By Mike Woitalla
Our previous YouthSoccerInsider, “Preventing Lopsided Scores” by Randy Vogt, addressed the issue of how coaches should react when their team is routing an opponent. Vogt offered some excellent suggestions. But it’s a tricky issue indeed.
I once coached in a league that, for the youngest age groups, had a rule that when a team went up by four goals, the leading team was to remove a player after each additional goal. And while I comprehend the spirit of the rule, I had problems with it.
The main one being quite obvious: less playing time for children who had come to the park looking forward to enjoying soccer.
I’ve been on both sides of routs as a coach. When my team was on the winning side, I’d suggest to the other coach to add players -- instead of having us take players off the field. If we were getting routed, I’d ask the other coach to let us add players and urge them not to remove kids.
This usually worked, although once a ref said we had to stick with the rules. I’m all for small-sided games at younger ages, but prefer a crowded field to sidelining eager players. And especially at the rec level, one should be able to improvise, such as mixing up the teams at halftime. Maybe borrowing a goalkeeper from the stronger team.
I’ll never forget the look on an 8-year-old boy’s face, after scoring yet another goal, and the ref yelling at the coach, “You have to sub him!” He was near tears and it was understandable. He was thoroughly confused at being punished for succeeding.
For sure, coaches who encourage their teams to run up the score of a game that’s already a rout are jerks. But even if you don’t want the rout to continue, it’s a tough situation to manage. Vogt’s suggestions -- eg: telling players only to shoot on goal with their weaker foot – are on the right track.
Other options include asking the team to string together a certain number of passes before shooting. Or moving the high scorers in defensive positions; having defensive players who hardly ever score play forward.
Whatever strategy the coach employs to prevent humiliation for the opponent, I think it should be done as discreetly as possible. That’s based on my sense that an opponent feeling sorry for you hurts more than getting beaten badly.
Like so many things in coaching, there’s no perfect formula. You try your best to balance all the factors. How do you prevent embarrassing an opponent without punishing your own players for excelling?
A reasonable solution I’ve believed in is whispering to the players who are the most likely to score to resist the shot and look to set up teammates for whom scoring is rare.
Youth soccer in America at the competitive levels has gotten pretty sophisticated in methods of flighting teams so that major mismatches are rarer at the older age groups, it seems to me.
The last time I coached a game that was pretty much decided with time left -- although not a terrible rout yet -- I told a defensive-minded 13-year-old player who’d never scored in my memory to go in at center forward and get a goal.
“I don’t want to,” she said. When I asked her why not, she said, “They don’t deserve to lose that bad."
(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for East Bay United/Bay Oaks in Oakland, Calif. He is the co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)