Coaches: How to Manage the Blowout
I received four tickets for last night’s Blue Jays game for Father’s Day last June. I was really looking forward to both seeing the Jays and having an “event” with the family. We had a great time, we had great seats and the Blue Jays beat the Minnesota Twins 15-8. There were home runs, stolen bases, double plays, lots of between inning entertainment and, I want that huge TV in my living room.
The score is what interested me last night though. The Jays were winning 6-1, then 6-4, then 10-4, then 15-5. They kept hitting, the Twins pitching kept struggling. One Minnesota pitcher came into the game, only his third game with the Twins this season, and could not find the strike zone. At one point he threw eleven balls in a row. As a professional, his career seemed to be on the line last night. But these guys get paid to do this - and quite handsomely. Sometimes you are just going to get hammered by a good team.
As I coach, I have been involved in my share of games where my team is down ten goals and my share of games being up ten goals. Neither is any fun. It’s really not fun for anyone in the rink but, it’s part of any sport – there are just going to be some blowouts. Usually these games occur because one team is just that much more talented than the other (sometimes only on that given day). So as a coach, there isn’t a whole heck of a lot you can do about it.
When we started the North American Prep Hockey Association, a girl’s high school league, one of the teams had just started their program. The league together for a tournament weekend to kick off the season and it was clear this particular team was really going to struggle and lose some games by lopsided scores. At the coaches meeting after the first day, this team’s coach told all the other coaches “Don’t take it easy on us! We will only get better if you play your best against us from the start of the game to the end.” His comment has really resonated with me since. Here are some thoughts on handling lopsided scores from both the winning and losing side.
First, one of the best rules EVER is when leagues don’t allow score differentials of more than six on the scoreboard. Therefore, a 12-2 score would say 8-2. You would think this wouldn’t make much of a difference but I have found that psychologically it really helps the losing side. Losing track of what the actual score is keeps players focused and the game be less of a drag. Even the winning team doesn’t feel as guilty about scoring another goal when it’s not going onto the score board.
Second, league and tournament rules should never encourage winning by more than six goals or scoring more goals to advance a team’s standing. In other words, a team should never be put in a position where if they “score more than ten goals” they will make the playoffs. Therefore, winning 15-2 still only gives you a differential of six or a total of eight goals when it comes to tabulating ties in the standings.
As a coach on the losing side in these types of games, I make sure the experience is a learning one. Things like:
Helping players find ways to play more effectively against a stronger team. For example: dumping the puck into the offensive zone effectively, getting the puck over the blue lines, keeping feet moving in the defensive zone, etc.
Keeping the bench positive and focused.
Chunking the game into segments (“Let’s win the next five minutes”).
Making sure the next time we play the same team we are better than we were today. Going from 9-0 to 6-3 is a huge, measurable improvement for a team.
As a coach, don’t take a big loss personally and let your emotions show on the bench. Your demeanor invariably is mirrored in your players. If you are embarrassed, they will be embarrassed too.
As a coach on the winning side (which is sometimes tougher than being on the losing side), here are some thoughts on handling the situation:
Your team has to absolutely respect the opposition in every way.
Don’t modify the way you are playing (things like five passes before shooting, shoot for the post, hit the goalies pads, forwards playing defence, certain players not allowed to score anymore, etc.). This amounts to disrespecting the opposition and often makes a mockery of the game.
Rotate your lines appropriately. This is an opportunity for your third and fourth lines to get a chance on special teams (and they should be wanting to score!). And maybe your third and fourth lines get a little more playing time than your top two lines in this situation. Certainly your top two get more playing time in tight games.
Don’t let your players over-celebrate goals.
This isn’t a good time to criticize a referee for a marginal call against your team. Expect it!
Just play hard and understand that the other team is having a tough day.
Coaches don’t need to enjoy these blowout games but, understand that they are very much part of competitive sports. Keeping things in perspective and coming away from these contests with respect and some learning is a great way to deal with these tough days.
Check out some great resources for the new season.