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 soccerCredit: wikipedia commons public domain - USMCsame 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 portionKids playing flag footballCredit: wikipedia commons public domain - USMC 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 shouldLearning to throw a ballCredit: wikipedia commons public domain - USMC 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 basketballCredit: wikipedia commons public domain - USMCMy 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.