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Managing Blowouts

Blowouts are a failure of 
coaches to collaborate and manage the game.  

Referee's role is to inquire about the blowout plan of the coaches, 
and ensure they are implementing some form of controls.

The game can quickly become uninteresting for everyone, 
on both sides of the score, when it's a blowout.  

In AYSO, as a coach you are responsible for the positive fun experience of all the players; the opposing team, as well as your own team.  Work collaboratively with other coaches to make sure all the kids have a great time.  Don't let a blowout destroy the experiences of our players.

The game is most fun and instructive for everyone when it is a challenge.  The closer the ending score the more fun and learning experience the game.  With the right management strategies, an otherwise lopsided, boring game can be managed to be close, and without asking players to hold back.  The coach needs to keep all players engaged, and the coach of a strong team needs to raise the challenge higher for scoring a goal than just simply, scoring a goal.  Strategies for accomplishing this are offered below.

A blowout is defined as 5 goal differential.  Of course, a 4 goal differential is not great either.  Its rare for a team to come back and win from a 4 goal differential.  Some games become really difficult to manage to a closer score and requires the collaboration of both coaches and referees.  Of course, a game that might appear to be a blowout in the u8 division might not be, because the scores from both min-fields are added.  The coaches in these divisions should be conscious of the two fields, and watch for imbalance on each of the two fields. 

If you have a weaker or stronger than average team, touch base with your upcoming opposing coach before game day.  Give a heads-up so that both coaches can prepare for the possibility of dealing with the issue at the game.

Recognize the disparity early in the game if you are the strong team:  The sooner you recognize the disparity in the teams' level of play, the sooner you can start taking steps that will encourage everyone.  Start making adjustments when you are up by 3 goals, particularly if it is early in the game.  It is best if you can be subtle about controlling your score rather than having the opposing coach have to deal with the demoralizing issue that your team is holding back.  The weaker team should understand that the level of difficulty for scoring is being raised for the other team, not that they are holding back.

Be prepared:  Know what you want to do ahead of time.  It's a sinking feeling when you see yourself winning or losing a blowout and trying to figure it out on the fly.  Below are strategies.

Parents;  And don't forget to manage your parents.  When your parents see you and your opposing coach working together to balance the game, everyone is happier and has more fun.  

Referees, when you see a blowout in the making and the coaches are not actively engaged in managing the sitaution, please confer with the coaches and remind them to implement moderating strategies.

Why Aren't the Teams Balanced?  Why do blowouts occur?
The biggest problem has to do with player ratings.  Teams are balanced based on the rating of the coach of the players at the end of last season.  And next season, it is your rating of the players this season that will be used to balance the teams.  Sometimes, players change radically from one year to the next, and there's nothing we can do about that.  What you can do, the coach, is to really focus on the player rating at the end of the year, and do your best for the next year. 

What (NOT) to do:  
  • Do not tell your team you want them to stop playing so hard because the score is too high.  
  • Do not tell them to stop scoring.  This is no fun for anybody.
  • Do make your instructions discreet.  Have a code word and practice it with your team.
  • Do give them additional challenges that make it harder to score.  This keeps all the players in the game on both sides and provides an opportunity to teach additional game skills appropriate to each side.

Winning Team
Strategies to Challenge Your Players More

Give weaker players a chance:  This is a great opportunity to let your team know that you want everyone to have a chance to score during the season.  Put your slower or less skilled players up front.  Or perhaps your goalie or defenders up front, if in a higher division.  Perhaps instruct that only players that have not scored in the season may score.  This is a great way to get all the players on your team focused on setting up and helping those players.

