Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The Mercy Rule

Last week I received an email regarding my 10 year old sons’ school AFL football competition.

If a team is 8 goals or more in front at half time the mercy rule will apply. Therefore this means the team 8 goals or more in front at half time has won the match and the last half will then be regarded as a scratch match. The dominant team will also be expected to swap 2-4 players with the other team for the third quarter and 2-4 players for the final quarter."

I was incredulous when I read it and so I do what I often do these days when I’m not sure about something, and put it out to my Facebook peeps. Now, let me just say at this point that if you have not yet liked the Seventies Baby Facebook page then you are missing out. Not only am I hilarious, this little community is incredible. And this online debate is a perfect example of the calibre of people that are part of it.

So, as I was saying – I was really surprised that such a rule was being implemented. It just didn’t seem right to me. Just like the decision that junior teams of all sports don’t score their games, so that there is no winner or loser. None of that makes sense to me.

But I wasn’t totally convinced it was a shit idea either. Here’s a snapshot of how the discussion went down:


Angie : Junior leagues have used that rule for many years now. It was introduced to prevent children losing interest in football and relieving the negative feelings children can have towards sports when they are constantly defeated by large margins. At such a young age, kids should be encouraged to feel the joy of playing team sport, not segregated into winners and losers. I fully support the rule. As they get older, the rule will no longer apply. It all about learning how to be a part of a team and working together, even if it means helping out the other side so a game can continue to be played and the kids to have fun and exercise.

Linda : When they are in junior leagues they are playing to develop skills, knowledge and sportsmanship. Nothing speaks more highly of sportsmanship than the mercy rule, which recognises that there was a winning team without beating the crap out of them. It is demoralising and counter productive to young players and their interest if they are flogged, especially if it teams repeatedly flogged. You have to remember I junior levels there is such a variety of sizes and ages that it is not a level playing field in any respect at all. I think the mercy rule teaches respect when winning and helps players stay focussed on the game and not just on winning at all costs. As a junior level coach I highly support this rule.

Ilka : I have seen both sides - ice hockey where my son is on good teams and often winning by lots and soccer where he just started playing and has mostly lost, sometimes by huge margins. It is totally disheartening to kids to be beaten by 8 goals or more in any sport. With the 'mercy rule' they still know they've lost but they can finish the game with some positive feelings, improve their skills playing with better players and learn about being good sports. Translate this to life - do you want your kids to totally hammer others who are not as good at them in work, education. . And walk off the field triumphant in how much better they are, or to play hard, win well, and bring others along?


Elizabeth : Not a fan - no incentive to be better and I think it would actually humiliate and demoralise the other team more than just letting them lose. Here, you're so crap that we need to replace you with a better player for the rest of the game.

Adrienne : We get world class surgeons, chefs, scientists, etc because some people are built to strive beyond the norm - how do they learn how to do this if everything is 'fair'? Kids also need to learn how to work out what they are good at so they can pursue those things and excel at them - they have much better lives if they are exceptional at some things rather than being mediocre at everything (or falsely believing they are exceptional at everything because their parents have told them they are). As a youth worker and teacher I see young people every day with no ambition because either they believe there is no benefit to success (you get the same outcome no matter how good you are) or they already think they know everything because they have never failed at anything. We need to teach them it is ok to fail, so they keep on trying and don't give up on things at the first hurdle. Remember Thomas Edison!

Rebekah : Ridiculous coddling behaviour, the upcoming generations are going to reach adulthood without any real experience learning to deal with disappointment. We all feel bad for our kids when they lose or don't do well at something, but teaching them that when things aren't going well people will take it easy on you is setting them up for a rude shock - isn't part of childhood learning the life skills necessary to function as an adult? Seems to me that kids are being robbed of the chance to deal with negative emotions when the stakes aren't as high... how will these generations cope when they lose their job, house or don't get what they want in life? ...personal bugbear of mine if you couldn't tell lol

See how impressive the Seventies Baby community is? I mean seriously. I love the time everyone took to share their thoughts and I especially love the respect. Because grown-ups know that it’s ok to have a different opinion.

Ultimately, both sides of the fence have developed their opinions based on what they believe will achieve the best outcome for well-adjusted, non-arsehole adults. I’m so impressed.

And as for my opinion? Well… the jury is still out. I see merit on both sides of the fence but then I am a long-time fence sitter.

My son has also been in both camps. Last year his team was the kind of team you see in movies which would attract a tough, unorthodox coach to swoop in and take the losers to victory in a nail-biting final. They were pretty shit and they were annihilated NEARLY every week... but every win was so sweet! They got through that season by celebrating good quarters, even in games they lost, in lieu of winning entire matches. This year their game is very strong but last year’s losing form is never far from their minds.

The thing I can’t shake is the accidental lesson we may be teaching our young folk by supporting the mercy rule. And that is one of ‘giving up’. There’s a message that ‘you’re not good enough to finish this game’ that comes with that rule. In a game of Aussie Rules football, it’s completely achievable to score eight goals in two quarters. My feeling is that by stopping official play at that half-time mark because one team is so far ahead [or behind, depending on your perspective] may actually be counterproductive to the losing team. “Don’t bother trying any more – there’s NO WAY you can recover”

If that rule was in play last year, there may have been many strong quarters our boys missed out on celebrating. And this year they may not have bothered trying at all.

What are your thoughts on the Mercy Rule?

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