Sporting Behavior or Soccer Insanity?

An article today from an obvious soccer outsider really caught my attention. The opinion piece was regarding his thoughts on a 6-0 mercy rule within league play. I believe the author, Graham Messner, has violently missed the mark with his perceptions of competitiveness and how it should apply in a youth sports setting.

Now, at Soccer Classroom, we certainly wouldn’t call ourselves “fairness bunnies.” We believe in the spirit of competition – we just believe it needs to be channeled in the right direction. Using “Player Development” as our guiding principle, we don’t believe in teams railroading another team. And, 6-0 is generally considered the point at which you’re sticking the other teams nose in it. The game has obviously diminished in quality and is certainly unsporting at that stage. The negative effects including poor form and being turned off to the game far outweigh any other aspect.

On Being the Adults

Now, sometimes in speaking with parents, they believe a team should be allowed to run up the score. In fact, I had one parent call the 6-0 rule “Un-American.” The notion that some parents believe that the “U6 Tiger Sharks” should be able to beat up on the “U6 Killer Bees” due to their superiority is ludicrous. Ultimately, they’re totally ignoring the fact that teams (or playing division) – to begin with – were not formed properly and created this inequity. Let’s rest assured that it is not the amazing training habits formed in the short season that has provided this imbalance.

Sure, its important to learn dealing with a win and loss graciously, we agree. But, I’m always amazed when you ask how that same parent would feel if their son or daughter lost a match 8-0 and having to pickup their spirit and force them back onto the field next time. Suddenly, the answer changes just a little bit. The net end result isn’t positive: the winning team didn’t develop skills; the losing team was probably turned off to soccer. This is not good for player development.

Now, as a coach, you know straight away when you have a match that is going to be unequal. You can take steps along the way to even out the match to create a competitive environment – and the time isn’t with 5 minutes left and you winning 5-0. Game like this are the perfect opportunity to develop and test your weaker players and allow them to experience new positions while doing so under game conditions. While coaches should be exposing players to all aspects of the game anyway, I can appreciate inexperienced coaches feeling uneasy about this. Rest assured, once you do it you realize that pigs are going to fly in from the sky.

Walk the Walk?

Sure, it sounds good. But do you do it? Yes.

You want to know how nuts I am about staying true to Player Development? Coaching on the higher-level competitive side, I’ve always played teams even up when they turn up without enough players to fulfill a whole team. You can’t imagine the looks on other coaches faces when I tell them I’m playing them even…and why I’m doing it. The lessons of creating a sporting, competitive environment far outweigh a win. And, certainly, I know my players will develop at a far greater rate by being challenged – not by simply “outmanning” the other team into a blockbuster win. Neither team gets anything out of that situation. Now, we’ve always won the games anyway by keeping fresher legs in the game, but even if we didn’t it would be the “right” thing to do. I always like to think on the sidelines, “What are you teaching your kids?”

I’m able to do this because I clearly explain our goal of Player Development in our Pre-Season meeting. The goal is never to win; to goal is to develop. Winning and losing is simply and outcome of playing the game. I can do tons of things as a coach that are contrary to player development, but would help us to win more matches. By framing player development and sporting behavior and lesson for young players, we have a platform for understanding and success. And, because we do focus on overall player development, we win our fair share of games because all of our players get better throughout the season.

Now, certainly Graham does make an amusing case about what happens in a 5-0 scenario where the team scores on itself at the direction of the coach. Obviously, in the non-sporting gesture, I am certain that cooler, Administrative heads would prevail resulting in no penalty. But, yes, this would be an awkward situation. I will just mention that in 20+ years on soccer fields around the Nation, I’ve never heard of it before…take that for what it’s worth.

Soccer Coaching Topics

  • As a parent, what do you think about the 6-0 rule? Fair? Unfair? Ridiculous? Needed?
  • As a league, what can be done to avoid situations such as these?
  • Does your club/league have a “mercy” rule in effect? What is the general consensus in your club about it?
  • As a coach, how do you avoid “running up” the score?

Original Article:

TOO FAR Bizarre rule takes fun out of youth soccer


For Public Opinion


So much is going on these days that defies common sense, it’s scary.

