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Winning or losing – it’s a learning experience

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By Mark Bickerdike, Battyeford under 11s

The Battyeford U11s squad

I’ve been reading Dave’s recent comments on respecting your opponents when you are winning by a big score.

Having recently been on the wrong end of a heavy defeat (albeit in an adult match) the worst feeling was when the other team changed their style to accommodate our ineptitude, it felt like they were just taking the mickey.

By telling them to pass and pass and pass before shooting or shooting with your wrong foot I feel it shows at best pity and at worst disrespect to the other team.

Our team recently got beaten 7-0 (and we were lucky to get nil) but the thing that I wanted out of my under 11’s was the ability to keep playing, not to let their heads go down, to keep their positional shape and above all realise that some teams are better than us, lose with grace, take the positives out of the game and move on, all of which they did.

The week after we drew one each with the team at the top of the table and the week after we won a game 15-0.

Now I know losing 15-0 hurts (I know because I’ve been there) but the last thing I wanted to do is to disrespect their team or coach by somehow telling my boys to ‘hold back’. I wanted them to do exactly what I told them to do when we were losing 7- 0 and that is to keep trying their best, keep their positional shape and to do all the things we worked on in practice, but above all not to get ‘cocky’, to win with grace and not to show disrespect, to enjoy the win but realise that not all games will be so one sided, take the positives out of the game and move on.

The fact of the matter is that winning or losing, whether by one goal or 15, is all part of football and all aspects need to be experienced in order to gain a full knowledge of what the game is about.

Nobody likes to lose and everybody likes to win, the trick is to learn from both experiences.

The next time we played the team who beat us 7-0, we started really well and went 1-0 up with only ten men against 11. We were completely bossing the game but were pegged back to 1-1 at half time. Second half whether through tiredness or a bad half-time team talk we completely capitulated and lost 10-1.

I’m sure we’ve all had games like that, but it did give me a chance to let the guys compare how they felt after winning well to losing badly. We’ve gone on to win all our league games since and are up to third in the league.

It’s also worth remembering that the boys and girls probably don’t beat themselves up over a defeat like the coaches do, many a time after a loss I’ll be walking miserably back to the car dissecting the game and wondering what we could have done differently and my son will look at me with a smile on his face and say “Can I have a chocolate bar?”, like nothing matters in the world.

It is, as they say, only a game.

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22 Comments so far
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I have to say it is a difficult subject and perhaps there is no right or wrong answer. For me, and I coach an U10 team who are very capable, I believe that players should learn something from every game. We have, at times, been far too strong for the opposition and I have not only reduced the number of players on the pitch, but I have also insisted to my team (with support of the opposition and referee) that we have to pass a certain number of times before shooting. That gives my team a challenge, especially if less players on the field of play, and also gives the opposition a challenge trying to cut out the fifth or sixth pass. Both teams can feel they have achieved something from the game.

Will my team have learnt anything from kicking off, winning the ball, dribbling and scoring to win 15-0 or 16-0? No, most certainly not. But they will have learnt some valuable lessons if playing with less players and having to move and create space for passing a number of times before shooting.

Comment by Steve Cook

very good approach well done Steve valuable lessons are important not so much the score as some “coaches” just do not undertand

Comment by ivan

While I tend to agree wholeheartedly with Mark, the problem lies (as so many problems seem to -with the parents and the other coaches). If everyone is on the same page and shares Mark’s philosophy (as I think they should)- great. If not, the parents (and sometimes) the coaches scream those running up the score are somehow being unsportsmanlike. While I don’t know for sure, I’d guess this started in the US where American Football’s stop start lends itself to clock managmeent and the ability to “take your foot off the gas” when a team is dominating.
If the attitude remains everybody gives 100% and then let’s see when the cards fall (i.e. the final score); and this process is devoid of gloating, taunting or “showboating” – I for one, am convinced it’s the right way to play.
One variation to this theme though that I do think finds some degree of middle ground is providing players with experience in positions they don’t typically play. This allows them valuable experience and may unintentially unearth a rare talent!!

Comment by mark fenton

For youth games, I don’t think it’s acceptable to continue to “pile on” the goals. On the other hand I agree it can be just as humiliating to employ obvious tactics to avoid running up the score. But I think shooting with the weaker foot is not so obvious, and is pretty effective to reduce scoring (especially for young players). I’m curious if anyone has any other ideas that reduce scoring while still playing good soccer.

