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Time to ditch the mercy rule and teach kids how to lose

There’s a controversy afoot in youth hockey after the 8-year-old Jr. Rangers beat the Jr. Hawks 41-0. The prevailing question is, “When is enough, enough?”

This one is tough for me. For starters, I’m extremely pro-youth sports. There are very few things that are better for young people than team sports. You learn about teamwork, get a bunch of exercise, and make new friends. What’s not to like?

And there’s also the competition. I am also firmly opposed to the “everybody gets a trophy” movement. It’s counterproductive on a fundamental level. Just participating is not enough to warrant special recognition.

OK, back to our youth hockey game. Let’s explore the possible outcomes. There are only two.

First, you invoke a mercy rule and end the game early. So let’s say in hockey that’s any time one team is 10 goals ahead of the other team. For youth hockey, that’s surely an insurmountable lead. That means this game would have been over about 10 minutes after it started. That’s not very satisfying for everyone that drove their kids to the game.

What does this teach the kids? That’s it’s OK to quit when you can’t win. I can see some merit in that even though it’s cross-grain to everything I was ever taught. You never quit and always finish the game. Those were the foundations of my youth sports experience.

I think it could also give the winning team an inflated sense of superiority. “We’re so good we had to use the mercy rule. Those poor suckers on the other team.” Kids can be vicious.

Next, you let the game play out. That’s the scenario we had. What lessons does that teach? For the losing squad, I would argue that it’s as valuable as winning. What’s the value of not quitting? What do you learn when you finish what you set out to do? How about putting in effort even when you’re behind? And finally, keeping composed in the face of defeat.

I would argue that those skills are more important over a lifetime than knowing how to win in a landslide.

As Coach Johns used to tell me, “Sometimes it’s good to get your butt handed to you.” Except he didn’t use the word butt.

Losing big is the perfect way to gauge how badly you want something. It’s when you lose that you learn your real motivations.

Am I really willing to put in the hard work it takes to get better at this thing, or am I just going through the motions?

I’m open to be persuaded that 8 years old might be too young for that concept, but I’d argue that it’s not too far off. I understand that you don’t want to decimate a kid’s psyche before he’s mature enough to handle it, but there’s no shame in crying after a tough loss, in my opinion.

You’re going to lose a lot. Learning how to deal with it is one of life’s greatest skills.

“What Are We Talking About Here” can be heard every weekday at 4:50 p.m. and 6:50 p.m. on the Ron & Don Show on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM.

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