Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Youth Basketball Routs: How Big a Win is too Big?

Last night, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish Women's Basketball team beat Pitt 120 to 44. If you have never seen Skylar Diggins play ball you need to. 

Last night in men's college hoops, the West Carolina Catamounts beat the Toccoa Falls Eagles of the National Christian College Athletic Association by 102 points (141-39).

Big wins like these on the youth sports scene really upset people. Big wins like these generate questions for me.

Question One: 

What is the politically correct margin of victory when a far superior team plays an inferior team? Should the team stop when the point differential get to 10 points, 20 points, 30 points? I ask the question because I really do not know.

Question Two: 

And when the team, that is in total control, gets to the politically correct point spread what should the team do? Should they play an embarrassing game of keep away? Has anyone asked the losing team why they didn't slow down the pace of play? Surely, the team getting blown-out could have dribbled uncontested at the half court-line for several minutes each possession to kill time.

Over the years, my kids have been on both sides of a blowout. I can tell you that it is no fun to be on the losing side, but it does not anger me unless the coach of the superior team is classless. 

Here is an example: I was completely angered when my son's team was getting blowout in a league championship game. The league was sponsored by a local indoor facility were the rules are somewhat lax compared to sanctioned leagues. My son's team had beaten the other team in the regular season so his team was confident that they could win the championship trophy if they played their game. The opponent that showed up for the game wore the same uniforms as the team my son's team played earlier in the season, but several of the players in the uniforms were different. These new players were awesome and completely dominated the game. If that were not bad enough, the coach of the opposing team called timeout with 24 seconds left in the game, a game his team was winning by 43. He called timeout to set up a scoring play. The coach was a completely classless jackass.

Question Three: 

So what is the coach of a far superior basketball team to do? Here are my thoughts:

1) Stop the full court press as soon as you realize that your team is going to win comfortably. (A 15 point lead is a typical time to consider calling off the dogs. Some leagues restrict full court presses after a team gets to a certain big lead.)
2) Play your non-starters more than normal to give them game time experience. You never know when you will need a reserve to cover for a starting player who becomes injured or who has fouled out at a key juncture in the game.
3) Make sure that your starters get some quality minutes too. They worked hard all week and deserve to play. This is especially important for the star players who
are vying for college scholarships. Another reason to play your starters is to keep them in shape. If your team blows every team they play during the regular season and you rest your starters in the second half, then the starters might not have the stamina to play a full game when it counts in state and national tournaments. Of course tough practices and off court training should prepare the players too. 
4) Slow down the pace - do not play an embarrassing game of keep away. Run your offense - but at a more deliberate pace. Perhaps tell the kids no shooting until the team completes 5 passes. Some leagues keep the clock running when the score gets out of hand.
5) Do not allow any taunting or showmanship.
6) Show the other team how the game is played with hustle, strong cuts, smart passes, superior shooting and smothering defense, etc.

The Main Point

All coaches and players on the wrong side of a blowout should be in awe of superior team that wins by the rules and not embarrassed by their team. We should all praise the kids and coaches who play by the rules, work hard and achieve. We should hold them up as examples of how to do it and never berate the kids, the coach or the program for being high achievers.

Still, youth coaches of superior teams need to show kindness, empathy and respect to all opponents. Sportsmanship is a life lesson.

What do you think?


  1. Coach Ray Lokar 2 part-series on "Maintain Good Sportsmanship in Youth & High School Sports Using 'Mismatch Etiquette'" is must-read material on the subject:
    Part 1 -
    Part 2 -

  2. Wrote this in 2011 on Lokar's blog on the subject. Part 1 of my comments

    Recently {2011), there was a girls High School basketball game in Utah and the final score was 108 to 3: Lokar's two part series on basketball - "mismatch etiquette|" is on point with how a coach should deal with this type of situation: Part (1) (Part 2)

    There is no reason in the world why you should beat someone by over a 100 points. Brian McCormick said, "I don't like the perspective that good players/teams have to apologize for being good." My reply to Brian is that nobody is asking the coach of a superior team to apologize.

    Coach Matt Grahn stated that "it is {about} how you win." I totally agree with this sentiment. "Temper Justice with Mercy." This philosophical statement has always been a guiding force in our jurisprudence system. Not always followed, but something that judges should factor into their thinking when meting out a sentence. Likewise, an opposing coach of a superior team needs to have this same philosophical mindset. Tempering dominance with mercy!

    Like Coach McGill, the winning coach of the 108 pt. team, I've been on both sides of the equation. Here's an earlier post by me on the subject: I understand his sentiments & I don't like when teams obviously back off. The key in this situation is to COACH your kids so that it benefits your team and the opposing team.

    My daughter is a sophomore in high school and is playing her first year of high school basketball. She participated in a summer league and is currently on her school's JV squad. To get her ready for the season, I placed her in a clinic that was coached weekly by an excellent college coach (Heidi VanDerveer) at Occidental College. I've watched a lot of girls basketball over the last 6 months and I have a lot of thoughts on the state of women's basketball. One quick thought to share with you is that the better female athletes choose soccer and volleyball over basketball; but that's another subject for another day.

  3. Part 2 of my comments:

    In watching girls basketball, I've noticed the following:

    (1) Most points come off steals that lead to easy layups. I'm betting that's how the majority of the points were scored in this game. How does a layup drill help develop your team's ability to learn how to play the game?