Comment by Scott

I have coached for some time and when in the situation of running up the score, I have my players….shoot outside the penalty box, or can only score with a crossing header. Makes it harder for my team and it is not noticeable because they are still playing hard. Also…put someone in the forward position who has never scored and it has to be passed to them.

Comment by Channing Bogle

Could not be more wrong, kids and parents rub in wins durring and after blowouts. Kids need to be respectfull of other players and coachs need to “pull in the dogs” when blowing out a team and put the A players in non scoring positions. We have all seen a coach apply pressure when winning big and they look foolish to everyone.

Comment by Scott

Guaranteed that most kid’s head go down if they feel they have no chance of even winning a shift never mind the game. When you are winning 5-0 at half time neither team is learning much. The winning team can learn by passing more and the losing team can learn more by focusing on positioning. I still think you can instruct your team to pass more by using a key word rather than instructing the team to pass more which can be considered condescending (which I learnt from experience).

Comment by Henry

I see both sides of that because we have experienced that like everyone, but I think of the kids on the other team not wanting to get killed on the field & giving up on themselves. It also gives the winning team a chance to switch your lines around & give your other players the chance to score.

Comment by helen

It still seems that despite some horrendous losses, your team is still competitive with the others. How about that team you beat 15-0? What’s their record? If all teams are running up those scores on them, can they end the season thinking they’ve learned something?

There’s really no excuse to let the scores get that out of hand. Your the coach, your in control. No coach should be running the score up, then decide on playing keep away or one of those other alternative you described. Your right, it’s demoralizing.

I had a recreational team a couple years ago and as a coach I immediately recognized that the other team we were playing had no way of keeping up with us. We put 3 goals in, almost immediately. I made adjustments, moved all my starters back, moved my weaker players up. The normal competitiveness was not there with that other team, but I took it as an opportunity to develop all of my team. They other team put 2 goals in to make it 3-2. MY assistant coach was going banana’s!! He couldn’t believe it! I said to him, we could take this game back at any time. As you said it’s only a game. Even if we ended up losing would it really matter? Using my starting lineup I could have pounded on that team all game long, but I felt development of all my players in “game” conditions was more important. Pounding on them was more like beating up on your little brother. Sure you can do it, but it doesn’t help you when you meet someone who can match you. The game ended 4-3 with us winning.

Too often I see these teams that totally dominate a league. Varsity soccer, in high schools in my area are notorious for it. One or two schools have all the talent and then beat up on the other schools. Everyone’s happy, the kids are wonderful, the are so good blah blah blah… Then they get into the Districts or the States and then all of a sudden you hear it. The other team plays dirty, the kids are cheating, the refs suck, and the team completely falls apart. The kids are arguing with each other, the coach, the refs. Well if they actually played teams of equal ability and were exposed to the stresses of really earning the win, then maybe they wouldn’t fall apart. If your wondering, my kids are on that top high school team. I just find the season wins so shallow.

Just my opinion… 🙂

Comment by Jerry

Like many others, I disagree. Part of good sportsmanship is not grinding a beaten opponents face in the dirt. There are ways, without being too obvious about it, to hold down the score. The best way, as the other poster mentioned, is to play the kids who “never” score up front. It will probably slow down the scoring, and if one of them puts one in it will make their season.

Comment by Coach Bob

Like many that have commented, I to totally disagree with the pile on mentality. I am a coach for a travel team, when we first formed we were matched with an established A team in an indoor league. The score was 16-0 when the game ended. Not only did it not teach anything to my kids, it did nothing for that A team. Much other coach’s in our league came to me with words of encouragement and did not have anything nice to say about the other coach. He ended up earning a very bad reputation from this encounter and other like it and eventually was run out of the league. Most coach’s who pile on end up with bad reputations at best. I find as a coach I can spot when teams are being told to hold back, but after talking with my boys, they do not see it and I never let them know it, but the end result they feel bad for a 7 – 0 lose but we can often build from it, but they would feel far worse for a 15 – 0 loss.

Comment by Patrick Glick

I have coached on both ends of this situation. One year my boys high school team was winning their first round playoff game 10-0 just after halftime. Our team started to play straight possession when I told them not to score any more goals. The other team was furious and their goalkeeper came and stood in the center circle as a form of protest. That team used the situation as motivation. The next year we again met them in the first round of the playoffs. Our boys were cocky and didn’t take the game seriously. The other team was dead serious and they played great. They won the match 4-2. A huge disappointment for our program and a great lesson for our players.

