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With A Big Lead - Slow Down, Or Keep Playing?

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Hello, everyone.

I wanted to get opinions from people about when you have a big lead at the end of a game.

My kids play at a YMCA, so sometimes the level of play isn't extremely high, although the kids are still competitive. I coach strong values into my kids, including a strong emphasis on sportsmanship and teamwork.

Lately I've been in a bit of a tough spot. Because my core group of kids has been playing together for few seasons now, they're very good together, and we tend to win more than we lose, and often by a pretty good margin. So far this season we're 4-1, with average margins of victory over 20. Our one loss (by 8) was when we only had 4 players at the start of the game and played the fourth with only 3 due to one fouling out.

I've taken to running out the clock at the end of games because I don't want to run up the score, and that's led to some coaches being rather ticked off. This last game the coach refused to shake my hand, and his assistant spouted off something "showing up" their team. We ran off most of the last two minutes by just passing it around, not attempting a shot.

I've talked to coaches here, and get a mixed bag, so I figured I'd come to the forum to ask. With this past weekend we were up by over 30, and to be blunt we could've scored 6 or 8 more without much difficulty.

Two weeks previously, my guys were told to keep passing, and if there's an open 4-6 foot shot then take it. That coach wasn't too thrilled, although he kept his emotions in check and was respectful. He knew what I was doing (or not doing), so he got it. He did tell me afterward that he'd rather I just "let the players play, don't worry so much about the score."

I can't just sit my best players, because the league rules state that once a player starts a quarter he must finish it - no subs (except for injuries or whatnot). I'm also stuck with the fact that every player has to be on the floor for at least half the game - besides, I don't want to cut the playing time of my best players because they did 'too well', created too large of a lead.

I'm reaching a point where I'm disinclined to rein in my horses, so to speak. Many of these coaches are merely involved parents. That's what I am, but I put time and effort into it, I don't just show up, run a practice for an hour or sit on the bench for an hour and leave. I run extra practices, I coach players on their strengths and weaknesses, and do video study with them so they can see what they're doing and correct mistakes. I do this not because I'm getting paid, but because I love these kids, I enjoy doing it, and I love watching them all grow and develop as players and young people.

I don't want to think this way, but I almost barked back at the coach this past weekend. I just barely kept myself from yelling, "well, if you don't like the outcome, then coach the team to get better!" I know half his team, having coached 5 of his 9 players in previous seasons. They have ability, but the team is completely in disarray. And I'm reaching that level of frustration where I'm ready to just say forget it, let my kids have at it in the final quarter, and let the chips fall where they may.

Okay, so ... back to the original question - what is the opinion of those of you here? Play as usual, slow it down, or just run out the clock? Let me know what you all think. And thank you for your opinion.

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Your letting it get to personal. This is about you and not about your team. Let's be real here. You could be the best coach in the world and if you don't happen to have two or three studs on your team your not going to be blowing people out. Just like you could be a terrible coach and just happen to have three or four studs on your team and you are going to win. YMCA is recreation basketball by its very nature. I am not saying it's not competitive its supposed to be rec ball.

My point is this. Remember the next time this happens (we have all been there and understand exactly how you feel). This isn't about you, it's not about the other coach, this is purely about ego. Nobody likes getting blown out. Nobody. So when the other coach vents his frustration recognize it as a moment of ego getting in the way and walk away.

Now some thoughts on what you can do during blowouts. We would do one of two things. We would implement a couple of rules. No layups or fastbreaks, before we could shoot everyone had to touch the ball on the offensive end and the same person could not take a second shot until everyone else had taken a shoot. We would do this for half of the quarter and you would be surprised how good and quick your passing could get so that someone can take a shot, and then for the second half of the quarter we would do nothing but three point shots again with the rule that you could not take a second shot until everyone else had an opportunity to shoot. And lastly we would focus on playing defense and defensive rebounding.

Finally, if you have a good team and you enjoy teaching the game and you have a committed group of guys. Take them to AAU and quit wasting your time.

