense.
    At 35 points, the coaches would be suspended one week.
    At 48 points, the game would be ended.

    I don't have a problem with a mercy rule. It keeps teams from unnecessarily running up the score. A win is a win, and rubbing it in the face of a losing team doesn't teach the kids the most important lesson of all: sportsmanship and grace.

    I have seen parents who are attempting to relive their childhood through their kids do some very unethical things. The win at all costs and be rude about it personality is very strong with these leagues.

  7. I was leaning toward "wussification" ableit not strongly, until the video showed me the teen saying he couldn't practice his field goals because of the rule. And then Mom says "they're afraid coach will be suspended" what, because they just can't stop themselves from overrunning the limits? Sorry, this is a good thing. And hope those two aren't typical.

  8. What they do around here for football is go to running time when one team is ahead by a certain number of points. When the clock does not stop for anything games end very quickly and the score does not get run up.

  9. tweell said
    I would note that this also keeps intentional injuries down, as kids who are getting trounced have a tendency to shift focus from the ball to their opponent.

    Very wise words. In my youth, I was on some bad teams. The kids across the line from me rarely enjoyed their team's victory.

  10. On the one hand, a 35 point lead in a football game isn't that big. On the other hand,I think it says more about this country not that such a rule exists (or that people would consider a mercy rules in the first place) but that people actually feel its necessary.

    I would have hoped that the coaches and the managers and the other adults involved were "adult" enough to reign it in on their own without official rules and sanctions. Built a respectable lead? Great, now's a chance to get your lesser players some game time, or to try out those new plays that may or may not work.

    Having a rule in place that forces play to stop or forces the coaches to take a particular tactic to me teaches a completely different lesson than coaches willingly and purposefully changing things up so the score doesn't become a complete route. That is to say, a rule that requires the opposing team to let the other team take their shots is a bad rule that makes the better team resentful and the worse team feel like crap, on the other hand, moments like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTaB-hPg0P4 which come from pure sportsman ship teach all the right lessons.

  11. Why the legue felt the need or any league feels the need for mercy rules is troublesome and worry some for me.

    What happen to sportsmanship? Would it not be sporting for the winning team of a runaway team to field lessor players?
    What happened to spreading out the best players/coaches to ensure fair play?
    I don't think mercy rules are great, but I have seen what is like for the kids of parents who have the money/time/health to help their children get better at something and the results of the lack of those things.
    I would say a better grading system for the players and better management of where/what teams get the top "scored" players would result in the same as mercy rules without telling the youngsters that they have to have the rules in their favor to get anywhere.
    Which is my concern with these types of rules;what are we telling the kids? The best players are not being taught to have mercy. The worst players are not being given an environment that will allow them to grow and find out if they can get better.

    This is just a no win situation

  12. Isn't what's really happening is the rules are teaching sportsmanship to the coaches, not the kids? The coaches could, as the anon 1039 poster said, do their best to change the emphasis of the game from scoring to flawless execution, using every player on the bench, and so on. The coaches should strive to prevent the situation where their players score.

  13. Well Seasoned Fool said…
    tweell said
    I would note that this also keeps intentional injuries down, as kids who are getting trounced have a tendency to shift focus from the ball to their opponent.

    Very wise words. In my youth, I was on some bad teams. The kids across the line from me rarely enjoyed their team's victory.

    OTOH, I remember well my daughter's travel soccer league. One game, when her team was ahead by two goals and the game was in stoppage time, one of the other team's forwards hit my daughter (playing fullback – defense if you're not familiar) behind the right knee with a kick that required her being carried off the field and to the hospital. The attitude of "we're losing, so let's do some damage" is sh*tty, thank you very much.

  14. As a child and teenager playing Rugby I've been on both ends of big score win/loses. At age 10 played a season where my team lost 19 out of 20 games by more than 45 points but I have more vivid memories of the 1 game we won then I do of the other 19 put together. We didn't have the mercy rule but if both coaches agreed if one team was winning by a large margin the teams would exchange players for the remainder of the game to even things up, but no further points scored would count in the official final result. Seemed to work well and it gave all the player on the field a chance to improve. Do take the point about players on losing team changing focus from playing to hurting the opposition at 16 I received a black from a cheep shot from a large frustrated player in the other team and a lot more bruises and scratches from additional rucking(i.e been stomped on with cleats, normal within the rules of the game until very recently)

  15. @ Chris. Was never "dirty". Played smash mouth football. Made them understand not everyone on our team gave up. My parents would never condone me playing dirty.

    What happened to your daughter has happened to a niece – it is never acceptable.

  16. At least they're still keeping score! Most youth sports seem to further wussify by removing scores and ensuring that everyone is "special".

  17. At that age there isn't any wussification about it. When the game turns into a dead over-run it ceases to be a good game.

    I liked anonymous's suggestion about trading a few players to even things up. In the gentle, civilized game of Rugby, no less.

  18. Back when I was playing high school sports (badly), it was considered bad sportsmanship to try to run up the score as high as possible against an opponent that was obviously beaten. Second and third string players would be put in by the winning team to give them a chance to play, and to give the opposing team a chance to even the score a little.

    I don't see this as "wussification"…it's a response to a perceived decline in sportsmanship in this country (real or imagined). But if the rule was needed in the first place, THAT is the true indictment of the current sporting culture.

    It appears that some people consider traditional good sportsmanship "wussy" or something.

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