***This is a repost of an article I wrote entitled “Complete and Utter Domination” in May 2011.***
The trouble with youth sports is every kid grows at a different rate in both size and skill. This creates a very wide disparity between teams on the lacrosse field. I officiated a middle school team where I swear every kid must have been fed Muscle Milk since birth. Compared to the other team, these kids were giants. Not only were they big, they were also very skilled overall, and by the end of the first quarter the score was 10-0. The opposing team could not keep up in any facet of the game. They were completely dominated from the first whistle to the final horn.
There are going to be youth teams with a first-year coach and zero game experience. There will also be feeder teams under a public/private school banner that have two quality coaches and players with a wealth of experience. Kids that weighed 120 pounds soaking wet in seventh grade hit a growth spurt, then look down on me from a six foot frame. This wide variation exists in every youth program I have seen, but disparity is one thing. Poor winners is another.
Few things make me angrier than a coach letting his team shell a hapless goalie for four quarters. When one team is flat out better than the other, every kid on the better team wants to score. These are games where the goalie comes out in the fourth quarter, runs pasts a stunned defense and takes a shot. The game turns from a competition to a glorified shooting practice that demoralizes the losing team. Is is fun to put up twenty goals on a team that cannot clear the ball past midfield? Yes. Does it show good sportsmanship? No.
While the losing team falls deeper into the abyss, the winning team actually gets worse. During the shooting gallery, the superior players spend their time running past three defenders who cannot check and shooting from three yards out. I guarantee the winning team will not be able to do that against a stronger opponent. For all four quarters, the more skillful team only works on pouring goals into the back of the net. Their defense gets almost no work at all, the goalkeeper could set up a rocking chair in the crease, and the offensive players could care less about passing the ball in favor of going to the cage. In this situation, the coach of the prevailing team must take a firm hand and impose a new game strategy.
Game Strategies When Your Team is Crushing their Opponent:
- Sub in your second or third string. This lets your less experienced players get reps on the field.
- Every player switches to their off-hand, and cannot use their strong hand.
- Switch out your goalie with a player who would like to try the position.
- Make your offense pass the ball until the officials put a stalling call on. Now you are forced to keep it in the box.
- No one may shoot the ball until there are three complete passes. If they do that move to five, then ten.
- Your defenseman may only use poke checks.
Feel free to use any of these strategies if you are up by ten or more goals, and the other team has no chance of being much of a threat. I certainly do not want you to lose the game. So if the score starts to creep back up for your opponent, go back to your first string and gain a comfortable lead again.
The goal of these strategies is to level the playing field while providing the greater team with opportunities to improve. Taking multiple passes before shots creates players who look for the extra pass instead of getting tunnel vision towards the goal. Switching everyone to their off-hand develops critical muscle memory, and gets all of your players more comfortable using their non-dominate hand. Finally, requiring your defenseman to only throw poke checks forces them to play better body position, which will serve them well against stronger attackmen.
We cannot eliminate the size, speed, and skill imbalances at the youth level. Yet, as stewards of the game we can ensure those advantages do not negatively impact the game. Do not allow the lure of twenty-five goals make your team forget about sportsmanship. If your team is dominating, find ways for your players to improve and not just run up the score.
If anyone has any other strategies please use the comment section below.
Featured Image Credit – www.examiner.com