Comment by sidenetgoal

This is a great story. (The goalkeeper at the center circle) I can just see it. And the following year a turn around. I have to say though, that first year could have been for a few reasons. Maybe the balance between teams was just one or two players making a big difference. Maybe the mental game came into play after two goals. To some, a goal adds strength, to others the world has fallen apart.

But I also know of teams getting quite mad when a coach starts yelling “Make 10 passes before you can go to goal” or something similar.

Anson Dorrance also says to respect the opponent and always play your best, as hard as you can. It’s just insulting to lay back.

As for younger teams, it’s also too bad that teams are matched up so lopsided in ability. They really should keep an eye on the scores and move teams to different brackets/levels to play teams with similar abilities or level of play.

Comment by JVK

This subject couldn’t have come at a better time for my club – a U9 Boys team in southern California that is just learning to play at a more competitive level. At the last tournament we were in, we found ourselves in the completely unfamiliar position of having to hold back rather than being on the receiving end of a lopsided score. I wholeheartedly agree that while little can be learned by dribbling and scoring repeatedly against a weaker opponent, the lessons we learned about supporting one another, taking responsibility for improving our position play against stronger opponents, and, above all NOT BLAMING one another for our team’s shortcomings was invaluable. I, too, as a coach take it the hardest when my team doesn’t perform well and always look to myself for ways to improve communication, teaching methods, etc. When we did dominate that other team last week, we had learned from hard experience that we do not gloat, or make disparaging comments, but simply finish the game in a manner that allows both teams to walk away with something positive on which to build.

Comment by Jeffrey Johnson

This is something that might get you lot thinking, I run a team of u7s and u8s we played a match last sunday and we lost 6-4 not to bad you guys say but let me carry on. as I said we play u7s and u8s, in a friendly leage, its meant for U8s, but they accept U7s as well. we have a team of 6 U8s and 12 U7s, we play 7 a side. last Sunday we had 5 U8s playing and only 2 subs, the other team had 14 U8s, ( your only supposed to play a team with 3 subs) but I let them use all of their subs. When we went 4-0 down after 15 mins, 1 of our players (he is one of the U7s) said to the rest of the team, dont worry lads we can still win this. Halftime came 5 mins later and we had a little chat nothing special, just told them to keep going like they were and that they could score the odd goal. almost straight away we pulled 1 back, and then within 10mins it was 4-4 with our team running rings round them, shooting for fun and getting the ball forward at every oppotunity, next thing the ref blows up for a hand ball our first of the match( their team had handballed it about 5 times but the ref conveniently missed them) they score, and over the last 5 mins we loose our legs and the U7s tire very quickly,so they score another goal.We loose we give the opposit team 3 cheers and only when we were walking off did their manager tell them to give us 3 cheers. Our kids were so happy that we scored 4 goals, and ran them ragged in the second half they didnt care that they lost, and I was so proud that they kept their heads seeing as the previous game we got hammered 13-3 we were very sporting in our loss and our parents were all cheering our players, the same cant be said for the oposition I overheard 1 parent say to their child, you was rubbish you let your team down.

Now they won…. we lost so how did their child let the team down…. beats me I was just so happy that they all played their socks off the scoreline doesnt matter, its how they play that matters, if they keep their heads and try their hardest. just my ramblings but I do feel that praising kids for the good work they do is most important, but also telling them that they did well but could play better even if they were rubbish, is much better than telling them that they were rubish.
Simon Fryer

Comment by Simon Fryer

Coaching an U8 Team, there were several girls that hadn’t played before, so we started at the basics. Dribbling, dribbling, dribbling, by the middle of the season we started looking like a real team! Passing on purpose, shooting, all the things a coach wants to see. 🙂 We had tied 2 games the first half of the season and then been in a drought. One girl came out of her shell and scored 9 goals. I moved her to half, she scored, I moved her to defense, she scored. I couldn’t tell her not to play, I wouldn’t tell the team not to play. This is what we’d worked for and towards all year. Why should I penalize them for them for doing what we’d worked for? Am I wrong? I don’t think so. This girl had never played soccer before. These goals were her first goals. She felt bad, and wouldn’t cheer for herself after her goals, because the other teams parents/coaches were saying unkind things. Not to her, but loud enough for her and the other girls to hear. GIVE ME A BREAK PARENTS. THESE ARE JUST KIDS!!! LET THEM LIVE!!! AND CELEBRATE!!!