Just my two cents.


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I was in your same spot at the Y several years ago with a core group of kids that had played together since kindergarten. I coached Y sports with most of the same kids for at least 6 years. I agree with Charlie here, it's probably time for your team to explore a more competitive league.

At the end of our 5th grade season, we knew it was time to move on from the Y. We were blowing teams out and doing all the things you mentioned to keep the score down. I had an idea there were leagues that had the word "competitive" in them, but wasn't really prepared for how competitive it really was out there.

Four things happened when we moved to a more competitive league: 1) We got our butts kicked, hard. 2) The kids learned how to lose. 3)The kids improved immensely by playing tougher competition. 4) I realized that for my kids to have a chance at competing down the road, we needed to face tougher competition.

What an eye opener when you've been used to being the team that was winning all the time. We couldn't handle pressure or break a press to save our lives when we first started this competitive journey. Fast forward 3 years and 7 of the 8 players on my team ended up making the summer high school team competing against 40 other kids. I'm convinced playing in tougher divisions 6th - 8th had a big impact on the boys.

I enjoyed my time coaching at the Y very much, but I'm convinced we made the right choice by moving to more competitive leagues. It's not for everybody, I was fortunate enough to have great kids and parents coming along for the ride.

Maybe explore some more competitive options and see what you think. It will definitely solve the "big lead" dilemma.

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Charlie & Coach Rob -

Thank you for the replies, I appreciate the input.

I've considered exactly what you both suggest, getting the core players to a more competitive league like playing AAU. The biggest issue we have with that is that frankly put most of the parents (myself included) simply don't have the financial resources to pull that off. The costs associated around here have simply been too much for us all to handle.

The hardest part for me to deal with is exactly what Charlie said - ego. I don't think it's my ego, because I really believe the issue I'm having is with the attitudes being portrayed to the players. But taking into account that we all tend to overlook our own flaws, I'll have to accept it as a possibility. I guess one of the reasons I don't think it's about my own ego is because we were completely blown out last year by a team that played really well. My kids simply weren't prepared for the competitive nature that they faced, and we lost by about 20. At the end, I didn't groan or complain about the other team or the other coach, even when one of their kids hit a 3 with about 10 seconds left. Way I figured, it's our job to stop them, plain and simple.

Hmm, thinking on it, maybe that's part of it. I used that as fuel the rest of the season to encourage my team to be at their best at all times, and they responded very well. I just don't see that from other coaches.

Maybe I just need to find a way, maybe get a sponsor for the team to go to AAU or something. It's pretty competitive down here, but I think that'd be good for these boys, to have to deal with the adversity.

Regardless of it all, thanks again for the replies. Got me thinking!

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Best advice I was ever given regarding coaching is control what you can control. Easy advice to give, hard to implement. Some coaches can't hang with getting beat, so instead of coaching their kids during the game to try and remedy the situation, they blame the refs, the opposing players, or the opposing coach. I've been guilty of that sometimes, you just get caught up in the heat of the moment and say things you shouldn't say. In fact, I had to apologize to a coach recently. We had a close game with their team during an AAU tournament, lost in double OT during pool play. We ended up meeting them in the consolation finals and they just kicked our butts, plain and simple. We were both chipping at each other during the game with a few sarcastic remarks. He opted not to shake my hand at the end of the game. A few weeks later at another tournament, I tracked him down and apologized for my comments. He did the same and we were cool about it.

Regarding the jump to AAU and the associated costs, I've been there. You're on the right track with sponsorship or fund raising which is a pretty common theme on club teams. If you get creative, there are ways to get some $$ flowing in to help reduce your costs as a team:

-We've asked local businesses to donate what that can

-Worked with grocery stores that have cards used to purchase groceries and they give x% to our team (we give those to relatives or anyone who shops at the store anyway that is willing to help us out)

-Sold coffee cake type deals around the holiday through a fundraising org (made good $$ too)

-Local thrift type stores have deals that let you fill up a truck with donated items and they give you X amount for doing it

Just some thoughts. There are probably several fundraising types deal you could do.

