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Youth Sports Blow Outs: Show Some Humanity

By Edited Mar 11, 2014 3 8
Shaking hands after a youth basketball game
Credit: wikipedia commons public domain - US Dept of Defense/Cpl Anthony Kirby

Players shaking hands after a youth basketball game.

Even Young Kids Discount Participation Trophies

Every so often you will see news reports of coaches in trouble for leading their team to an outrageous blow out of another team in a high school game.  The blow out apologists will lament the youth sports culture of giving participation trophies to everyone and say that kids need to learn competition and have to toughen up.  I agree that giving trophies to all participants on teams is somewhat pointless.  Even younger kids note that the trophies don’t mean a whole lot if they haven’t ever played well.  The kindness is misplaced.

Competition is Good, Beatings are Not

Notwithstanding the worthlessness of participation trophies and awards, they aren’t in the

Kids playing soccer
same universe as runaway blow outs.  Advocating that blow outs teach competition is more akin to spanking advocates saying that beating kids with a baseball bat also teaches discipline.  Those that abhor a very lopsided loss aren’t necessarily saying that competition is wrong and that sports results should somehow become socialist, they are saying that some level of humanity is needed in youth and high school sports.  Some sports leagues have mercy rules to limit potential negative impacts on young athletes.[1]

No one expects a coach to let the other team score to make them feel better.  You can correctly argue that letting another team score disrespects the other team and the sport itself.  Further, if teams are coached to play a certain way or play at a certain pace, such as fast breaking basketball teams, then having them slow down to assist the other team is also counter-productive.  Kids should play in the manner they are coached in order to continue to improve.

Star Players

My kids have played on teams at both sides of blow out wins.  Of course, the lopsided wins are fun.  The kids leave happy and everyone wants a happy child.  Some lopsided losses weren’t so bad if their team competed hard and everyone on both teams got to play a significant portion

Kids playing flag football
of the game.  In the instances in which the blow outs stung, the winning coach left the team’s best players in the game after the win was preordained and the spectators were disrespectful of the losing team.  In other words, the runaway winners can lost style points in how they win.

Uneven Talent Levels

Blow outs occur most often in sports or leagues with very uneven talent levels.  For instance, my children have even been on middle of the pack teams that suffered lopsided losses and had some blow out wins themselves, all in the same season.  News reports of horrific blow out seem to occur often in girls’ basketball.  Some teams are loaded with inexperienced players and just can’t buy a bucket.  No one needs to clear the way for them to score, but opposing coaches and spectators should at least show some humanity when coaching and cheering for their teams.

Empty the Bench

If a coach empties out his bench for a large portion of the game and his team still wins a 110 to zero runaway, I have no problem with them.  Leaving star players on the court to pad their stats or to jack up the crowd is the situation to avoid.  The star player doesn’t gain anything by pounding inferior opponents.  It’s probably not even as beneficial as practice.  My son was a very good high school water polo player and he could score at will against some teams.  He was too big and strong for some teams to handle.  His coach would let him score maybe five goals and then he either had to play only on defense or go to the bench.  I never had a problem with that.  Although my son was proud of his per game scoring average, if the average was dependent on pummeling poor teams, then the scoring average doesn’t mean much. 

In this instance, my son’s other team members benefited from playing without his safety net.  They ended up improving quite a bit from not having the dominant player scoring all the goals.  The result was already assured, so why not make the game more competitive and fun for the winning team as well as the one about to lose?

Coaches as Educators

Coaches should consider themselves as teachers and educators.  Accordingly, they should

Learning to throw a ball
recognize that they are teaching lessons to the opposing team as well as their own winning team.  You can win with humanity and class.  Losses don’t need to be humiliating, even if the score is very lopsided.  The coaches also need to recognize the lessons taught to their own players if some of their kids don’t get to play in a blow out win.  The coaches are teaching the bench players that their practice effort and participation won’t be rewarded. 


In addition to the coaches, the spectators should have some humanity and compassion for the losing team.  Cheering every point like it’s a basket in the last second of the NBA finals is somewhat ridiculous.  The cheering is appropriate if a little used bench player manages to score for the first time or achieves something.  Points scored by a star player in an extreme blow out are a different matter.  Further, parents in the crowd need to watch what is going on around them.  If other kids are yelling cruel things to the other team, then the parents  have a responsibility to tone down the atmosphere.  Don’t forget the kids on the losing team hearing those things are people too, not just punching bags.

Jump ball in basketball
My daughter was involved in a lopsided loss once in which the boys cheering for the other team yelled nasty slurs.  The “cheering” was clearly audible to the other team’s coach and the parents, yet they were too caught up in the joy of the beating that they chose not to listen.  My daughter and her teammates were humiliated, not so much for the loss but from their treatment during the loss.  Again, style points matter.

Coaches and fans of very good teams should remember that their favorite team would have no games to play if there were no opponents.  Being inhumane to opposing teams discourages kids from participating.[2]  If you’re going to win, try to win with class.  Your kids will learn to win with humility and the opponents will leave the game knowing they fought the good fight and will want to play again.



Mar 23, 2014 6:11am
Good words of advice. And yeah, they should get rid of the participation trophy. It represents mediocrity - "a person who does not have the special ability to do something well".
Mar 23, 2014 10:50am
That's the thing that floored me (I was shocked AND appalled) completely when I first became involved in children's sports these days--you get awards JUST FOR SHOWING UP!! That didn't happen when I was a kid, and if children (seemingly) understand these awards are worthless then maybe the adults will stop doing it.
Mar 23, 2014 11:01am
My kids sure didn't think much of the participation trophies. Even at a very young age they understood that those types of "awards" counted for nothing. Thanks for reading!
Mar 23, 2014 11:03am
Good for them for knowing the difference (I'm gonna guess that has something to do with good parenting, eh?)
Mar 23, 2014 11:02am
Thanks for reading! Only the trophy companies like participation trophies.
Mar 26, 2014 11:52am
Good points regarding "participation trophies" in children's sports. I remember getting "blown out" many times playing YMCA Basketball but still loving every minute of it.
Mar 27, 2014 5:23am
Thanks! I think participation trophies will hurt doorstop sales.
Mar 28, 2014 12:30pm
Good article Bill. As you said, the mercy rule was invented to tackle this problem, and I feel like it's the best way to preserve both the integrity of the game and the feelings of the losing players.
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  1. Associated Press "OSAA considers new mercy rules for lopsided losses." theworldlink.com. 26/4/2007. 23/02/2014 <Web >
  2. Lars Dzikus, Ph.D.; Jeffrey T. Fairbrother, Ph.D.; and Leslee A. Fisher, Ph.D. "Being a Good Sport (Spectator): A Quick Guide for Parents." acsm.org. 13/1/2012. 23/02/2014 <Web >

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