Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Ottawa league's blowout rule: Making soccer more communist?

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My Twitter was a-blowin’ up today over a soccer league that is contributing to what is often called the pussification of sports by declaring any team that wins by five or more goals has won by too much, and therefore has officially lost. From what I saw on the ol’ Twitter, the edict from the Gloucester Dragons Recreational Soccer League is infecting America with sports communism, Trotsky and Lenin and no-score leagues and pitch counts and moms as coaches. (No matter that this league is in Canada — close enough!)

When the he-man world discovers the latest threat to youth sports as they should be — a combination of yelling, Social Darwinism and the occasional wedgie — the Internet pattern goes like this:

1. Someone writes a story, full of quotes from perturbed parents and tight-assed sounding league officials. In this example, the National Post in Toronto.

Kevin’s father, Bruce Cappon, called the rule ludicrous.

“I couldn’t find anywhere in the world, even in a communist country, where that rule is enforced,” he said.

Mr. Cappon said the organization is trying to “reinvent the wheel” by fostering a non-competitive environment. The league has 3,000 children enrolled ranging in age from four to 18 years old.

“Everybody wants a close game, nobody wants blowouts, but we don’t want to go by those farcical rules that they come up with,” he said. “Heaven forbid when these kids get into the real world. They won’t be prepared to deal with the competition out there.”

Club director Sean Cale said he is disappointed a few parents are making the new soccer rule overshadow the community involvement and organizing the Gloucester club does.

“The registration fee, regardless of the sport, does not give a parent the right to insult or belittle the organization,” he said. “It gives you a uniform, it gives you a team.”

Mr. Cale said the league’s 12-person board of directors is not trying to take the fun out of the game, they are simply trying to make it fair. The new rule, suggested by “involved parents,” is a temporary measure that will be replaced by a pre-season skill assessment to make fair teams.

2. The story gets posted on the likes of Fark and Deadspin, followed by lots of snarky comments, some of which rail about pussification, and some of which just make smart-aleck jokes.

3. The presence of the story on the likes of Fark and Deadspin gets people a-Twitterin’.

4. That’s where I come in to float above it all and tell you what to REALLY think.

So here we are at step No. 4.

As usual, what the Gloucester Dragons league did was a well-meaning combination of thoughtful and stupid. As the league name says, it’s a recreational league, i.e., for fun. There’s no better way to drive away players who are there for the fun of it by putting them on a team that consistently gets their ass kicked. Hey, we’re playing for fun, but we’re still keeping score, and it’s not a lot of fun to get your ass kicked.

The league has the right idea by having a tryout camp to try to ensure teams are equal. But to tell teams that, in the interim, winning by a lot means that they’ll actually lose — it’s not communism, but it is dumb. It’s insulting to have teams fart around for the sake of increasing the margin to six. There are a lot of ways to stop a blowout: slaughter rule (ending the game when the margin is too high), having the leading team play with fewer players, a running clock. Not telling the winning team they’ll actually lose.

If having a blowout is that worrisome, just don’t keep score. As you can see by the National Post story, the whole idea of blowout prevention came from parents. The great upset about blowout prevention is coming from parents. Well, some kids, too. But like in my 7-year-old son’s no-score baseball league, if the kids want to keep track, that’s fine. The reason for no-score leagues is so parents won’t lose their shit over a game.

It’s not pussification. It’s parent pacification.

Written by rkcookjr

June 3, 2010 at 1:05 am

12 Responses

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  1. Bob… You are either a pussy or you are not. I too, once believed that not keeping score was a good idea for little kids sports until this happened. On the drive home from my son’s first indoor soccer game (about age 8, if I recall correctly), I asked the boy: “What did you like most about your first indoor soccer game?”. His answer: “The scoreboard.”. I immediately got my belief system adjusted and quit being a pussy. Keeping score never hurt a kid. They are tougher than their parents and can deal with setbacks with far greater grit than we expect from them. Observe children fighting cancer and you will see the real face of courage.


    June 3, 2010 at 10:40 am

  2. “Parent pacification” hits the nail on the head.
    I’d go one further- it’s not so much the kids who need to believe every child can get a ribbon, but the parents who need the validation.


    June 3, 2010 at 11:38 am

  3. Three things, Leon.

    1. Follow the link on “pussification” to see what I think of the term “pussy” for someone who isn’t tough. Summary: I’ve watched my wife grind through the birth of four children. I’ve watched tough guys collapse in a heap after a glancing blow to the nutsack. Pussies are much tougher.

    2. Re-read to see where I say that the ones who lose their shit over score being kept are not the kids — it’s the parents. As a coach, I LOVE a no-score league because the parents get far less stressed. If the kids on the bench want to keep score, that’s their business. A no-score league works very well for a developmental league, so the focus can be on, well, development, instead of weeding out 6-year-olds. They’ll learn soon enough that people are assholes.

