This is the fourth in a series of posts I am doing on Professionalism in Coaching. The first three posts were “Professionalism in Coaching 1 – Dress for Success,” “Professionalism in Coaching 2 – What is ‘Professional’?”, and “Professionalism in Coaching 3 – Sportsmanship.”
Today, I want to stay with the concept of sportsmanship, but address one specific aspect of it—how we handle blowout situations in our contests.
In every sporting contest where there is a scoreboard, the score is tallied each time somebody is successful at the thing that produces the type of scoring the scoreboard is keeping track of.
In all sports contests, there is always the potential for some contestants to score well and some to not score so well. This could be due to a discrepancy in the talent level of the competitors, a coaching advantage, or some other factor on that given day. It could also be merely that one side is “hot,” while the other side is not.
Whatever the reason may be, there will be times when one team (or competitor) starts to develop a lead in a contest that is quite large. It is the kind of lead that, as the players, coaches, and fans are watching, it would appear highly unlikely that the team/competitor that is losing will have any chance of catching up to the team/competitor that is leading.
I am going to focus mainly on team sports. For the purpose of this post’s message, I am defining team sports as those sports where multiple players are competing at the same time for one team against another team of multiple players. The players on both teams are trying to score while the other team is trying to stop them from scoring. Sports like basketball, soccer, football, etc. are examples of the types of sports I am talking about.
I am not saying that other sports don’t have blowouts and don’t need to figure out the best way to handle these situations. I’m merely choosing to write about these sports because blowout situations and the subsequent handling or not handling of them is much more obvious to me with them.
What’s the Problem?
Some people may be thinking about the concept of blowouts and wonder, “What’s wrong with a blowout, Scott? There are going to be times when one team is far superior to another one, and the score is going to reflect that.”
I totally agree.
There are going to be nights when one team’s superiority to another’s in any number of ways is going to lead to what would be considered a blowout.
The problem is not the fact that there will be blowouts. That is a given, and there is nothing wrong with that.
In fact, as a coach who has had my share of blowout victories, I love those nights. My stress level is not nearly as high. My players feel good about themselves. And everybody on the team gets to play a good amount of minutes.
The problem is in how the coach of the team that is leading may choose to deal with (or more importantly, not deal with) the situation as it is happening.
Coaches who are on the good side of a blowout but who do nothing to minimize how far out of hand the score gets are displaying their own brand of bad sportsmanship.
And sometimes, they don’t even know it.
If they are young or new to coaching, they may not fully comprehend what is happening. Or they may not fully comprehend what a blowout is in their sport. Or they may not have been taught how to handle these situations when they happen.
Those are some of the reasons why I wanted to write this post.
How to Deal with Blowouts
The first thing to consider is what a blowout is in your sport. Each sport will have its own scoring differential that people will point to and say, “Okay, this is too far out of reach for the other team to come back.”
In basketball, it is probably around 25 points. In soccer, somewhere around a 6, 7, or 8-goal lead is considered a blowout. In football, it is probably around 35 points.
The words “probably” and “somewhere around” are in those statements because there is no cut-and-dried rule on what exactly a blowout is in each sport. It is up to us to determine that.
In fact, a blowout score in any sport may be different at different times. For me as a basketball coach, if we are playing a far inferior opponent talent-wise, when we get up by 25 points in the first half, that is already the beginning of a blowout, and we can start adjusting our game plan.
However, if we are playing a team of similar ability to us, and it just happens that so far, everything is working for us, and everything the opponent tries is not, 25 points would not seem nearly enough of a difference for me to feel comfortable.
As a coach, I would handle each of those situations differently.
Whatever sport you coach, you need to figure out what a blowout is in general and what it is on any given night.
Once you have that figured out, you must be prepared for how you will handle it when you find yourself on the good side of that situation.
I will address a few ways to help explain my ideas on how to handle these situations. Of course, there are other situations and other ways to deal with them, but for now, these are the main ones I want to cover.
As you achieve a lead that seems insurmountable, begin taking off any pressure type of play on defense, such as half and full-court presses. Again, consider the ability of your opponent in determining when to do that.
Next, this is a great time to start putting in players who don’t normally play as much. You don’t necessarily have to put them all in together, especially in the earlier stages of the game, but they should definitely be worked into the game in some fashion. Eventually, late in a contest, they should all be in the game.
You can also put kids into positions that they aren’t used to playing. This is a great chance for them to experience what other players go through and contribute to the team. It might also help you find out that you have a player with a skill or talent that you had not seen before, thereby creating a chance for that player to contribute in more ways in future contests.
This is also a time to slow the game down and work on other things that your team needs to work on. However, be careful about working on things that could raise your margin of a lead too much.
