Youth sports

The Baltimore Sun

DEAR CAL -- How do you feel about the mercy rule or slaughter rule in baseball?

Kathy Owens, Elkton

DEAR KATHY -- I think my answer depends on the age group. As players get older and the games become competitive, the focus turns more toward winning and losing. This is natural and is part of the progression of competitive sports.

At that point, when scores really matter and the kids are mature enough to handle the concepts of winning and losing as well as their overall record for the season, the mercy rule becomes necessary.

The reality is that sometimes teams are mismatched and the game becomes a rout. At some point, one team is getting embarrassed, the game is dragging on far too long and neither team is able to execute baseball strategy. The team in the lead is forced to play station-to-station baseball or be accused of running up the score. The team that is behind is going through the motions, hoping to get the game over as quickly as possible. In these instances, neither team is getting much out of the experience and the mercy rule becomes a necessity.

The bigger issue is to determine at what point you should start to keep score and track standings.

Learning how to win and lose with grace and dignity is an important life lesson that baseball teaches. At the same time, competition drives us and keeps us coming back for more. But at the youngest age groups and in recreational programs, I'd like to see winning and losing kept in better perspective.

As coaches, we never want to count a team out and eliminate the chance of an exciting or miraculous comeback. However, it usually is pretty easy to tell almost immediately when a game is going to be one-sided to the point of being counterproductive.

In those situations, I would recommend coaches think about declaring one team the winner as the game starts to get out of hand and mixing up the teams to create a competitive atmosphere in which the kids can develop as baseball players.

It would be a shame to waste a block of time that is set aside to develop players' skills by allowing them to continue in an uncompetitive environment.

Turn the game into an instructional session and celebrate that, as well as the opportunity to make some new friends, to make sure that the experience is positive, physically and psychologically.

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