By Kathy Toon written for the POSITIVE COACHING ALLIANCE
As a lacrosse coach, you’ll inevitably be involved in a blowout game. Blowout games are a big frustration for players, coaches, and parents. For the losing team they can take the joy out of playing the game. For the winning team, they deny players the mental and physical challenges that closely contested games present. Generally speaking, blowout games lack the environmental energy that makes sports fun and exciting. Blowout games are a significant source of negativity in youth sports. The embarrassment and humiliation that blowout games often fosters is a big reason why many kids quit sports at an early age and why many parents lose their cool on the sidelines. Let’s face it, despite the best organizational efforts to create well-balanced teams and schedules, blowouts are going to happen. As coaches of “the fastest game on two feet,’ we know how quickly goals can be scored and games can get out of hand. Lacrosse balls can take funny bounces and before you know it, your team is down by five or more. That’s the nature of youth sports. We need to be prepared for coaching in blowouts from the losing and winning ends. Here are some tools if you’re on the unfortunate side, and next issue Part 2 will provide some tips if you are the victor.
As a coach, you must embody confidence and optimism for your players to emulate. When your team gets behind, no matter how big the deficit, you must stay in the game and exude belief that there is always a chance of a comeback. This ever-present glimmer of hope is one of the sacred and magical tenets of sports. However, at a certain point, it helps to acknowledge to yourself that your team is not going to win the game. Accepting this allows you to seize creative opportunities to address the situation at hand, some of which, ironically, could lead to your team getting back in the game.
-FOCUS ON CHARACTER AND EFFORT GOALS
There are only two ways to respond when you’re getting blown out--- you can quit or you can keep trying. Present these two options to your players and ask them what kind of people they want to be. Encourage them by telling them how much you admire people like them; people who keep trying even when things aren’t going well. Explain to them that the best lacrosse teams in the world have all been blown out before—including Syracuse, Princeton, and others! Tell your players that, no matter what the scoreboard says, they can be winners. Establish a standard for your players where they know they’re being judged on their effort, improvement, and how they respond to mistakes they make. They can be successful in these areas regardless of the score. Throughout the game, communicate specific examples of player effort, cite tangible measures of improvement, and point to positive responses to mistakes. Effort goals, which are more under a player’s control, can keep teams trying throughout a game or season regardless of the score. As long as a team has a chance to achieve its effort goals, it will be more likely to play hard all game.
-MOVE THE GOAL POSTS
Most often, the problem when losing in a blowout is that your team can’t score. Find ways to set achievable goals for your team that doesn’t involve scoring. Examples include keeping track of the number of shots taken vs. goals scored, successfully controlling the ball for a certain length of the field, forcing the opponent to shoot only from their weak side or moving the ball across midfield at least five times.
-SET SHORT INTENSITY GOALS
Examples of this include five minutes of tough defense, picking up the next ground ball, not allowing an attacker or midfielder an open look at the cage, or having everyone on offense touch the ball. Emphasize the importance of playing hard in the fourth quarter to the end of the game.
-POST GAME CONDUCT
After a blowout, the post game handshakes can be awkward for both teams. Encourage your players to be proud of their effort. They should feel good about themselves and should stand tall and make eye contact when congratulating their opponents. You can prepare your players for the kind of post game conduct you want them to show by having them rehearse this process at practice.