Blowouts happen, and as more and more schools and towns add lacrosse, newer programs will continue to struggle against more established teams.
We’ve all been there before. Your team is either crushing, or getting crushed by, your opponent. The score is a lot to a little (or nothing), and the kids on both teams start to lose interest in the game, especially as the margin increases. The kids on the losing end often give up or just want the game to end, and the kids who are up big sometimes tend to pile it on. Or they just possess the ball for the rest of the game and stop scoring. Any of these outcomes is less than desirable.
So what can coaches and teams do in a blowout to either keep morale high, or to get your kids some quality work against an inferior opponent? The focus here is youth and high school lacrosse, but the same goes for blowouts in the college game.
For the losing side, the key is clearly to stay positive. The kids KNOW they’re getting smoked, so a coach laying into them about it rarely helps. Teams here need to focus on smaller victories. Point out the things that are going right. Did your keeper make a save and then yell “break” loudly and make a good outlet pass? That’s something worth congratulating right there, even if the other teams forces a turnover and goes back down to score. The key is to focus on what your team is doing right. Did a kid dodge hard only to have the ball taken away? At least he dodged hard! Keep the focus there.
Another option is to come up with your own scoring metrics… if it’s halftime and you’re getting killed, a coach can say for the rest of the game, we’ll count successful clears as our goals. We want to clear the ball more times than they can score in the second half. It gives the kids a realistic goal to shoot for and allows them to “compete” against a team that has already beaten them in the box score. It is also a great chance to work on something you need to focus on against top notch competition.
The last idea on my list of things losing teams can do is to just keep at it. This is life. Kids need to learn that sometimes people are going to be better than them at certain things. They need to experience the feeling of losing to a better prepared, or more athletic team. These are lessons we need to teach our players, because when we, as coaches, go on to say, “other teams are out there working hard. How hard are you working?”, they will know we are for real. Offer no excuses to your players. Be honest with them. “We can get to this point, it all depends on how hard you want to work” is a message that doesn’t get sent enough these days. Pay attention to the feelings of the players, and don’t baby them. Just be realistic, honest and supportive, and the kids will react positively eventually.
For teams that are tearing it up and showing no signs of slowing down, there are lots of options out there. The typical response is sub liberally and make your offensive players complete X number of passes before shooting. Some teams ban shooting altogether. The intentions are definitely good most of the time, but I really think the execution could improve.
Stringing together passes is great, but that’s not really a challenge, now is it? If you can score at will against a team, you can also pass at will and then score against the same team. You’re just creating busy work with that maneuver. Subbing is fine too, but this often means your top players got no good work in at all. Also, not a great option. Banning shooting altogether is almost condescending, and if you have to go down this route, you probably shouldn’t have played your starters at all! Of course hindsight is 20/20.
So what can you do to not embarrass the other team while still allowing your guys to improve and work on their game? I personally love the idea of forcing ALL your players, even your goalie, to play with their off hands. You can do this the whole game and it allows guys to play their positions, work on their weak hands and even the playing field a little bit. This is the first move any coach should make. If you’re up by 7 or more in the 1st quarter and you don’t institute this rule, I’d question your values a bit, at least at the youth and high school levels.
This move forces your goalie to play the ball with his body and really think about their outlet passes. It forces your defenders to play D with their feet even more as they’ll be less comfortable throwing checks. It forces your middies and attackmen to work on their weak hands and this will help them as the season, and their careers, progress. You’ll probably see more turnovers, less easy goals and more teamwork. But since you’re up big already, the work should be appreciated. The kids can still play their game and score goals, but they have to challenge themselves.
The next step is instituting a pass rule. This is especially true if you have a very athletic team that loves to dodge to shoot. MAKE the kids pass the ball. This will only help them as players. If your team has all switched to their off hands, are making 5 passes before shooting, and STILL smoking the opposition, you need to start moving players to new positions. Defenders at midfield, middies at attack, attack on D, goalie plays midfield, stick someone else in net, etc.
Switching players’ positions is NOT done to aid the other team in one blowout game. It is done to aid YOUR team and players in the long run. By having players move to other places on the field, it will increase their field awareness. By attackmen playing D, they’ll know more about how someone is trying to cover them when they go back to attack. Defenders who have played middie will know the struggles a middie faces playing on both ends of the field. Middies can work on finishing as attackmen and they will much better understand how an offense works.
When making these positional changes, don’t do it mid-game and have attack run down and switch sticks with a defender. It just doesn’t look good. Plus the kids don’t know what your expectations are. Stick an attackman at D with a longpole and no guiding advice from a coach and you’re asking for trouble. So pull the kids off one by one, switch them out through the box and explain to them what you want from them. “Play good man to man D, don’t swing at sticks, and see what it’s like for a defender. Think of how this can make you a better offensive player.” By pointing out the goals of the exercise, the players will better know what to do, and they are also more likely to take it seriously, and gain some insight from it.
The last thing to focus on is the most important: support the losing team. Don’t apologize to them for playing hard and don’t act embarrassed for them. Just be supportive and make sure your players do the same. It’s not easy to build a program, but if we truly want lacrosse to be keep growing, we need to support the other teams out there, especially if the game itself is already decided.