This week, it was revealed that the National D-Day Memorial Foundation actually thought it was a good idea to erect a statue of Josef Stalin in Bedford, Va.

Yes, that Stalin.

The fact that the person or persons who came up with the “idea” weren’t laughed out of the room and out of a job makes you wonder.

In Canada, lame brainitus apparently caused another bizarre decision to be made when an Ottawa youth soccer league imposed a rule that penalized any team winning by more than five goals.

The penalty?

The team winning by a six-goal differential must forfeit the game due to a lack of sportsmanship.

I can’t make this stuff up.

League director Sean Cale, who evidently has stage four lame brainitus, defended the new rule by saying it was intended to make the game fair.

This guy is a real Einstein.

In Cale’s world, everyone is created equal, excellence is frowned upon and thin-skinned losers are rewarded.

Two weeks ago, the Canadian national soccer team lost to Argentina 5-0 in Buenos Aires. If only Argentina had scored another goal, the Canadians, using Cale’s logic, would’ve celebrated a glorious upset win.

In 1993, Canada lost to Mexico 8-0. That’s a big victory in Cale’s book.

The funny thing about those who implement such short-sighted regulations is they have no alternate rules in place in case someone smarter than them purposely makes a mockery of the rule and its intent.

For instance, let’s say Team A holds a 5-0 lead late in the game, and a Team B defender hears the official say there are 10 seconds left. Wanting to win the game, he waits five seconds, and then drills the ball into his own net, effectively giving Team A a 6-0 lead, but ultimately an automatic loss for running the score up.

Another example: Perhaps Team A, upon scoring a fifth goal, either allows a Team B player to dribble down the field uncontested and score into an empty goal, or simply scores an own goal on purpose so they can resume playing the game in proper fashion.

The new rule follows the previous rule that stated any goal scored beyond a five-goal differential would not count. Apparently, that wasn’t enough.

Cale stated that the rule would likely be replaced by a preseason skill assessment that would help make fairer, more-balanced teams. Honestly, why not try that first?

He also said that the league encourages coaches to take measures, such as making players play with their weaker foot, taking players off the field or moving players out of their usual positions.

Trust me, if you move a youngster from defender to striker, all he wants to do is try to score a goal. While taking players off the field and putting in restrictions are solid options used for decades, simply saying six goals is the standard for a team running the score up is asinine.

But in this league, where players range from 4 to 18, a coach must tell the players to just pass the ball around and keep the ball as far away from the opponent’s goal as possible — the complete opposite of the object of the game (you’d want to keep it as far away from the opponent’s goal as possible to avoid an odd ricochet that could cost you the game).

Honestly, I would like to be there and watch a game end when the team leading 6-0 is given a loss.

Talk about body language.

On one hand, you’d either have the “winning” team jumping around showing the No. 1 sign — despite not scoring a goal — or a bunch of children who know what happened and are uncomfortable with it all.

On the other hand, the “losing” team just stands there. Their parents stand there. Their coaches stand there.

Citizen Cale then exuberantly declares the victor, helps form a victory tunnel and declares he’s starting a cross country program in which the fastest runners must wear handicapping ankle weights in an effort make the race fair for everyone.

He then unveils a statue of Josef Stalin and everyone sings and rejoices in the success of socially engineered parity and the virtues of the lowest common denominator.

Things have gone too far for too long.



Published by


Harold Fortis has the player’s passion you just can’t teach. He represented Canada on a UK tour where he was discovered and had a tryout with Leeds United (when they were good). Fortis parlayed that into a scholarship at Bethany College in West Virginia where he earned All-American status. He can still be found roaming the Toronto First Division fields with a deft touch and a killer instinct.

11 thoughts on “Sporting Behavior or Soccer Insanity?”

  1. I quess if every team/coach capped a game at 5 and didnt run the score up then I understand the capping.. Beign a soccer mom to a U13 boy most coaches dont care about the score i have seen games lost at U12 9-0 and horriable sportsmenship. Capping is hard, the older the kids get they want to play to win not play keep away after while the game then becomes boring for them.. I agree teams are ranked accurate but their is nothing we can do about that..


