We have all seen it, two teams gathering on the field of competition where it is apparent that one team possesses far more skill than the other.
Despite the hope that the warm-ups are not an indication of the competitiveness of the upcoming match, in many cases it becomes apparent early in games that the highly skilled team will be able to easily succeed over their lesser skilled opponent.
In these situations the powers that be have developed what we call the mercy rule. In baseball if one team is leading by 10 or more runs in the 5th inning than the rest of the game is called off.
In AAU basketball, if a team is leading by 20 or more points at anytime, the clock runs continuously in order to give the winning team less of an opportunity to run up the score.
In my opinion, these two scenarios diminishes the value of what sports are supposed to be all about, two teams competing to the best of their ability and never giving up no matter the score. Surely there is a way that coaches and officials can come together to ensure that the game stays intact without having to eliminate the opportunity for kids to finish their friendly competition.
Sports when administered properly can teach our youth an abundance of lessons about life that include resolve, sportsmanship, desire to improve and the ability to win and lose gracefully. How are we reinforcing these messages by stating to the kids that we will shorten their play time if we feel that the game is getting out of control based on the numbers on a scoreboard?
In my four years of running AAU basketball tournaments I have witnessed many games that resulted in a team losing by 50 or more points. In most of these games one team took an early 20 point lead that, if the mercy rule were in effect, would have cut the children’s playing time in half.
However, despite the apparent discrepancy in score the comments I have heard were not geared towards complaining about the score itself, but instead were focused on the lessons their kids learned from playing in such a game. This glass half full approach is what captures the true essence of a coach. We can all sit on a bench when we are winning, but it takes a special individual and a special group of players to sit on that same bench optimistically when the cards are stacked against them.
Through our toughest moments in sports we can teach our kids more about the game than in any other scenario. For the winning team it is about showing class in victory, by applauding the opposing team for their good plays and by focusing on their execution of a game plan that the coach is trying to implement. For the losing team it is about persevering through the difficult times, knowing that the work that is put in now will pay off in the future.
These are not misguided messages, these are not negative aspects of a sport, if we as the adults can focus on the positives through the finishing of a game instead of thinking how a scoreboard will reflect negatively on our team, we are preparing our children far better for a life that can be riddled with blowouts.