What Does it Mean to Run Up the Score?

To win a soccer game you must score one more goal than your opponent. But how many goals does it take to show that one team is truly better than the other? 2? 10? As many as you can score? And what does it mean to run up the score?

Is motive required to run up the score? Do you actually have to be thinking, “We’re going to score as many goals as we can against these chumps!” Or does that matter? Even if you aren’t thinking about pounding your opponent, if the score is still grossly lopsided, is that still considered running up the score?

Now, if you do have motive to run up the score are all motives for doing so bad? For example, I coached a team at one point that to make the playoffs had to win its last regular season game and had to do so by seven goals. It just so happened the team we were playing was the worst team in the league so it was a possibility. I remember calling each player on the phone and discussing the situation with them. We all agreed that it was something we could do and the team came to the field hyper focused and ready to do the job. We were relentless. We pressured and hustled. Attack after attack led to chances and goals. One than two. Our opponent started looking concerned at how hungry we seemed to be. Three, four, five. Our players, coaches and parents all screaming, “Get the ball out of the net and back to centre!” Six. Players on the other team starting to cry and the coach asking me why were we doing this to them.

That’s as far as we got. Both teams were devastated but for different reasons. I remember talking to the other team’s coach at the end of the game and explaining why we had been doing what we had done. It was the best game that team of players I coached had ever played. And I felt like crap. If we had gotten the seven goals we needed, would the win have conveniently glossed over the not so nice bits?

Maybe you’re saying, so what? Soccer is competitive and teams need to learn to lose as well as they win. There was a time when I wouldn’t have cared about how many goals a team won by. To me, the opponents were just bodies in different coloured uniforms. They weren’t people that I cared about. If we destroyed them, we destroyed them.

I don’t think that way anymore and I work to coach the teams I coach to keep the score in easy games from running away.

But why?

Over the years as a coach I’ve been on the receiving end of more thrashings than I’ve been on the giving end. So the first reason I don’t allow the teams I coach to score and score and score is empathy. I’ve been in their cleats. I know how it feels and I don’t think that because someone else has done it to me that it’s okay for me to do it to someone else. What comes around doesn’t have to go around.

Second, and tied to that is respect. Those aren’t just bodies in different coloured uniforms. They are people and just like the players I coach they are the same age, listen to the same kinds of music, watch the same kind of shows, worry about the same kinds of things. If we took time to get to know them, we’d see that. But we can’t do that. We teach that the opponent is the enemy. We’re not supposed to like them. If we like them then we might not be able to beat them. Or at least that’s how I see this story inside my head. Then again there’s been plenty of times in the parking lot before a game where I’ve given a friendly smile and nod to a family unit from the other team and been given a very cold shoulder. After all, I was the enemy’s leader.

Thing is, I can beat you and still show you respect.

But wait a minute. Sometimes games just blow up big on the scoreboard for one team. A hot team comes up against a team that can’t seem to get anything good going. Goals start flying in. To tell your team to stop scoring would be to tell your team to stop trying and I certainly think that that’s as disrespectful to the opponent — and to your team too — as running up the score.

So what’s the answer then?

First of all, hopefully all teams are playing at the most appropriate level for their ability so that they are properly challenged each game. Mind you and like I just said, the occasional blowout can still happen just because of the perfect storm of factors coming together on that day. However, if all teams are at the right level and the score is still going to become unflattering to one team, what can you do to slow the deluge while still maintaining respect all around?

My go-to in this situation have been challenges. The easiest is to move players into their least strong position. The next is to add a condition, like only goals can be scored using your weaker foot or a header from a cross. This way players are still challenged to work their hardest and do their best. My absolute favourite is that every player on the team (including the keeper) must touch the ball at least once before trying to shoot and score. And every time we lose the ball back to the opponent, that count resets to zero, so they have to start all over again. That usually keeps the score down while giving my players a real teamwork challenge to engage with.

However, I can’t do any of this without explaining first to the players I coach the rationale for why and when in the score line they can expect to be asked to do these things. My goal difference is four. I don’t think there are too many instances where a team that is down by four goals is going to be coming back. So when a team I coach does get to a four-goal lead, it’s challenge time.

Challenges don’t always work. After a certain number of goals, some teams just give up. Can’t say that I blame them, watching the other team continually celebrate goal after goal. Gets a little tiring. Sometimes I’ve just had to say that the nets have disappeared for now. If our opponent scores one more and the lead drops to three then they can reply and make it four again. But if they do, then they must work at other things than trying to score.

Certainly, not everyone gets this philosophy or agrees with it. At the end of the day, where I’m coaching and where most people who will read this are involved in the game will be at the youth level. If we were conducting our business with professional athletes where winning is the main reason for being than maybe lambasting your opponent is a more acceptable practice. Even still, I’ve seen plenty of games at the highest level where a team is in control with a couple or few goals and they change the way they play. Whether it’s to conserve energy or to be considerate of their professional colleagues on the other side of the ball, it does happen even at the highest levels.

So how many goals does it take to show that you are the better team?

Sooner or later all of us will experience a game where there will still be plenty of time to go in the game and yet based on the score, it’s already over. At that point I don’t think scoring more goals makes the ensuing victory more impressive or more satisfying. We have other options for handling those types of games at the amateur level.

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