December 26, 2013

Blowouts Happen, But Handle with Care

by Clare Lochary | | Twitter

This column appears in the January 2014 issue of Lacrosse Magazine. Join US Lacrosse today to receive your copy.

Nothing gets people in Texas riled up like high school football, and the Oct. 18 game between the Aledo Bearcats and the Western Hills Cougars was no exception.

Aledo defeated Western Hills 91-0. That's a Texas-sized win, but it wasn't out of character for the Bearcats. At the time, Aledo had a statewide No. 1 ranking by the Associated Press in Class 4A (the second-highest classification in the state) and an average margin of victory of 77 points. It's the kind of program that takes a generation to build.

After the game, a Western Hills parent filed a bullying complaint against the Bearcats' coaching staff through the school district. If all you knew about the game was the score, it's understandable how it might raise a red flag. Ninety-one points are a lot, and it can get ugly to watch one team of kids beat up on another one.

High schoolers are still kids, after all, even if they're celebrated football players.

Poor sportsmanship and bullying aren't too far apart; both are grounded in an appalling lack of character and empathy.

Thus the district investigated the game, and ruled that Aledo coach Tim Buchanan was not at fault. In fact, Buchanan behaved admirably. He played second- and third-string players. He used multiple quarterbacks, who combined for just 10 passing plays. The teams agreed to a running clock in the second half.

But the Bearcats were just too powerful. And while you can slow a team like that, you can't stop it, especially in football. (There's no stall ball on the gridiron.) Western Hills coach John Naylor acknowledged as much.

"I think the game was handled fine," said Naylor, according to the Dallas Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "We just ran into a buzzsaw, you know. [Aledo] just plays hard. They're good sports, and they don't talk at all. They get after it, and that's the way football is supposed to be played in Texas."

Lopsided games are a fact of sports. If you play long enough, you will find yourself on both sides of a few blowouts. It happens quite a bit in lacrosse, since the uneven growth of the game can result in a powerhouse dominating a conference, a state or a tournament.

These games are not fun, not even for the winners. They just lack the energy and excitement that make athletes tick. Still, there's a right way and a wrong way to handle the situation, win or lose.

I asked our coaching education staff here at US Lacrosse for their advice, and came up with the following tips.

When you're winning in a blowout:

1. Play the bench. No practice is as good as a game situation for developing players. Mandate non-dominant hands for everyone. Swap positions so attackers get a taste of defense and vice versa. Practice the stall, or give a passive zone defense a try.

2. Conduct yourself respectfully. A team on the good side of a rout has virtually no reason to foul, so play clean with no trash talk.

3. Don't patronize your opponents, either. Sometimes holding the ball indefinitely can be more insulting than adding another point to the total, although some folks draw a bright line at 19 goals. That's a judgment call for each coach to make. One solution is to put parameters on shooting, like making 10 consecutive passes or running a certain play before any shot. If the other team isn't challenging you, find a way to challenge yourself.
When you're losing in a blowout:

1. Stay positive. Keep emotions in check and focus on winning small battles, like ground balls or keeping shots on goal. Midgame adjustments aside, don't abandon your identity.

"As tempting as it is to try and 'fix' it all right then, chances are it will not have any impact if it isn't something you have worked on before, and it may even make things worse," said TJ Buchanan, US Lacrosse coaching education manager.

2. If you watch film of the loss, focus on what the other team did well, rather than what you did poorly. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

3. Kyle Boyer, US Lacrosse coaching education and training manager, adds this advice for tough losses, too: "I find all the things we did well, and remind my players that when they are adults in their 20s and 30s, they won't remember how many games they won at 12 years old. They will remember if they had fun playing." LM

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