All sports have their own versions of these things. In football, stop throwing the ball, especially into the end zone, and don’t do any trick plays. Put kids on defense that normally only play offense and vice versa.
In soccer, you can switch goalkeepers and put your goal scorers on defense and your defenders on offense. It allows the goal scorers to see how hard those defenders work to protect the net. Only allow scorers to try to score off of headers or only shooting the ball with the weaker foot. (I imagine hockey and lacrosse would have ways to do this that would be similar to soccer.)
In baseball, change your lineup if you can. Put in a pitcher who needs some work and some confidence. Don’t let your players steal a base or take extra bases on hits.
In basketball, play subs, don’t press, stop fast breaking, make multiple passes before shots (but don’t play keep-away, which is more humiliating to an opponent), and stop pressuring passes out on the wings.
Whatever your sport is, figure out some of the same types of things to do to help keep the score in check.
The key is to recognize that we don’t want to humiliate the opponent.
The temptation may be great to do this to an opponent who may have done it to your team in the past. But when you do that, all you are doing is stooping to their level. While you may be thinking that you are getting back at the coach for what was done to you in the past, you are not getting back at the coach.
When you behave this way, all you are doing is humiliating her or his players.
Try teaching them a lesson in class by not doing that to them. You will also be teaching your own kids and everyone else watching the game that this is how one acts with true sportsmanship.
Unfortunately, too often we hear stories of coaches who fail to understand this concept. I have seen too many football coaches who just kept pounding the ball into the end zone, or basketball coaches who kept fast breaking and pressing who end up winning by scores like 87–3, or soccer coaches keeping their best players in their normal positions while up 12–0 at halftime. (By the way, those are actual scores and situations from actual games played at the high-school level. In fact, a girls’ basketball team in Texas set a new standard of poor sportsmanship a few years ago by beating an opponent 100–0!)
Afterward, coaches will often try to justify running up the score by saying, “That’s how we play the game. I’m not going to change what we are teaching our kids just because we have a big lead. It’s up to the other team to do what they need to do to get better.”
What a crock!
Of course, the opponent needs to get better. They know that already.
But they’re not going to get better right now when they are being humiliated 100-0!
If that is your attitude, it is time for you to get out of coaching. You are hurting the game, and you are hurting kids. There is no place for you in youth or school sports.
Go take your ego and your bad sportsmanship to the professional or college ranks where you can do whatever you want and not have to answer to anyone about it, which in and of itself, is also a crock. The professional levels should be the model of how all others do things. Unfortunately, lately I feel there is not much that I want our school-aged kids taking from the professional ranks in terms of behavior and sportsmanship.
This is Personal
Let me close by offering a couple of situations I personally encountered in the last few months while coaching middle school basketball and watching middle school and high school basketball.
First, the not-so-good. The boys’ and girls’ teams at our middle school and high school struggled this year. Our talent levels are down a bit right now. Therefore, I was involved in or watched my share of blowouts.
Some of the coaches needed to do a better job of figuring out what a blowout was on these nights. Some of them waited until the score was over a 30-point differential to start changing tactics, while some of them did not change tactics all that much.
At the high school level, I saw coaches with 30+-point leads with 3:00 left in the game against far inferior teams still pressing. I saw starters on the floor all the way to the end of the game, when there were ten players on the bench, five or six of whom had only played about two minutes the entire game.
I coached in and watched middle school games with teams up by 25 points in the second half against an inferior team not do much in the way of making adjustments. And these are good coaches who I like and respect.
I imagine some of those coaches might say, “We stopped full-court pressing when we were up by 20.”
That is true. They did.
However, what they did was have their far more athletic and experienced players way out on the court overplaying the wings 30 feet from the basket. They had their best player standing at the half-court line waiting to easily steal the ball from a far less talented player and then dribble it to the other basket for a wide-open layup.
In my opinion there is no difference between that and full-court pressing. It’s just not happening at the other end of the court.
That is also not doing your team and your players much good. What a great opportunity these coaches squandered to help all of their players, no matter how talented or untalented they were, to improve.
How about making them play good individual and team defense from the 3-point line on in? How about putting the weakest defenders on the other team’s best players to help those defenders improve?
How about telling them that when they steal the ball to hold it, let both teams run down to the other end, walk the ball up the floor, and run a play? What a great way to improve the entire team’s skills and ability to think and execute what is being asked of them.
It is also a great way to display GREAT SPORTSMANSHIP!
One Coach Who Gets It!
I would like to give a shout-out, though, to one coach who I watched do this extremely well this year.
Sunny Odegard, of Monforton Academy in Bozeman, Montana gets it. Sunny coaches the eighth-grade girls’ team there. Their team is one of the best teams, if not THE best team, that we played against.
