Win by too much and you lose

A Canadian youth soccer league has a new rule: If a team wins by more than five goals, it forfeits the game. From the National Post:

Bruce Cappon, father of a player, 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.”

Coaches are urged to prevent blow-outs by “rotating players out of their usual positions, ensuring players pass the ball around, asking players to kick with the weaker foot, taking players off the field and encouraging players to score from farther away.”

I’d think it would be more humilating to see the other team deliberately not try to score than it would be to lose by a big margin.

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  1. Richard Nieporent says:

    Yes this is ridiculous. However, it is not quite as bad as the “don’t keep score” and “everyone gets a trophy” leagues. Just wait until the team that is losing 5-0 scores an own goal as time runs out. The reaction to that will be very interesting to see.

  2. Michael E. Lopez says:

    The thing about all this is…. the kids know.

    One of my favourite local radio personalities had a riff that he sometimes did about “Schoolyard Justice”. He said that the absolutely most ruthless and meritocratic form of justice was that of schoolchildren picking teams for a game of kickball.

    The kids know who sucks and who’s awesome. They know who won.

    All we do by refusing to keep score or by adopting lunatic rules such as this is confuse them.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    I coached youth soccer for five years. On the occasions we had a blowout going, I rotated the kids into positions they didn’t generally play. I used the cushion to give them experience at different positions and add to the fun.
    That it had the effect of reducing the size of the lead was secondary.
    Thing is, it almost always works.
    If it doesn’t, that means the league has messed up and let some coach who really needs a life build a dynasty.

  4. Cranberry says:

    I suspect that the league has some out-of-control parents, not that they’re against competition. Near the end of the article,

    “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.”

    “TO MAKE FAIR TEAMS” I suspect some parent/coaches have been treating the team-building part of organizing a sports league as a variant of the major league draft, which is inappropriate in a volunteer-led youth sports league. In theory, teams in a league should be competitive, giving each team a chance to win a game.

    I don’t care about a winning season, but do you think many parents would sign their kids up to play on a team which is guaranteed to lose? When a few parents manage to salt the drafts to create a few dynamite teams, it’s really discouraging for the honest families who want their kids to have a chance to try out a sport.

    Bob Bigelow suggested a good approach to creating fair teams. Let an outside coach create competitive teams. The parent (dad) coaches can then choose a team, and their sons may play on that team. They don’t, however, get a chance to put together a “dream team.”

  5. Miller Smith says:

    Kick into you own goal 6 x and win the game!

  6. I started coaching youth soccer over 20 years ago. Even then, it was conventional to rotate defenders to play offense and offensive players to play defense in blowouts.

    Thus often had the desired effects. But it doesnt always. Frankly, really good coaching makes a big difference in youth soccer, and in many community leages, there is huge variation in coaches’ own knowledge and ability. This really is a coaching problem, by speaking ill of volunteer parent coaches, who het little or no training, is hard to do.

    So, this policy is a message to the coaches of the better teams to be aware of the issue. Kids can use messages about sportsmanship, and some coaches do, too. Heck, the first time one of my team blew out another team, I rotated my lines and everything, but I did not pay enough attention to cautioning my players about needlessly showing up the other team — who obviously were feeling bad enough already.

    The other coach called me on it after the game, and I still feel bad about it. Youth sports should be about the many lessons that extra-curricular activities teach. Perserverance. Teamwork. Integrity. Etc. Etc. One of those lessons should be winning with class — which includes letting someone else lose with dignity.

    Not too much to ask.

  7. Cranberry: As the parent of three elite soccer players, I don’t agree with your idea that volunteer-led youth sports leagues should not draft (I assume you mean choose based on skill etc) players. It depends on the league and its philosophy. In the area where my kids played, kids were assigned to rec-level teams (some city/county, some volunteer-run) pretty randomly within specified geographic boundaries, but had to try out for the next level league, which had somewhat looser rules about required playing time. The (volunteer-run) travel league teams were strictly by tryout; every kid tried out for his team every year, there was no guaranteed playing time and a promotion/relegation format was used to determine division assignment of teams. Promotion/relegation was also used to determine A-division assignment in the summer swim league in that area and in other sports.

    In practice, the choices above meant that kids played in the league that matched their interest, work ethic, athletic ability and skills. A recipe for disaster is trying to mix all levels of those factors on the same team; I’ve seen too many teams destroyed that way and it’s not the way to develop either skills or tactics.

    I remember the travel league required stopping the game when there was a 10-goal differential and I just attended a high school baseball game that was stopped when there was a 15-run differential. That kind of lead can happen, even with rotating positions, putting in the weaker players and requiring multiple touches and passes. I’ve seen it happen the most often in high school games, where the level of talent is often uneven.

    I wonder which format describes this league, since it is not specified in the linked article. If they have more than one division at each age level, it seems as if the division assignments should help the balance issue.

  8. These things depend on the goals of the league. If a league doesn’t keep score in the younger divisions, it may be because they players were having less fun or because they were developing bad habits (shoot instead of control).

    California has two major youth soccer organizations. AYSO is a recreational league and their goals are “fun, fair, and safe”. CYSA is oriented towards highly-competitive play.

