Thursday, October 24, 2013

That Awkward Moment When a Score Gets Out of Hand

Losing stinks. I don't care if it's a favorite professional sports team or a 3-year-old's amoeba-style soccer game. The latter may be cute, but losing still stinks.As we learned this week with the 91-0 football game in Texas, it can even lead to a bullying claim.

There's nothing more awkward than when the score that gets out of hand early. Both sides start thinking, "Uhg. It's the only the first inning/quarter/minute." As a coach, I've been on both ends of the mercy rule. As much as I hate losing, I really don't enjoy that realization that your team is pounding a group of kids. When it happens early in the game, that next hour seems like a trip to the dentist. The winning team's parents stop cheering -- except that one dad who stays into it a bit longer than everyone else. "Yeah, baby!" he screams when the 11th run scores, drawing glares from both sides.

As crazy as it may sound, in the moment I'd rather be taking the beating. We can coach kids. We can work on winning little battles, such as putting up a fight in the batter's box and proper fielding technique.

When your team is thumping another early in the game, though, you're just trying to get out of there. Coaches think more about when and how much to let off the gas than what the players are gaining from the experience. When is it time to play backups and move kids around? Is it time to go station-to-station on the bases?

When my son was 9, his team played in a tournament that had a wide range of teams. In our last pool-play game, it was clear that it was going to get ugly. We led 10-0 before the other team recorded an out. It got to the point where our parents cheered the other team when they made any sort of a play. It was 23-0 after the first inning. Even with a strike zone the size of the backstop, our kids just kept smacking the ball all over the yard. We told them to work on hitting to right field. We told them to hit a fly ball to the outfield. The coaching staff began ponder -- do we tell kids to strike out? Wander off the bases and get picked off? The carnage finally ended, with a final score of 32-1. The other team's manager thanked us for being good sports. This mockery of a game, I believe, led to us getting bounced in bracket play. We simply couldn't resurrect that competitive edge.

When I've been on the wrong end of the mercy rule, I've never been irritated when the other team continues to play the game. Sure, they should put in backups and have kids try different roles on the team. And, perhaps you don't score from third on a wild pitch. What makes matters worse, though, is when the other team essentially stops playing the game. I will smile and shake their hands when it finally ends, but deep down I'm steaming -- not at the other team, but the game itself -- that at some point we all stopped playing and started watching the clock. That line between mercy and mockery is difficult to walk.

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