Avoiding Lopsided Scores

While no child probably will suffer any long-term harm from a season with a number of one-sided losses (especially if the coach explains that this is a normal part of sports), we believe a 6-goal margin is enough. The sportsmanship lesson of not kicking someone when they’re down is important both in sports and in life in general.

Though we do not publish scores or keep standings, we will be monitoring scoring differentials and contacting coaches when there are large margins in any age division.

  1. Explain during practice why blowouts should be avoided in the interests of good sportsmanship. Teach these steps in practice. Once a game is in progress, it is virtually impossible to introduce these ideas for the first time and expect the players to grasp and remember them.
  2. Begin using these steps when you are ahead by a 3-goal margin since there still could be additional scoring despite these steps.
  3. If you are losing by a four goal margin you should add 1 player. (remove additional player if goal margin is reduced to three).
  4. Ball possession may involve a designated maximum number of touches by each player before passing the ball (e.g. 2,3,5), whatever is reasonable for the particular age group.
  5. Make 5 consecutive passes before attacking the goal. If possession is lost, the count resets. If you continue to score increase the number of passes needed to go the goal.
  6. Play / Shoot only with weaker foot.
  7. Allow two-touch passing in defensive end, one-touch in offensive end.
  8. Designate one or two shooters. Only those designated can take shots. Advise them that the shots should be taken from outside the 18-yard box and/or only with the other foot, and/or only after receiving a pass back from closer to the goal. All these help your players build their skills.
  9. Don’t always try to pass the ball to the designated shooter (s). Instead, practice possession and in the process, let defenders get some touches. This doesn’t mean we should play keepaway for long periods of time, but a couple of minutes at a time is good practice.
  10. It is nice to give defenders a chance to play forward or midfield positions. Players should always play more than one position. They usually have more fun, increase their chances of getting more playing time when they reach higher levels and you may discover they are as good or better at the second position. However make the move when the goal margin is 3, because defenders are often so anxious to score that moving them when the margin is six often leads to higher differentials.
  11. Try to build the attack from the back through the midfield, instead of sending long balls into the offensive third of the field.

The goal is to take these steps quietly, so they are not obvious to your opponent. Please don’t yell out, “Don’t score any more” or anything similar that could embarrass 


Because soccer is a very inclusive game, youth soccer teams differ greatly in terms of ability and experience. Uneven match-ups will result on occasion (especially in tournaments), so you are likely to be involved in at least a few games each season where one team is far better than the other. At more advanced levels of the game, an occasional blowout will certainly be an unwelcome affront, but players generally have the maturity to learn a few lessons from the outcome and move on. When this happens in youth soccer, though, it is in the interest of all participants to level the competition in some way so that each player continues to experience a game that better matches the challenges of the game with each player's ability level.

To understand why this is the case, consider the premise that every game represents an opportunity for players to learn something. However, uneven matches may teach our players lessons we would prefer they avoid! For example, we want our players to approach each game with respect toward their opponent, and to never assume that a win is assured simply by "showing up". We also want our players to perform at their best in every practice and every game, so that we reinforce proper habits and work rate.

Unfortunately, when players discover they can give less than their best effort and still win, most will do just that. Conversely, when players perceive that even their best effort will have no positive bearing on the outcome of the match, they also tend to give half-hearted performances. Either way, every player involved in a match like this will have reinforced the wrong attitudes and habits required to develop as a player, and few will take any joy away from the experience.

How should teams and leagues deal with situations like these? One common approach, often called the "mercy rule" or "knock-out rule", dictates that a game will end if one team obtains a certain margin of victory (7 goals, 10 goals, etc.) at any point in the game. On paper, this policy appears to minimize the embarrassment suffered by the losing team, but the reality is that the players involved are effectively told "you aren't even worth playing for a full match"! Further, this rule does nothing to create a more appropriate playing environment during the minutes that were played, and it reduces playing time for all players (especially for substitutes, who may not play any minutes if the last few goals are scored in quick succession).

Another common suggestion is to simply tell your players to reduce their efforts at scoring more goals. Though this line of thought may be well-intentioned, instructions like "don't score any more" or "don't try so hard" send the wrong message and don't aid the development of any player. Telling your players to ignore obvious goal-scoring opportunities is arguably more disrespectful of the opponent than "running up the score", and will only lead to disillusioned players on both sides of the scoreline.

Instead, it is better to increase the difficulty for a dominant player or team to score additional goals by making a few modifications to the playing environment. If the win has been ensured, then the following adjustments can allow you to actually increase your demands on your players while also granting a more realistic challenge to the opposing team...

  1. Reduce numbers. The first, and easiest, adjustment you can make is to take a player off the field, and then play down a player (or two, if necessary). This change will require your players who remain on the field to work harder to compensate for the missing teammate, and it also increases the time and space available to the trailing team. In addition, this is a great way for your players to practice playing in a numbers-down situation, which often occurs at older age groups (due to injuries, absences, or player ejections).
  2. Impose touch restrictions. In youth soccer, we often see goals scored simply as a result of the "bigger, faster athlete" dribbling the length of the field and scoring on his or her own. If the other team isn't able to present a suitable defense against such a player, you can impose a two- or three-touch limit on this player (or all your players) so that they have to rely on passing and movement off the ball (instead of solo dribbling efforts) to score more goals.
  3. Focus on possession. You can also require your players to complete a minimum number of consecutive passes (without losing possession) before they are permitted to score. Again, this will force your players to do more passing and off-ball movement to succeed, and will make scoring more difficult since your opponent will now have more time for players to recover defensively. From the viewpoint of tactical development, a possession-based restriction also teaches your players how to score using a "build-up" attack, as opposed to simply relying on quick counterattacks to score.
  4. Emphasize defensive responsibilities. Once you have the outcome of the match essentially secured, you should re-assert your expectations regarding your team's defensive effort. For example, you can set a goal to "preserve the shutout" or to "not allow any more goals" by your opponent. Since players tend to relax (or become outright lazy) on defense when they have a comfortable lead, these types of goals can be timely reminders of the habits you desire from your team.
  5. Limit your scoring methods. Finally, you might consider specifying a particular (and challenging) method of scoring for additional goals. If you require players to score from either a volley or a header, then you also force players to practice attacking from the wings and delivering crosses in the air. You can require players to score shots from outside the penalty area, which encourages them to practice their long-range finishing. Since you don't have to play to your strengths to ensure victory in this match, this is an ideal time to work on any areas of weakness that affect your team.


The key to success in these situations will always be found by looking at the problem from the perspective of player development. There is no single "right" answer to this problem, but applying guidelines like the ones above can help you turn a disappointing match-up into a valuable learning opportunity for everyone involved


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