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How much is enough? The difference between securing the victory and embarrassing the opposition.

The quarterback drops back to pass! The receiver streaks by the 5-foot, 2-inch cornerback who struggles to walk and chew gum at the same time! The pass is complete! Touchdown! The point after makes it 56-0 with 49 seconds remaining in the game.


The 18 people attending this freshman football game are on their feet! Sound familiar? Like many coaches, I have had my share of lop-sided defeats. With all due respect to Yogi Berra's ageless mantra: "It ain't over 'till it's over," there are occasions when a contest is most definitively out of hand.

There is no rulebook or handbook on playing with a big lead. Every game and every team is different. Certainly the amount of time remaining in the game plays a significant role in determining a game out of reach. A 35-0 lead in the first quarter is different than a 35-0 lead in the fourth quarter.

The teams involved also are a huge factor. A 28-0 lead over a power-eye formation, run-dominant football team would be considered fairly safe. Neither does "3 yards and a cloud of dust" running philosophy lend itself to many furious, late-game comebacks. That same lead, however, would not be considered as safe against a run-and-shoot offense that specializes in scoring points in a hurry.

The question we want to explore is, "How much is enough?'

Why do teams appear to run up scores on the opposition? When should a coach put the trick plays (flea-flicker, halfback pass, reverse passes, or the pressing defense) in his hip pocket? When should the starters take the rest of the night off and focus on the Gatorade?

Many factors play into the equation: time remaining, skill level of the opponent and the reserve players, score, and coaching philosophy.

Most would agree that the lower the level of competition, the less likely a significant comeback. Some teams at these levels barely manage to perform even the most basic tasks of their respective sport. Is it acceptable to put reserves in the game and risk allowing a couple of late, meaningless touchdowns or a few garbage-time baskets in basketball?

I know firsthand that a couple of late scores can do wonders for the confidence and self-esteem of the beaten squad. Other coaches would argue that preserving the shutout is too important to leave the closing minutes of a game to second-stringers.

Example: My small but slow team is trailing 50-0. We finally put together a drive vs the opposing benchwarmers. But once we get inside the 10-yard line, the opposing coach puts his starters back in to preserve the shutout. When does a coach know when a game is out of hand?

There is no golden rule that guides coaches in this situation. If there were such a standard, no one would be accused of "running up the score" or "pouring it on."

Coaches must use common sense and empathy in lop-sided contests. They know when a game is a mismatch. They have observed the whole game and they know the capabilities of the opponent. They know whenever the other team is capable of scoring points in a hurry.

During the post-game handshake, the victorious coach invariably states: "I know how it feels; I have been there." It is a consolation to the coach who has just got run out of the gym or blown off the field.

If all coaches "know how it feels," then why do players and coaches still feel like the other teams that have had the "score run up on them?" If we all know how bad it feels to suffer a humiliating loss, then why do coaches still run up scores, either on purpose or by accident?

Why do teams take offense at being run off the field? A game looks much different to the team that is leading by 40 points than it does to the team trailing by 40 points. A halfback pass or a diamond and one press in a 40-point game would certainly be looked upon as running up the score by the losing team.

However, after the game, the winning coach usually states:

"It is a play we wanted to work on in a game." Maybe this is the truth, but it still doesn't sit well with the losing team, the fans, and parents. Humans, by nature, are protective of their children. Consequently, parents get very upset when their children get embarrassed.

Some coaches believe questioning the ethics of another coach after a lop-sided loss is just "sour grapes." As coaches, we care about our players and we feel compelled to stand up for them when we feel they have been disrespected.

At the high school level, we have rules that help control lop-sided games. In Colorado, the "mercy rule" in football stipulates that the clock shall run continuously if the margin is 45 points or more.

Similar rules exist in baseball and soccer. However, no rule regulates what plays are called and which players stay in the game.

We believe that if coaches would adhere to the following five principles, the amount of hard feelings after routs will decline:

The first half of the game is a free fire zone--anything goes!

If high school coaches are coaching only for personal glory, they should ask themselves whether they should be in coaching. Coaches must be in this profession to teach and mold young men and women.

Playing reserve players in blowouts strengthens a team because these players feel that they are truly contributing and will likely receive a heightened appreciation for their place on the team. Playing your younger players strengthens and builds your program.

The true likelihood that the opponent is going to catch up in the game. If you know they aren't going to catch you, that should dictate how you coach the remainder of the game.

The golden rule: Treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. If the score were reversed, what would you want the opposing coach to do?

Teams and coaches need to understand that winning with dignity is just as important as the winning itself. There is no sportsmanship or class in pouring it on an inferior team.

Hubert H. Humphrey said: "A society is judged by how it protects its poor and disabled." Some of the most important lessons that young people learn come from youth sports and their coaches. As coaches, we often have more influence on our players than any adult. We must embrace this responsibility with an ethical approach to our profession.

Win-at-all-cost coaches give youth sport a bad name and instill the wrong morals in the young athletes they coach.

As coaches, we tell our players that they must forsake personal glory for the good of the team. Coaches should take their own advice and place what is best for their players ahead of their own agendas and egos. Coaches should use their knowledge of the game to maximize the abilities of their team and to teach them that winning without dignity really isn't winning at all.

By Marc Sites, Physical Education Teacher/Coach

Liberty High School, Colorado Springs, CO
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Title Annotation:FOOTBALL
Author:Sites, Marc
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2006
Previous Article:From the weight room to the classroom.
Next Article:From white board to web site: communicating the athletic program.

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