    (2) Inability to execute a set offense.

    (3)Inability to run a fast break or a secondary break.

    (4)Poor understanding of how to create spacing to free self for shot or pass.

    (5) Poor post play, endemic in all of basketball, male or female.

    (6) Poor Post passing

    What can a coach do? Coach Lok has laid out a good plan, so I'm not going to recreate the wheel, but I would encourage coaches with the dominant team to tell their team not to score any uncontested layups off steals and to to run their set offense. If you score running your set offense, fine. Your team is developing and you're also helping the other team become better in their 1/2 court defense.

    (2) Practice your transition offense - Tell your team they can score in transition off a defensive rebound.

    (3) Set no ball screens. George Irvine wrote an excellent article on teaching youth how to play - Here's another Irvine article on his view of high school basketball after he observed the Washington Boys & Girls basketball tournament in 2009:

    (4) Feed the post - Work on your team's low post game, giving your post people the opportunity to make decisions with their back to the basket; whether it's creating space for a shot or passing out of the post.

    (5) Defensively - If you're a zone team, play man. If your a man team, play zone. Don't double, do provide help.

    My philosophy is simple. Work on your weaknesses; develop your team's basketball intelligence by having them execute an offense instead of running a layup drill. Anybody can bully an inferior opponent. Take this moment to help your team and the individuals become better basketball players and sportsmen or sportswomen.

  4. I missed Coach Lok's post - so thanks for sharing. The links you provide are always helpful and broaden the discussion.

  5. Great post Stats Dad...

    I agree with you. When you are up big (15 to 20 points). Let your bench see the floor and stop pressing. Allow your team to work on their offense set. You might say something to your players like "You have to pass the ball around 8 times before you can shoot. “

    I don't see the value in crushing a team by 80 points. Basically you should have won the game in the first place. Humility before honor!

    Karma! I have seen a coach enforce a no lay-up rule against the best players on the other team in this type of situation. Now your best player on the floor hurt and out for the whole season. Maybe the stands might clear like they did in a championship game in Baltimore.

    Lose-lose for both teams when someone "CHOOSES" to runs up the score on a lesser team. Do the right thing and keep your ego at home.

  6. Whether it's college, high school, or competitive youth leagues, I've never understood the coach who continues to play his or her best players once a win is realistically secure. Are the starters really benefiting from beating up on a far inferior team? Is this playing time worth the risk of injury to a key player?

    These games provide an ideal opportunity to reward the less skilled players who see little to no playing time in competitive contests. Through their team committent and hard work in practices these players deserve THIS playing time.

    Early in these non-competitive games, I agree with the idea that coaches should have their team work on their weaknesses. This gives the starters their full complement of playing time. As already mentioned, if one team is dominating their opponent with a full court press that creates turnovers and easy baskets, then pull it. This in turn will force the team to work on it's half court offense—practice that may work to the team's long term competitive advantage against teams who handle pressure defenses well.

    I don't like the idea of patronizing a much weaker opponent—just choose players, strategies, and tactics that minimize the damage. As in most sportsmanship issues, it simply comes down to RESPECT.

    I found Clarence's observations about girls basketball interesting. Last summer I assisted a friend who coaches the local high school girls varsity team. This guy was one of the best point guards I ever played with and has excellent knowledge of the game. Once the girls became familiar with his dribble drive offense and man defense, they executed the systems reasonably well. But what always remained missing in games was read and react recognition to improvisational, two-man or three-man situations. Players failed to move without the ball, create space, execute pick and rolls, and generally recognize advantage/disadvantage situations. Moreover, the ability to consistently make good passes and catches while moving was lacking—even for the better players.

    For some of these girls, these problems were likely related to the fact that they were young and had not played a lot of basketball. But for others I couldn't help but think that they were the product of an environment where girls tend to only play sports in organized settings. Unlike those of us who developed our basketball IQ with hours upon hours of pickup play (two-man, three-man, and full court), these girls lacked this experience. Interestingly, I asked a couple of the sophomores on the team whether they ever played pickup games. The girls said they were just too busy with other scheduled activites to play pickup. An unfortunate sign of our times.

  7. The injury factor was not mentioned before your comment - good addition. The lack of playing pick up was interesting too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  8. My friend has a daughter that is on a winning soccer team. When the score gets lopsided, the starters typically 'change positions' so that the team does not score as many goals, yet the starters still get playing time.

    My personal opinion is that the winning team should not run up the score. However, I agree that resting the starters extensively (ex: for a half) gets them rusty so they will not be ready when they play a more challenging team.

    I noticed that in the saints-lions playoff game, when the score was 45-10, the saints were close to the goal line, but they ran out the clock instead of going for another score. But there were only seconds left in the game.

    I've seen lots of college games where the score is very lopsided. I've seen many times schools like Oklahoma and Oregon have games where they scored 70+. And there was one game Oklahoma beat Texas A&M 77-0. Oklahoma could have score more points, but instead they ran out the clock.

    I was on a losing side of an extremely lopsided soccer game. As a child, the soccer team I was on lost 15-0. We were down 7-zip at the half. I have never been on the winning side in this situation.

  9. I coached a dominant soccer team once - I when my team got up by 5 - the refs make me pull a player off the field. (league rule to control the scores). I had a problem with that because player development is the main goal and you cannot develop a player who is sitting on the bench.




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