Comment by Kathryn Tipp

totally agree the kids are playing because they are kids, its not about the parents its all about the kids.If the kids are enjoying themselves then thats all that matters. 🙂

Comment by Simon Fryer

Definitely take advantage of a lopsided winning position by using your weaker players more and take risks you might not usually do. This will help the weaker team – which is good for both!

One very BIG reason to put the breaks on and try not to make it even more lopsided is your club may think you are too strong, and could (in house league) rebalance your team. That can wreck your whole season!

Do you really want a 15-0 win if it means losing your top player?

Comment by Jeremy

I’ve coached rec teams for several years and helped kids (and parents!) grow and learn lessons on the field that carry with them off the field. If you are concerned with sportsmanship and morale, and you should be, you could try something a little unusual that I have done on several occasions and would like to suggest here. For those matches where you’re clearly overmatching your opponent, try “engineering” a score for the other team. To maximize the effect, work it out with your subs on the bench to “sell” it so it doesn’t look like you’re trying to let them score. You might be surprised how well the kids take to the idea. Especially if your kids have ever experienced one of those 12-0 beatdowns at the hands of the more unsporting teams and coaches. They’ll draw upon those memories and try their best to make it look good. You can even work together with the other coach and the referee to help make this work. If you win 12-0, great… we’ve all seen what comes of these matches. On the other hand, if you were to win 12-9 where many of the players on the other team scored… you will still have made a lasting impression on everyone involved in the game!

I watched a fellow coach do this in a tournament a couple years ago. Having a very good team in a bracket with each of the team types represented – the obnoxious team that seems bent on setting every scoring record ever imagined, a couple middle of the road teams and the eventual recipient of a 14-0 beatdown handed out by the high rolling team. Our girls watched that particular beatdown as it was being given and witnessed the attitude of the winners. They also saw the defeat and dejection hanging heavily on the losing team. The next day our girls played the losing team and were up early 4-0. When the coach suggested that our girls could do something to help give the other team some of their dignity back, the girls jumped at the chance… the best player, who had been subbed earlier, went back in for the last few minutes of the game. She pushed her defenders far up the field and when the other team counter attacked on an intercepted pass, she “got beat” and the attacker put one by the keeper! The celebration after the goal was amazing! The other team was ecstatic (and you’d have thought they just won the National Championship by the excitement of their parents!) But the cool thing was seeing our girls smiling as they took it all in. The game ended 4-1, but bystanders really couldn’t tell which team had won since both teams were elated at the result! When giving out the game ball afterwards, our girls took it one step further… they decided to award the game ball to the girl on the other team that scored their lone goal in the tournament. Of all the dives I’ve ever seen players take, there was never one so good as that one!

As it happened, that was the other team’s last match of the weekend and we were through to the finals to face the high rollers who had been gleefully handing out the drubbings. Wouldn’t you know that other team stayed an extra couple hours after their last game to watch the final match? We had gained some extra cheerleaders on our sidelines! To round out their experience, they were treated to the spectacle of the obnoxious coach’s demise (yes, it was as bad as you can imagine) as our girls mercilessly dismantled his vision and won going away!

So, if it seems a silly notion to help your opponent score, try to remember why all the kids and parents are at the fields – not just your kids and parents… everyone is there to see their kids play and everyone wants to win. I assure you there were a lot of winners that weekend, only some of whom got trophies.

Comment by Chris

Hiya Chris, now thats what I call sporting. our team have played 4 games in a friendly leage of under 7s and 8s. we have lost 3 and drawn 1, our last match we were awful, only a couple of the kids had a good game, we were expecting our first win, but alas it wasnt to be, a freak own goal, and some dodgy passing to the opposition right in front of our goal saw to that LOL, but like I say to al our kids and parents, I dont care about loosing, just how we conduct ourselves and how well the kids play for themselves. After the match I sat our kids down and told them that we should have won that game easily, but, to treat it as a learning experiance, I told them to have a think about how they played and how they think that they could have done better not only for the team but for themselves as well. Im not into giving our team a good telling off, but get them to look at how they could improve for the next game. The bonus I have is that we have a great supporter base, as when we score its always greated with cheers and much encouragement, not only from the scorers parents but from everybody. Also if the oposition do well we good save keeper, or good shot, or whatever it may be, I do think thatbeing sporting earns its own rewards in the end, not just in the result of the match, as your posting goes to prove 🙂

Comment by Simon Fryer

it’s quite a story which help my daughter to do her writing essay for school. Also my daughter had an outstanding score on her grade and want to thank you for all the story that you wrote. Good luck for the soccer game that you or your son have.

Comment by singalot

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