Sunday, January 11, 2009

Running up the score....

112 to 10, 94 to 40, 76 to 30, 120 to 75.....Many of you are probably looking at those numbers and hoping they aren't high school basketball scores, yet all of them are scores I have seen this year.
Some of you will be aghast that a travesty such as this can occur in our athletic leagues in school, others will chalk it up as the way it has always been and not think twice. Many will automatically label these games as one team running up the score on the opponent. In the midst of all this is the biggest issue coaches have to deal with, how to play the game when your opponent is vastly inferior in terms of skill.

Since sports began there have always been goliaths of skill in the game, and these teams far outclass their opponents and dish out severe beatings to anyone who plays them. Yes, sometimes they face their David, and is often times why we love sports so much, it is a rare occurrence. So as a coach what do you do when you are label a horrible person because your team blows people out? Do you ignore it? DO you change your game plan? Do you just play ball? Is there one solution?

A little history for you....Running up the score (on purpose) has become socially unacceptable in youth sports in the last 10 years. This might give you mean it has been acceptable? Absolutely, no long ago some leagues at the high school level used margin of win to break ties to place teams in First, Second, and Third in league. This was important because your placement related to how you were ranked going into CIF. So in order to insure your position you scored as many points as possible against opponenets. This still takes place in some tournaments who do pol play, margin of victory as a way to seed teams. During these times it was completely acceptbale to run up the score, did many people like it, no, but they did it anyways. Fortunately most leagues have gone to the coin flip, which people bitch about just as much, and maybe even more so that chance is deciding who goes to the playoffs. (league size determings making the playoffs, in a 5 team league 1st and 2nd, in a 6 team league 1st, 2nd, 3rd. etc.)

I have seen coaches who still run up the score for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is to prove a point against a team that has made comments in the press, as a personal vendetta against another coach, or something you do in the big rivalry game. Every way you look at it, regardless of these attempts at justification, they have no place in the game. No coach should ever purposely run up the score. Would this mean we wouldn't see the score mentioned above? No, but there are ways to play the game that isn't detrimental to the esteem of the kids who play the game.

As a coach I have always had a set of rules that I can put in place when faced with a team that we are vastly superior in skill. These vary in use depending on if I am coaching girls or boys.

1. We never press up by 30 or more.
2. 30+ point lead no more than 2 starters are on the floor at once.
3. Do not take the ball from the ball handler on defense. (pass interception is the only steal allowed)
4. Minimum number of pass on offense.
5. Shots only taken in the offense.
6. 30+ lead going into the 4th, no starters.
7. No trapping
8. Fast break only on steals above the free throw line.

I have at times instituted these rules while coaching against teams. Some people think this is disrespectful to play the game in this fashion. I completely disagree, for many reasons.

1. It is not helpful to my team to play a normal strategy, as we don't get any better when our defenders can take the ball from the ball handler everytime. That is called layup drills, not a game.

2. WE NEVER SACRAFICE EFFORT. Regardless of the rules around play, we play hard every second, no matter who we play. So we can't take the ball from the ball handler, but we play D with our feet, cut off the ball, get in helpside, pressure the ball, all the things we teach.

3. Prevents injury, often times in blow outs kids can get injured. Not worth it to have players get injured.

4. It allows us to still work on this we need to do against everyone else.

5. Kids can at times get emotional angry even, and I wouldn't blame them. I have seen on more than one occassion players so angry at another team for running up the score the intentionally foul with intent to injure, fight, or just walk off the floor.

Do these things mean we won't have lopside scores? No of course not, it can still happen and does. However, up 50 at the end of a game running a man to man press with 5 starters in the game goes against the entire point of high school sports. There is no Victory when there is no Honor in the way the game was played.

CIF askes for Victory with Honor, that is one way I try to follow that credo.

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