U8:  Lets score:  The score at this age does not loom large on our radar screen in terms of identifying blowouts.  Per the reasons you do not have goal keepers, the objective is for the kids to be able to develop some soccer skills and get the ball in the net.  Although the referee knows the score, and will enter it on the game card, it is important that coaches, parents and players do not discuss the score.  Even better if they pay no attention to the score.  It is important they notice and mention the great plays, the great fun and how many chances to score a goal everyone had.  It is important to try to let a team score that is having difficulty getting the ball into the net.  Both teams should walk away feeling like they had some great goals.  If the opposing team is having difficulty scoring try these tactics:
  • No Goal Tending:  Make sure your players are not goal tending, providing a chance for the other team to score.  If you have a player that consistently tends the goal, tell the player you want him to stay on the scoring half of the field only.
  • Distract your key player:  Call your key player over to the sideline for some "play strategy consultation" while the other team scores.  If the player seems concerned that the other team scored while he was distracted, just mention that the score doesn't matter, only playing well matters, and talking at the sideline will help him with play.  Mix it up with different players.  
  • No pass interference:  Another tactic can be borrowed from YMCA basketball.  To encourage young players to have an attitude of wanting to pass and developing some skills early, adopt a no-interference and no-interception rule for passing. 
  • Passing Game:  Require your players to complete several successful passes before the team may attempt a goal.
  • Open Countering Opportunities:  Require that only half the team may move upfield and may not move backfield, preventing a "full court press" offense or defense.  This allows the other team to have more players on the specific play, whether defending or attacking.
  • Balance that is twice as hard:  Manage the goal differential for the two separate mini-games.  It is not important what the sum of the goals are from the two mini-games.   
All Divisions
Introduce some new plays:  Got a play that you haven't tried in practice?  Expect some foul-ups as you have your team work on the play?  This would be a good time for some "instructional foul-ups".  Try an offside trap.  Require your players to try a Cruyft turn.  Make them do give-and-gos.

Work on difficult scoring skills:  Tell your team you want them to work on difficult scoring skills.  This might include scoring from a distance - no shots from inside the penalty area.  Or only using their "off foot".  This will challenge your players to develop their skill more and keep the game interesting.  Perhaps require passing with only their off foot.  

Work on passing:  Tell your team that you want to develop team play and passing skills.  Only allow a shot after 5 passes, or more if needed.  Do a "4 corner" drill -- the ball has to go into the 4 corners of the defender's area first, before any shots on goal.

Practice key game strategies:  
  • Focus on earning corner kicks.  Allow them to score only off a corner kick.
  • Require scoring off a cross with a single touch.
  • Require using their off-foot

Losing Team
Strategies to Challenge Your  Players More

If you are coaching a weak team then you really have to work hard as coach. My first year coaching was with a team that didn't win a game, and only scored one goal. And it was a lot of work. But by the end of the season we played some close games, and many of the kids kept on playing all the way through high school.

Focus on specific things when you are getting beaten every week. The first thing for you to realize is that your job as a coach is not to have a winning record. Your job is to improve the childrens' soccer skills over the course of a season while having a fun time.

So, you may have to focus on very basic skills. If your team is losing, it's quite likely that the skills of the players need work, so you should focus on the basics of passing, dribbling, shooting, trapping, and defending, appropriate to your division.  Be sure the players are using their training ball for extra touches outside of your formal training sessions.

Focus your players on winning by progress, rather than goals. Let the players know that you aren't tracking the score in the game, but that you will be counting how many times they pass the ball successfuly. You can reward them if they achieve a milestone. i.e. "I'll take you guys for a slurpie after the next game if we can make 5 consecutive passes". (Vary this by the skill of the players and how much you can afford to lose). If you set them a realistic target, then they will focus on earning the slurpie and not the score of the game.

You can also look at each quarter of a game as a separate event. This is most useful when the team falls behind by three goals in the first quarter. Some players (and parents) will figure that the game is lost, so why bother trying any more. Set the kids the goal of winning or tieing the next quarter. This is often an attainable goal, and you may have some success telling the kids that they won a quarter of a game this week. In combination with the opposing team implementing a strategy from the green column on the left of this page, the winning or tying of the next quarter becomes realistic.

Focus on Positive Elements: Even while losing there are opportunities to praise players for personal effort and teamwork. Just because a personal effort or teamwork did not result in a goal doesn't mean it is not noteworthy.

Mix the team up: Sometimes the hardest aspect of losing in a blowout is keeping the players engaged. Mix them up on the field more than you usually would. Encourage them to try new ideas. Try to find ways to keep their attention and engagement on playing to get a goal.

Ask the team for ideas, during the game: Ask the team for ideas on where you saw a specific play go wrong, or the opponent make a specific play go well. "What could we have done differently that would help?" Getting the players thinking about specific plays can be engaging and instructional.