Mercy Rule for Youth Sports

If your child is involved with youth sports for a long enough period of time, you’re going to become familiar with The Mercy Rule for youth sports.

The mercy rule, of course, is when one team is dominating another team so thoroughly that the game ends. I’ve got nearly 10 years of youth sports leagues experience from my 2 kids across a myriad of sports and I’ve been on both sides of the mercy rule. Youth sports can become quite a bit less fun in a hurry if one team is vastly better than the other.

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Mercy Rule for Youth Sports

Not all mercy rules are created equally… Some are downright humiliating for kids, some allow for compassion and fair play. Between my 2 kids, I’ve seen different forms of the mercy rule in soccer, baseball, and football. Mercy rules tend to be less merciful the older a child gets.

Soccer mercy rules vary from league to league and from age group to age group. The current high school format I’m familiar with is 8 goals. One team gets ahead by 8 goals and it’s game over. My daughter’s current youth soccer is interesting as it allows the girls to continue to play regardless of score. If one team goes ahead by 6 goals, the opposing team is allowed one more girl on the team (hopefully to play defense) so the game can continue.

My son’s Little League baseball mercy rule was that the game would end if one team is up by more than 10 runs after 4 innings. Mercies in Little League are quite common and I’ve seen more than my fair share from both sides. Unfortunately, the mercy rule in Little League seems to be a race to see how fast one coach can get to the mercy rule so everyone could go home as soon as possible. Would it kill some of these coaches to pull their ace starting pitcher and move him to Right Field in order to let
someone pitch who might not get to play very much? No, but I understand the logic of getting the victory and getting the heck out of there.

In football, mercy is a little more difficult to come by. I’ve yet to see a detailed rule mercy rule for football. It’s up to coach discretion. If a team is winning by 24 or more points in the first half, the winning team tends to pull their starters in the 2nd half and not attack for points quite so much.

Which is the best mercy rule for youth sports? It depends on the age of the child but I definitely prefer the mercy rules where kids are allowed to continue playing. It’s even better when a coach on a winning team allows their ace starters to come off of the field so kids with lesser abilities have a chance to play.

I’ll leave you with a great mercy rule story. The Roeper School in Birmingham recently won their first soccer state championship. Roeper’s coach Ed Sack says he has never cut a player or mercied an opponent in 17 years. He simply pulls his starters for the sake of sportsmanship to avoid the mercy rule altogether.