For reasons which aren’t entirely clear to me, our league started out using 6′ x 12′ goals for U8 and U10. When we added a U12 division, well, we used what we had. As our players learned and improved, it became clear the smaller goals were a problem. One team in our U10 division had 8, yes, 8 ties last fall. So it was clear we needed to get 6′ x 18′ goals for U10 and above. We got some VERY nice goals from PEVO Sports for the Fall season (They are the CastLite Competition Series). We are also working towards affiliation with the NCYSA, which required us to move to smaller fields and smaller rosters. The combination of less players on the field and bigger goals has led to higher scoring games, which was expected. But when you have higher scoring matches, you’re also bound to have more pronounced lopsided results.
Its a quandary faced by coaches in all sports. Your team is more skilled than your opponent or they’re just having a bad day and suddenly you’re beating them soundly, yet its only midway through the competition. What do you do? Most coaches will take steps to try and limit more scoring, but even that can be difficult to do. You also might be surprised by the reactions of some parents. It can be a lose lose situation if not handled properly.
Most coaches in our league try to rein their teams in when the goal differential hits 7 goals or so. Each coach is different but that seems to be an average. How they rein the team in, however, can vary widely.
One common method is to start playing with your lineups. Many coaches will group strong and weak players together on offense and defensive lines to balance things out. But in a lopsided matchup, you can put the stronger players in on defense and the less experienced players on offense. This gives your weaker players game time on offense to work on passing, ball control, etc. while reducing the chances of the score running up too fast. It also gives your less confident players a better chance to score since the better ball handlers who usually score aren’t part of the front line. This also lets your strong players get game time on defense and help maintain the lead by handling the more frequent attacks by the opposing team if the weaker front line loses the ball often. The risk here is that your weaker players may still score often causing further run-up in the score. Some parents of more skilled players might be irked you ‘stuck’ their child on defense, but a gentle explanation why usually nips that in the bud.
Another common tactic is to tell your front line that they must pass the ball 4 or 5 times among themselves before taking a shot. This helps them work on a critical skill in a match situation while increasing the likelihood that the opposing team will intercept the ball during an attack, keeping scoring at a minimum. What caught a few of our coaches by surprise was the reaction of some parents on the opposing teams. They felt by passing so much the winning team was mocking them or playing with them like a cat with a mouse. While it can appear that way, the coaches were just trying to keep the score in check while getting their players some practice of a vital skill.
There is always the old standby of telling your kids NOT to score, but that’s hard for them to grasp (though it is a good sportsmanship lesson) and it can appear awkward if a player breaks away to the goal and just soft kicks it to the goalie. That can appear arrogant or aloof causing more parent discord.
And that’s what this all boils down to is managing the reactions of the parents. To help alleviate some of the concern among the parents, we recently sent an email outlining common tactics coaches used to keep the score in check and to not feel like those tactics were an affront.
But my main reason for posting about this is to see how other coaches handle this. What other strategies do you have for keeping a lopsided score from getting too lopsided while still allowing your players to play and learn? There are definitely right ways and wrong ways. I’ve been on the receiving end of lopsided matches and while some coaches had their kids work on more advanced attacks at our expense (which was fine as it helped my kids learn to defend against more organizaed attacks), I had to draw the line when an opposing team felt it necessary to practice nothing but header shots on goal against us. That stepped over the line to arrogant and obnoxious.
So let me know your ideas. One byproduct of the higher scoring games is some of our coaches now realize they over drilled offense at the expense of defense because in a match with 9 or 11 kids, it was much harder to score, regardless of the defensive line’s skill – there were just too many kids to get by. Now with less players on the field, the defenders need to be more skilled at stopping attacks before shots are made on the bigger goals. This will definitely alter some coaching plans in our league, mine included. My defenders have a lot of work ahead of them.