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Soccer, sportsmanship and fair play.

I received this interesting email that underline a recurrent problem in amateur and youth soccer.
Hi Coach,
I was hoping to get your input.

In my League game this past weekend [adult women's 11v11 with three refs, 90 minutes, and unlimited subs], there was a question as to what it means to be a good sport.

My team was up 3-0 and then 4-0 with about 12-18 minutes left. We had 13 players for the game, and the other team had at various times (I believe) between 9 and 11 players. This was our final game of the season.

My coach made substitutions, and every time this occurred, the other team's players would groan and say out loud, "Come On! The game is almost over! (etc.)" This went on- each time we sub’d - for the remaining 10+ minutes. Then, during a stoppage of play, their captain addressed my Coach and told us that were not showing "Good Sportsmanship". There was an exchange of words between my Coach and their captain. My Coach, who is from Brazil and has played soccer his whole life, said that we play until the whistle blows, and they need to stop us, etc.

The League stops counting goals when there is a 5 goal differential. Where there are point total ties, goal differential is used to set places for the finishing table. So to me, that shows when to stop playing.

But also, in our game this weekend, the other team kept trying to score. So of course we are going to keep trying to score. We are there to have fun, and we have fun by playing everyone on the team, and doing our "give n go's", wall passes and of course, scoring goals!

Was the other team right? Should we not have kept playing when it was 4-0? I recall a Manchester United team that beat another by 7 goals. Is that any different?

I know that you switch things up for your U-12 team, but that is when the differential is 5+ goals (as I recall).

Lee, SF

(you can use this for a newsletter, if it interests you)


Hi Lee,

Thanks very much for your question that permits me to develop a topic that I have wanted to discuss for some time.

You wrote that you play in a League of ‘adult women's 11v11 with three refs, 90 minutes, and unlimited subs. I don’t see the reason for having a rule like: stop counting goals when there is a 5 goal differential.

I suppose that your League has different divisions connected with the ability of the players. So, at even level, if a team is so good to score more than 5 goals, that is ONLY for their ability and not because the other team is at an inferior level. Also the inferior number of the players, when is just 1 or 2, is not a ‘tragedy’. Often I saw teams in numerical inferiority, score goals and win games so, no big deal!

You wrote: We had 13 players for the game, and the other team had at various times (I believe) between 9 and 11 players.

I don’t know if they started in 9 and little by little the others arrived, or they started in 11 and after 1 or 2 got injured or have to leave for some reason. This is not important. What is important is the fact that for a portion of the game they played in 9 against 11.

You asked my input so, here is what I regularly do:

In the same situation, at any age and any level I coached in America, after a negative experience, I always matched the number players of the other team so, if they were in 9 at the beginning, I letting the other coach know that we'll playing in 9 until the other players will arrive. When they come I adjust the number.
This attitude eliminates the arguing, and when the teams are even number, no opponent will complain if you continue with the substitutions and play strong.

About scoring, considering your League’s 5 goals differential rule (which I consider wrong!), at that score I will keep playing only possession. If the other team scores, at that point we push again and try to score. At 6-1, I'll go back to play possession and so on.

I decided to actuate this strategy, a long time ago, after I made the mistake to play 11 vs. their 9, and made substitutions, while I was coaching a girls U16 team.

The other team played really great and the game ended 0-0, with a couple chance for us to…………………………..lose it!

All my girls were really depressed!

At that point, I collected them and I said that in the future, we always will match the number of the other team for 2 simple reasons:

If we win in numeric superiority, we’ll not be happy because to win it will be…………obvious and without merit!

If we tie, or worst, lose in numeric superiority, we’ll be really depressed!
They all agreed so from that moment on, we have done that and everything went well. Plus, besides the fact that we won the games when we matched the number, we received compliments from the other teams and coaches.

To better transfer the concept, I don’t think that sportsmanship and fair play are 2 things that could be ‘codified’ with laws! I think that are 2 aspects connected with ‘feeling’, like love, friendship, altruism or respect, and they come from the soul and no laws can ‘force’ us to be better human beings.

So, even if I don’t see the reason to ‘codify’ with a soccer laws to not count goals after a differential of 5, when a team lead 5-0 I would like to see teams focus on develop possession (at any age!). This is a very fundamental aspect in soccer strategy and would be great to test the ability of maintain possession in a real game, instead of just to simulate this at practice, supposing that teams do this at practices!

We all are out there to have fun and there is no reason to embarrass the opponents with score like 10-0 or 15-0. Plus, to play possession and try to connect 10 or 15 passes is much harder than score 10 or 15 goals against a team clearly inferior so, if your team likes to show how good you are, try to connect 20 consecutive passes!

This will be really hard and for sure will make your team a better one, technically and morally, instead to continue score absurd and unrealistic goals.


Coach Gianni

P.S. I constantly see youth scores like 15-0 or 20-0, where coaches and parents are very proud of this. I only have 3 words to say to these people:


Posted on 08 Jan 2008 by coachgianni
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