Player Development Matters More than the Final Score


A few weeks ago we talked about the pros and cons of the mercy rule (aka the slaughter rule) in youth sports. Some parents and coaches argue that it actually does more harm than good, because having an opponent “take pity” on your team is worse than actually losing. Others say a mercy rule help keep the game fun because there are no real lessons to be learned (on either side) from a blowout. Much like participation trophies, the mercy rule is a hotly debated topic in youth sports and lots of sports parents and coaches weighed in with their opinions and personal experience with the mercy rule. One soccer coach had this to say on LinkedIn;

Last fall (the 2013 season) I had a team of U10 players that we played up to U11, due to describe the imagecompetitive restrictions on the league. The league had a 7 goal mercy rule, but I elected to never use it. We lost all 8 games in that fall season. Our average goals allowed was 11, while goals scored was 2. The kids don’t want to stop early. They don’t like losing, but what was important was making sure that the score didn’t matter. What matters was that they don’t quit or give up on each other. I made them aware we were playing older, more experience teams. Even though the scores were awful, we played better every week.

I didn’t lose any players during that season even though we always got blown out. Why? Because I set the expectation that this was about development and learning to work as a team, and not winning. We should always be selling the development part, especially when we’re losing.

This coach was in a unique position, because his team was playing up against kids that were a little bigger, a little stronger, a little faster and more experienced. He knew going in that every game was going to be an uphill battle simply because his team was playing with the disadvantage of being younger, and his team knew it to. But even though his team lost every game (and not by a small amount), clearly they had a good season. This soccer coach took to heart the mentality that legendary basketball coach John Wooden preached, “Never mention winning. My idea is that you can lose when you outscore somebody in a game. And you can win when you’re outscored.” He decided that since the odds of them winning any game were slim, that worrying about the score wasn’t going to get them anywhere anyway, so why bother? Instead, he choose to worry about the things he could control, namely player development.

Even if your child’s team loses more than they win, it’s important to look at more than the score and the league standings. How has each child developed as a player? Have they gotten even a little bit faster, stronger, or more accurate in their skills? If they are a more confident athlete (even when dealing with a losing record), I’d argue that has been a successful season! And don’t forget to look at your child’s team as a whole. Celebrate how far the team has come as a whole this season and remember that no matter what their season record is, as long as they had fun, played hard, and worked together then it was a good season.