We made the jump to competitive because it just wasn't fun in the rec environment anymore. A few kids had to drop off, but we were able to pick up a few no problem. Not sure what age you're dealing with here, but in our city (large), if you don't bump up to the competitive levels by 6th/7th grade, you'll have a hard time keeping up in 8th/9th grade. I see it all the time. Kids that played rec either keep playing rec or take some time off, then show up for tryouts in the 8th grade year and just can't hang. I don't think the competitive realm is for everyone though.

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Hi Rob.

I'm coaching 5th/6th grade kids, and yeah - getting pretty competitive.

Regarding my post ... have to say, I think I learned my lesson today. Or rather, I'm not sure just what I learned, and what line I'm crossing in my thinking. Allow me to explain.

Playoff game, we were the top seed. To give you an idea, we started off 14-0. They missed a couple of good shots, but our defense was great. At 16-2, I got the "you'd better not continue this" bug in my head. I pulled top players for the quarter (remember, once a player checks into a quarter they can't come out except for ejection or due to injury), and put pretty much mostly my bottom players.

Very quickly, the score started to change. By the time I could put my better players in, they'd come back entirely. Half was over at this point, they had the lead, and I was stuck with how much I could play kids now, due to the restrictions on playing time (everyone has to play 2 quarters). Our kids did well, but by the time the game was over we had lost, 40-39.

Yes, I can point to the officiating (video doesn't lie!), I can reason out their lack of players (they only had 6, so their top players were on the floor the entire game), but the fact is that I took our foot off the gas and killed our momentum, and it cost us. After we brought it back, we just wilted. I was stunned, to be honest. I've not seen my team collapse like that in a very long time. It was disappointing, but it also did give me a chance to look at players in a new light, to see who stepped up and who stepped back, that sort of thing. (Story for another post.)

Learned my lesson, though - don't let up at all until the game is totally and ridiculously out of reach. But then I have to ask - is that displaying good sportsmanship?

A difficult quandary, no question.

Thank you for your comments regarding AAU costs. I've looked at exactly that, as there is money in the area that is donated regularly for youth athletics. Honestly, I'm not sure I have the time to devote to it all. I wish I did, as there are a lot of things that are screaming in my mind right now.

Figure I'd best wait a bit before I make any decisions, right?

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You're in a tough spot with the playing time requirements and the implications that come with that in a rec league. I used to spread out my developing players so that at any given time, I had a few kids on the court to help "cover the sins". Sometimes I'd pick the right combo, other times I wouldn't. I ran into teams with only 7 players, which meant their better players pretty much played the entire game. The rec leagues can get funky when one team dominates another team, especially with the backdrop of playing time requirements, having fun, and sportsmanship being emphasized heavily with winning in the background somewhere.

You might be over thinking the sportsmanship deal too much. I remember playing in a semi-final flag football game against a coach who just loved to complain about pretty much everything. We always tracked our ball touches and spread the ball around a lot. In this game, I made sure we tracked the touches and also rotated several kids at the QB position. At half-time he complained to the refs that I wasn't letting all my kids touch the ball, so I offered to show him the stat sheet from one of my parents. He declined. In the second half, I really made sure every kid was coming in at QB and made sure the studs weren't running the ball as much (not cool on my part for our kids). We ended up winning and when it came time to shake hands, he walked away.

In the competitive realms, teams get crushed and that's just how it is. The teams that display good sportsmanship stop pressing or take out a few studs, but they still play hard, which they should. In the rec leagues, if we had a substantial lead (20+), I'd call time out and tell the kids they had to pass it 6 times before taking a shot. That can get frustrating for the other team as they can think you're "playing with them".

It still sounds like you need to explore more competitive realms. It takes away this frustration you're dealing with and lets you focus more on playing the game. In my city, there are variations on the AAU theme which allow teams to play competitive ball without paying out a fortune. Maybe there are some leagues you're not aware of in your city.

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