From the Evansville Courier Press, May 2, 2010
After reading recently about the H.D. Woodson HS girls basketball team from Washington D.C. defeating their opponent 86-1 and 94-0 in consecutive games this past winter, it made me reflect on the responsibilities of both coaches to maintain integrity in a one-sided game.
After seeing one-sided games at the collegiate and youth levels this Spring, it also made me think about how to not only keep good sportsmanship and ethics when leading, but also to keep it challenging for the players that are ahead in those games.
When you see score lines like I described earlier, it makes you wonder about the insecurity of that coach who ‘runs up the score’, or that coach’s ability to develop good players into better people on and off the field of play by allowing them to believe that is accepted behavior.
Saying that, there is also a fine line between the responsibilities of a coach to be able to show respect to their opposing team while also maintaining the integrity of sports.
We now live in a very sensitive society – one that worries just as much about a player’s bruised ego as we do in teaching young athletes ‘how to win’ or ‘how not to lose’. I have attended basketball games where both teams get points added onto the scoreboard when one of the teams score, and soccer games with no scores or standings kept.
Important points to reference here are 1) sports should teach life lessons that transcend sport, and no one will be successful all the time; 2) a lot of these scoreboard rules are created more for complaining parents than for fragile athletes – your child is probably tougher than you give them credit for; and 3) your kid knows the score...regardless as to whether you manipulate the scoreboard or standings. I have coached my son in little league soccer for about 4 years, and despite ‘not keeping score’, there hasn’t been a time in any of those games where he didn’t know what the score was. My guess is that your kid probably knows the score, too.
Peter Vermes, former captain of the 1990 United States World Cup team, once told me that he thought learning how to be excited to win and humble in victory, as well as to be disappointed and learn how to deal with disappointment, were as important skills to acquire as passing or shooting.
As much as I can’t imagine a basketball coach justifying the idea of defeating a team by 85 or 94 points, I can also tell you that at times it is just as hard to coach the team leading in a one-sided game as it is to coach the team that is trailing. It is very difficult to keep players focused on playing the right way and keep them challenged.
Here are some ways to help keep your team motivated and challenged while leading in a one-sided affair, while also showing some humility and respect to your opposition-
Make your team connect a set number of passes before they can shoot – Telling a team that they can’t attack the other team’s goal or basket doesn’t maintains the integrity of that game. I think being played ‘keep away’ from would be more embarrassing than getting scored on. Having your team connect a specific number of passes prior to going to goal encourages good tactical training – possession, opening up, talking – as well as uses specific tactics that might limit the number of scoring chances.
Create a specific way for your team to score – a friend of mine told me recently that in situations like described, he told his team that they could only score with their head. Similar to asking them to connect a set number of passes prior to scoring, this encourages work with a specific skill set (heading, crossing) as well as minimizes the total number of scoring chances.
Put your reserves in the game – After a team takes their starters out of a game, the responsibility of the score line now falls squarely on the other team. How can you tell players that play less frequently that when they finally get into the game that they have to play with restrictions? Doing that harms the integrity of the game more than a one-sided score line ever does.
Take a player off the field – by playing with one less player than the other team, it might put your own team under a larger degree of pressure defensively, and force them to work harder to keep possession once they win the ball.
No one wants to play in a game where sportsmanship and integrity isn’t maintained, regardless of the score line. If both the coaches on the field and parents off the field can do a successful job in preaching realistic life lessons learned in victory and defeat, maybe we will have fewer issues about score lines.