  2. After playing and coaching at every single age and level, both boys and girls, I find these “score caps” absolutely ridiculous! As a player I would rather lose by 20 goals than to have the other team play keep away. It is humiliating, degrading, and doesn’t teach either team anything!! As a coach, I still feel the same way. I never run up the score… See More intentionally, and there are a lot of great ways to continue playing at your best, without destroying your team. Many of those things have already been mentioned. If you are only focusing on the score and the “winner” of the game, then you are missing the point! Winning is not defined by how many goals, runs, touchdowns, baskets you make…winning is knowing that regardless of the outcome you gave your very best effort the entire time. You didn’t quit, walk away, or have bad sportsmanship. That is what kids and parents need to learn! And if you are a good coach, you will instill this principle in your parents and kids minds! Too many people, mostly adults, need to see and understand the bigger picture here. This isn’t about winning, these are life lessons, pure and simple. The most successful people in this world are people who put in the time and effort needed to be the best. They go to work everyday, they are on time, and they come focused and ready to do whatever is necessary to not only accomplish their set goals for the day, but to excel and move up. I guarantee that Donald Trump didn’t make millions of money by giving everything a “Half-Crap” effort.
    Kids need to be responsible, go to every practice, practice at home, come to practice prepared to listen and learn. Teams full of great athletes are Great for a reason. And what are we teaching our children by forcing them to sit longer, not play as hard, not perform at their best level? Why do we insist on punishing the kids, teams, and coaches that do their job well because the other teams can’t or don’t compete. Parents put in a lot of money and time for their kids to get the best opportunities possible. How can you rightfully tell them that since the other team didn’t care to work hard, put in the effort, show up to practices, or have a lazy worthless coach that doesn’t do their job, means YOU have to now walk away, play at a lower level, not show what you have learned, or be rewarded for your hard work and success!!?? It is the people that are allowed to teach and put into effect these asinine rules that hold players back, that give soccer a bad name and ruins children and parents perspectives on sports. Not the ones that do their job and are good at it!! Too many people have it backwards!!


  3. I agree with Jim.

    If I were a player or even a coach, I would be just as humiliating to have a team just play possesion or take a player off to make it “fair”. Kids can count. We as coaches need to put things into perspective. If my team was getting pummeled, I need to address my players and teach them to reflect on what has happened and what we can do better. I have had success by letting the kids take ownership of the “result”. We work hard in practice we learn from our mistakes. I agree that players need to learn to play the right way and need to be challenged, but to dummy down everything is counter productive. If teams are winning by a considerable amount of goals, lets look at moving the team up an age group or level instead of forcing them to go on auto-pilot.

    I strongly believe that “sportsmanship” is earned by both teams. There are teams where we clobbered them by a considerable amount of goals and to their credit, those teams played hard start to finish. They helds their heads up and to me that is what is important and kudos to those coaches that have instilled work ethic in those players.


  4. @Jim and Coach Jeff: Can you share with me the level of play and age group that you coach? Since “age appropriate” is a core tenet of Soccer Classroom, I want to see the perspective and experience you’re shooting from, so I can respond appropriately. While I have a strong opinion based in daily experience, I can certainly see all sides of this issue as I’ve spoken with so many over so many years.

    Thanks for contributing.


    Comment by George Hageage
    August 16, 2010

    Coach Andrew- Good article. If you jump back on the NSCAA playbook, I have responded to your post. I think we can agree that age appropriate is key but even then I believe the problem is not the run-away scoreline but the emphasis coaches have on winning. Yet that is even over simplified becuase I can envision a very technical team that at U10 has great skill due in large part to their coach, beating a team 6 or 7-0 not because the coach wants them to win but because the coach has taught them how to play the beautiful game, with a passion to attack and score (Spain). Are they penalized when held back from scoring? I think it is safe to say that there are a ton of “what if’s” but maybe we should use the KISS principle and figure out ways to incorporate a “coaching philosohpy” in our rec coaches or even the playing field through scheduling, etc…


    Comment by The Coach
    August 17, 2010

    Hey George-

    Thanks for the response. I guess we see runaway scores and the overzealous coaches focused on winning as (usually) one in the same. At the very least, I think we’d find there would be a high correlation between the two.