Her team played against our “B” team. Our girls hung with them for most of the first quarter. But like in every other game this year, by the middle of the second quarter, it was obvious which way the game was going to go.
But Sunny didn’t even wait for her team to get up by a huge margin to adjust her tactics. She knew they were bigger, quicker, more skilled, and more experienced than us at every position. She knew that, in due time, they would pull away from us. So she started working on things to help her team improve as players and as a team, even before it became a blowout.
There was no full-court press. There was good, solid defense, but nothing overly aggressive way out above the 3-point line or anywhere near the half-court line.
There were no fast breaks once they had control of the game. While her girls could have thrown the ball ahead to wide-open fast-breaking teammates, she had them hold the ball and then walk it up the court. They then set up and ran different offenses and set plays.
She was teaching them how to play basketball, while at the same time teaching them how treat an opponent with respect.
Our girls played hard the entire game, something they did all year long in every game. They were a joy to coach and watch because of their positive, never-give-up attitudes and how hard they fought, even in the face of some completely lopsided and unacceptable scores—59-9, 70-4, and 63-0.
Our girls also enjoyed the experience playing against Sunny’s team because there was never a humiliation in it. They had fun competing in a game that felt competitive, even though it was not all that competitive.
I had never met Sunny or ever heard of her before that game. I was so impressed with how she handled that situation, though, that in the handshake line after the game, I told her that it was a model for how it should be handled.
She was gracious and classy, and she stood and talked to me for about ten minutes about why she handled it that way, how she struggles with how other teams don’t handle it that way, and how the general demise of sportsmanship in situations like that is hurting sports, hurting individual/team experiences, and hurting kids.
Kudos to you, Sunny! We need more coaches who get it like you do. I look forward to coaching in games with you and your teams any time we get the chance to do so.
Have you coached against coaches like Sunny? How did their actions make you feel about them?
Have you coached against coaches who did not handle things like Sunny? How did you feel about them?
What about you?
Do you handle yourself the way Sunny did when you are on the positive side of a blowout situation?
It’s not that difficult.
It just takes the desire to do what’s right, some thought and preparation for how to do it when the moment arrives, and the class and respect to then act on it in that moment.
It also takes a good heart, one that feels the positives that we are trying to provide ALL kids in this experience called sports, not just the kids on our own teams.
The next time you’e in a moment like that, rise up and do the right thing.
We’re all counting on you.
For more on the concepts of sportsmanship, and blowouts in particular, check out my booklet, The Sportsmanship Dilemma, or my book, Time Out! How We Can Fix the Problems in Kids’ Sports Today on the Shop page here on the site.
Next week, I will continue this Professionalism in Coaching series by talking about ways for us to handle playing time and playing time issues when they arise. Now that should be fun!
I agree with you 100%. I believe sportsmanship classes should be a requirement to receive a coaching certificate/privilege to be a coach. If you are not coaching for the kids and just the win(s), please do something else beside coaching/teaching youth.
Thanks, Coach Jay! I think sportsmanship classes as part of an overall Professional Development requirement for coaches would be a great idea. Too often, coaches are sent out to coach with no real training in how to deal with ALL of the elements that they will encounter in coaching, most importantly, how to deal with kids and parents. We take anyone with a pulse in coaching and then don’t arm them with tools to become their best. Teachers are required to keep their continuing education going in order to maintain a teaching certificate. Why not do something similar in coaching? Maybe some states have requirements like that, but mine doesn’t, and I don’t know of any that do. Something along those lines would be a positive step in the right direction. Thanks for your comment!
I have been coaching girls’ basketball off and on since 1980 at the middle school and high school varsity level. Your article is Spot On. I’m old school. I teach fundamental basketball. Part of those fundamentals you describe perfectly. I’ve had my share of both sides of blowouts, though on the high side I limit my girls to no more than a 20 point lead if possible. Most coaches I’ve faced in the two other States I’ve coached have been just as gracious. That isn’t what I’ve experienced here in Florida. Many of these coaches are out to run the score as high as they can get it. Full court press until the final buzzer. Great article. Hope other coaches follow your advice.
Don’t know that it’s necessarily that it’s coaches in Florida as much as coaches who have not either figured out or been taught how to handle these situations. Like so many things in life, I find that people will follow the lead of what they see others do, believing that that must be the way it’s supposed to be done.
That’s why it’s so important for us to talk about these situations and work to teach and instill in coaches that there are right ways and wrong ways to handle them. Like you say – most coaches in the two other states had obviously figured it out or been shown the way to handle it. It’s a lesson that we must always be teaching.
Thanks for your comment, Leland!