Coaching in a blowout: Developing good habits

I refereed a junior varsity girls soccer game this afternoon, and it was clear from the beginning that one team was better than the other. The winning team played possession soccer and regularly strung 10+ passes together before a shot or turnover. 

I can judge only by what I saw and the feedback that I heard from the coach during the game. I understand that he likely was using this game as a practice, as it was basically over inside of 20 minutes, but, to my non-expert eyes, the emphasis on passing and possession led to negative plays. Will this practice lead to negative transfer in the next game?

When players received a pass, I would estimate that 85% took their first touch backward, away from their offensive goal. I did not notice a single player peak over her shoulders before receiving the pass. In soccer, expert players peak over the shoulders (when receiving a pass with back to their goal) before the ball arrives to locate defenders and potential passing targets. Essentially, this is the physical action that enables anticipate before the pass reception, much as I wrote about anticipating one’s move before the pass reception in SABA (in basketball, we do not teach the peak over the shoulder because the ball arrives more quickly and higher; we emphasize the same concept, just not the same physical performance of the mental concept).

Because the players do not peak over their shoulders, they were unaware of the field behind them. Even in the attacking third, they took their touch away from any perceived pressure. Numerous times, an offensive first touch would have led to an advantage toward goal. Instead, they dribbled backward before turning and facing the goal.

Now, I do not know if this is what the coach asked the player to do because of the score, but I never heard any feedback related to peaking over the shoulder, although he stood and yelled instructions or motivations for the entire game. If he was using this game as practice, isn’t that a skill that would be useful to practice?

Coaching in blowouts is difficult. You want to have empathy for the other team, especially when it is clear that one team is better than the other (in this case, one team was filled with club soccer players from a wealthy area, and the other team was a poorer school with few if any club players and several players who had not played prior to high school). However, you also do not want to develop bad habits. To my eyes, they were practicing bad habits repeatedly.

Furthermore, they played like a coach-led team; there was no creativity. Nobody tried anything new. They played the same way throughout the game and when they deviated or did not play hard enough or appeared selfish, they were substituted. Some believe that is good coaching; some don’t.

My least favorite thing is coaching in blowouts. However, can you use the time without disrespecting the opponent? During the game, I heard several girls comment about not being able to kick with their weak foot. Several players turned relatively easy goal scoring opportunities with their left foot into difficult shots with their right foot. What about playing your game, but instructing players to score only with their left foot? They scored several goals from corner kicks because it was clear that the opponent did not know how to defend corners. After scoring the first, why not play short corners?

In basketball, can you initiate your offense on the left side rather than the right, which happens 95% of the time? Can you get a post entry pass before scoring? Can you score only baskets with an assist (prevents one player from driving to the basket every time)?

These are changes, modifications, or rules that you can use to practice certain skills and prevent a game from getting too out of hand without developing bad habits.

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice and Fake Fundamentals

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