    And, sure, there are really well-developed teams that are simply “better.” But, are they better because they were flighted improperly (travel play) or better because teams were formed improperly (rec // in-house programs) or better because they simply developed faster than everyone in their peer group? It is certainly more common that teams were flighted incorrectly or teams formed improperly to create these imbalances compared to dynamic growth over a season. Internally, we find the function and onus to be on the coach to keep games sporting and challenging. Personally, why do we pull players off the field when the other team shows up short? Because it will create a better, more challenging environment that will foster better player development. A coach with a view towards sporting player development will quickly understand that if you’re up 3-0 very quickly that there is an opportunity to change, grow and develop your team.

    Certainly, there are a number of “what ifs”…but, in a common sense approach of “player development first” and “what are you teaching your players” then most things fall into place during a calm conversation over a beer as opposed to a heated moment on the sidelines. And, we certainly believe that soccer is a microcosm of life. It’s not that we don’t believe in competition or scores or getting your teeth bashed in along the way…it’s just finding the age appropriate times to have those moments.


  5. I am coaching a U6 boys team for a second year and last year we had a 3 goal mercy rule in theory. The problem was, the referee didn’t know about it and when the league organizer came over at halftime we were down about 7-0. The other team was clearly superior and this year one or two of their players are playing on a competitive U8 team. Anyway, we were supposed to be able to add a player, but that only works if enough of your team shows up and we were short that day. I suggested that they take away a player, as we normally play 7 v. 7 and they reluctantly agreed. The rest of the game was much more competitive and I don’t think the boys even noticed that it was 7 on 6. At this level, most of the kids have trouble playing keep away, so that was not an issue.


  6. I coach a U10 girls team and still play myself on an over 30 mens team. I havent run into it yet with my girls, but I have on my mens team. If you are up by 5 the game ends. And to be quite honest with you, I was glad the ref stopped the game after the 5th goal as things were getting choppy out there. Yes if you are up by 3-4, play 2 touch, move players around. If you score again, play 1 touch. The rule that if you get to 6 or more you forfeit though, ridiculous.


  7. While I can appreciate your perspective I feel that there are two sides to the issue. Running up the score is never a good idea and getting your weaker players gametime experience is invaluable. I have to disagree with your “playing down” in numbers to a disadvantaged team though. Here is why.

    1) It is the coaches job to figure out a way to win when in that situation
    2) Do you take it a step further and even the numbers if a player on the other team is dismissed?
    3) What are you saying by your actions, to the kids that showed up to practice and worked hard all week? You don’t get to play because the other team couldn’t get it together?

    Let’s break it down even further. When I am short players, I make it a point to have a gameplan to overcome the situation (I have both lost and won games in this situation) and I always tell the other coach to play at full strength. His players deserve to play because they put in the effort all week and they should not be punished because I was unable to gather a full team. It is my responsibility as the coach to come up with a plan to work around the situation. If it was meant to be any other way, the Laws of the Game would address it, but it simply says that the minimum number of players you need to play is 7 (adjusted for lower levels of play). It also says the maximum is 11 on the field per team. Nothing about playing down in numbers.

    The number two point is, what happens if your team suffers a dismissal or two? How will your players trust that you have a plan to deal with that if you are not able to play numbers down as above? Again, the Laws do not say anything about playing with equal amounts of players on the field, therefore it is up to the coaches and players to execute their game plan in this situation.

    And finally, if players are showing up to practice and working hard all week, they should not be punished because the other team was unable to field adequate numbers. What are we saying to these players in that situation if we deny them their paying time?

    I coach from U-6 through high school, recreational, school leagues and US Youth Soccer. There are a lot of things that a coach can do in these situations to exhibit sportsmanship. Denying your players time on the field is not one of them in my opinion. As a coach you have two goals, 1) To win the game, 2) Not to come in second. That is the reality as long as you have enough players to field a team. As a coach, it is your job to get the players to play in those situations…


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