    3. Go through my site and you’ll see that I HAVE observed a child fighting cancer.

    Bob Cook

    June 3, 2010 at 11:41 am

  4. When did we rename the mercy rule to the slaughter rule? Is that reverse pussification in action?


    June 3, 2010 at 11:42 am

  5. I don’t know if keeping score or not keeping score really makes that much of a difference. I have been a parent and coach in both situations, across several sports, and parent behavior doesn’t seem to change. Parents with athletic kids tend to be competitive people – period. The parents who are focused on winning will keep score and yell at the coach no matter the league setup. It never changes, from Little League to High School, the loudmouths remain the loudmouths.

    Side story about kids’ desire to keep score. I coached a U6 boys soccer team, in a rec league that doesn’t keep score. The kids really didn’t follow the “we don’t keep score” excuse, so I always told them we tied. The last game of the season we were the victims of a complete blowout. At the end one of the players told me, “Well at least we didn’t tie”.


    June 3, 2010 at 12:54 pm

  6. I remember playing in a league as a kid where my team was almost always outclassed and outgunned. I remember at least five games when I was 12 where the mercy rule was invoked. I also remember that when my teammates and I turned 13, a lot of us had practiced enough to not get mercied at all the next year, and we even won a few games. I can’t imagine that being told the other team lost because they scored on us too many times would actually have made us feel as good as winning a few games out next season did.


    June 3, 2010 at 1:01 pm

  7. That might have been old-school me talking. I think it’s formally called a mercy rule, but I always remember as a kid calling it a slaughter rule. Especially if we just got slaughtered.

    Bob Cook

    June 3, 2010 at 1:47 pm

  8. I think a lot of parents — even perfect specimens of moderation in perspective as myself — freak out at least a little bit when their child first starts competitive sports. Parents spot in a hurry whose kid is good, and particularly if their kid is not. It’s also the first time, usually, parents have watched their child under the command of another adult — in the parents’ presence. I think no-score leagues at an early age help pacify a lot of those parents (some just can’t be) because at least without a score, there’s no labeling of winner or loser. If your kid picks dandelions or scoops dirt instead of playing, it doesn’t hurt anyone, and you’re not going to get grief from the other parents for it.

    Bob Cook

    June 3, 2010 at 1:54 pm

  9. Ha ha, that’s a great story. On another note, my 10-year-old daughter’s softball coach refuses to tell them the score until the game is over, because he wants them (rightly) to concentrate on playing instead of calculations. Heck, some kids seize up enough on the mound when a parents yells “only one more strike!” so it’s just as well not to have their minds stuck on the score instead of hitting, fielding and throwing.

    Bob Cook

    June 3, 2010 at 1:57 pm

  10. Yes, I think where the Gloucester rule really falls on its face is with the older kids. You’re going to tell a 17-year-old, even in rec league, that you actually “won” because you “lost” by so much? Heck, if you’re down 6-1, you might as well let the other team score!

    Once you start getting to age 10, 11, 12, the kids know whether they’ve won or lost, even if they don’t keep track of the exact score, so there’s no point in no-score leagues or the Gloucester rule. I’ve coached a few fifth-sixth grade basketball teams that struggled to win, but it gave me the opportunity to teach how to deal with losing: don’t turn on your teammates, don’t give up, just work harder at practice and in a game, don’t worry about the score, and good things can happen. Then when we did win, it was all the sweeter. Sometimes those season, as a youth coach, are more satisfying, particularly if the kids keep a good attitude and use the losing, in a sense, as a bond, sort of a bunker mentality.

    Bob Cook

    June 3, 2010 at 2:01 pm

  11. Good points all. Thanks!
    On point 2: Kids usually know the score. Just ask them.
    On weeding out: My family is apparently genetically very late developing. i.e. cut from the Jr. High basketball team and a 2-year H.S Starter. It is a blessing. You learn that any most any kid can make it to a level they can be proud of if they stick with it. My son couldn’t kick a soccer ball without falling over when he was little and ended up a 3-year starter in H.S. “Weeding out” is an expression that pisses me off.


    June 3, 2010 at 2:11 pm

  12. Re weeding out: I would agree. One of the biggest problems of the youth sports system as it now stands is that it punishes late bloomers or starters. On the other hand, a lot of hardcore travel kids burn out between 13 and 15, so if your kid really enjoys a sport and wants to stick with it, there someday may be a place on the roster. My daughter’s softball coach has a 16-year-old daughter who is playing varsity softball as a starter despite never having played travel ball until last year. She played house league and got better as her peers burned out on year-round schedules. It also helps she plays catcher.

    Bob Cook

    June 3, 2010 at 3:21 pm

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