Have mercy!

Parents, managers, coaches and players who end up on the wrong end of a thrashing can experience a variety of emotions such as anger, sadness, worthlessness and embarrassment.

“Losing 13-0 as a player makes you feel rubbish, and puts the pressure on you in many ways. You want to win the next game badly… so people don’t start to mock you.” (A 10-year-old player).

Losing by big margins can even result in players and their managers/coaches giving up the game and it’s pretty obvious that scoring goals virtually at will is not going to do anything for the development of the players on the winning team. And children on the receiving end of a 30-0 stuffing are only learning that they’re not as good as the other team.

So what can we do about it?

Some leagues have tried to introduce “mercy rules” or sanctions against teams that win by “too many” goals.

In Canada, one league actually brought in a rule under which any team that outscored its opponent by more than five goals was declared the loser!

Following an outcry from the clubs, this rule was rescinded and the league introduced a more traditional mercy rule instead. This stated that matches would be stopped once one team had a lead of eight goals. Whichever team was ahead at that time would be credited with the win and teams could then play on for “player development”.

Mercy rules like this do not meet with universal approval. Many take the view that making up rules that prevent big scores just sets children up for disappointment later on. “Life’s not fair, learn to deal with it!” is a fairly common reaction.

But regardless of whether the league your team plays in has a mercy rule or not, there is lot that you, as a winning coach, can do to turn a grossly one-sided contest into a learning experience for your players.

If your team is five or six goals up before half time, you’re going to win the match. To the best of my knowledge, no team (and I am prepared to be corrected here!) has ever come back from being 5-0 down in a league or cup match.

So the game is yours. There is really no need to score any more goals even if your league takes goal difference into account. Instead, you can put some meaning into the remainder of the playing time by taking one or more of these actions:
Tell your players to take no more than two or three touches of the ball before passing

Children who are playing in a team that is considerably superior to their opponents often try to show off. They usually become reluctant to pass, (‘I want to score another goal!’) and try to dribble the ball into the back of the net. This is not going to do them any good in the long term so why not impose a maximum touches rule?

But this has to done discreetly! Shouting the instruction “two touch only!” across the field would be very embarrassing for the losing team. It could even be interpreted as making fun of them.
Require a minimum number of passes before shooting

In other words, play keepaway. Ask your players (again, discreetly) to make four or five passes before they can take a shot at goal.

Move your players around

Your goalkeeper will be getting bored by now so get her out of goal and put her up front. Move your defenders into attacking positions and put your strikers into defence.

Use your subs

This type of match is an ideal opportunity to give your subs as much playing time as possible.

As soon as you see that the match is going to be one sided, take off your “star players” and give your weaker players a chance to enjoy themselves.

Allow the other team to have additional players or take some of your players off

If you’re in a winning position at half time you can have a quiet word with the opposition manager and see if he wants to put an extra player or two on the pitch in the second half.

Or (and this isn’t something I would do) you can make the contest more even by taking off one or two of your players. Personally, I think it isn’t really fair on your players to restrict their playing time in this way but it is an option.

Stop the match (the mercy rule)

If the match turns into a shooting gallery during the second half you can stop the game, balance the teams by mixing them up and play any remaining time as a friendly.

Whatever you decide to do, it is imperative that you respect the opposition and always keep the English FA’s Code of Conduct for grassroots coaches in mind: “Place the well-being, safety and enjoyment of each player above everything, including winning”.