    Davis World Cup is a major AYSO tournament and has had a blowout penalty. Teams advance by points, with extra points for a shutout, for example. Winning by more than six goals subtracts a point from your score. A team also loses points for red and yellow cards.

    I don’t see that penalty in the 2010 rules, so they may have dropped it.

    A forfeit is a ridiculous penalty, especially because it is trivial to “game” the rule. Six intentional own goals and the other team forfeits. Duh.

  9. We played in an indoor league over the winter and they didn’t put any more goals up if you were up by 5. That was a pretty good compromise. Sports are competitive. My daughter plays in the local league, indoor league and a travel team and all those are at different skill and competition levels. The more competitive leagues are less likely to have unbalanced games but in the local league you can have mismatches. If there are too many mismatches then that’s a problem with the league. Mercy rules are reasonable except when your team has to stop playing to keep the game going but there’s nothing to be gained from running up the score either.

  10. Miller Smith says:

    If I were the coach, I would instruct my team to let the other team get goals. Just get out of the way.

    Then I would’t threaten the other team with losing by kicking at my own goal for the 6th goal. I could even get the other team to defend my goal!

    This is pure genius!

  11. Cranberry says:

    momof4, let’s say, hypothetically, there’s a league with 150 players, which are assigned to 10 teams. In the group of 150 players, there are 20 really strong players. Should each team be assigned 2 RSPs each? Or, should 4 teams each receive 5 RSPs, and the other teams function as easy wins?

    I’m not objecting to a coach trying to put together a workable team, but it does happen in some leagues, that the coaches who put together the teams give themselves exceptionally strong teams. That isn’t fair to the other players, all of whom paid their dues in the expectation of fair treatment.

    If each team recruits within its own geographical area, that’s a different story, and those teams should be able to recruit their local talent. As described in the story, though, it is noticeable that the sports dads are the ones doing much of the complaining, and in our local league, it’s the sports dads who are accused of rigging the deck.

  12. Whatever happened to the “mercy” rule?

  13. Mark Roulo says:

    Whatever happened to the “mercy” rule?

    From the article, “The rule replaces its five-point mercy regulation, whereby any points scored beyond a five-point differential would not be registered.”

    So, they had a mercy rule and this is what replaced it.

    -Mark Roulo

  14. I still say that it depends on what kind of league – rec-level, rec-plus (more competitive than rec league but less than travel) it is. If it is (trying to be) a travel league, all the RSPs should be on one or two teams, so they can challenge each other on skills and tactics and be prepared for competition at their level or higher at travel tournaments. Unlike the lower-level teams, travel teams typically draw kids from a much wider area; it is not unusual to drive several hours to practices and further for games. I know of one soccer team that had kids from three states and I know of hockey teams where the kid and one parent actually move or the parents transfer guardianship to another family so the kid can play on a top team, if their area doesn’t have one. For lower-level teams, spread the kids out. I don’t support rigging teams at the rec level.

    When I mentioned geography, I was thinking of a large, volunteer-run rec league which has two boys’ and two girls’ teams in every ES in the county – pretty random assignment. Games are played against nearby teams, so their composition is generally pretty even when they start and in early ES. After that, kids and parents sort themselves across the rec, rec-plus and travel leagues.

  15. Mark Roulo says:

    If they have more than one division at each age level, it seems as if the division assignments should help the balance issue.

    Multiple divisions sorted by skill does not always help.

    My son plays little league baseball and in our city, the top two division draft the teams from the entire city (pop: 70K). The best division does its entire draft first, and then the kids that aren’t ready for it (or who are young and don’t want to play there yet … the oldest kids *have* to play in the top division).

    You would think that a round-robin type draft would result in fairly even teams. You’d be wrong. For the last two year, the lower of the two divisions has had two teams that were *horrible*. I’d wonder if it was the ‘insider’ coaches maneuvering to get the best kids, but last year one of the horrible teams was coached by the same guy in charge of that division.

    A week or so ago, the family went to watch the finals for the local high school “sectional” playoff. I expected that the last two teams standing after all the screening (most little leaguers don’t make the HS team, many HS players aren’t good enough to make the Varsity, the teams with little talent don’t win their League …) the play would be kinda balanced. No such luck, the game was ended by the mercy rule at the earliest possible inning.

    I think you just have to plan for this sort of thing.

    -Mark Roulo

  16. There was an interesting article on soccer in the New York Times Magazine (June 6, I think), titled “How a Soccer Star is Made.” It describes the youth program of the Dutch club, Ajax, which is generally acknowledged to have the best youth program in the world, although all the European clubs have their own youth programs. The Ajax program, which consistently produces top international players, is totally unlike the American (and apparently, Canadian) approach. Here, the focus is on the team and winning games; Ajax and the other clubs concentrate on developing individual skills.

  17. Since the focus of this site is education, I’d like to add that I’d like to see the Ajax model applied to academics. Forget parity; identify the best and brightest early and give them the kind of intensive and challenging academic opportunities that Ajax and other clubs give to the best soccer talent.