It happens every season in rinks all across the nation; it is the blow-out, the lopsided victory, the mismatch that should not have been scheduled. Angry and embarrassed coaches meet at center ice and exchange hostile remarks instead of respectful handshakes.
I have been firmly on both sides of these debacles in my career and quite frankly I don’t enjoy either. “How could you do this, I hope your happy with your win, what goes around comes around,” are some of the more common venting’s I have heard and considered myself. While I don’t expect any coach to be happy following one of these defeats, I do expect them to recognize when a team has called off the dogs and when a team has poured it on. Painting every double digit loss with the same brush is inexcusable.
Coaches need to develop their own personal philosophy when it comes to these titanic mismatches. Former SPASH head coach Jack Stoskopf would seldom rein in the horses based on his philosophy that his best players shouldn’t be penalized for being good. Legendary football Lou Holtz tells the story of getting routed by his friend Bobby Bowden, 41-7, with the starters putting up the final touchdown. After the game Holtz expressed his great disappointment to his friend Bowden for scoring that final touchdown, Bowden’s reply, “Lou, it’s your job to keep the score down, not mine. You can only coach one team and that’s yours. You can’t coach yours and mine. If you don’t want to get beat badly, get better athletes, coach better, or change the schedule.”
At the collegiate or professional level Bowden’s assessment is right on the mark. At the high school or youth ranks there is a vastly different set of circumstances, but the fact remains that these inequitable contests are unavoidable. The debate really centers on what is the sportsmanlike way to beat an undeniably inferior opponent? Sometimes holding the score down can be as challenging as trying to score is for the other team.
The question then becomes, are attempts to keep the score down more or less embarrassing than the actual score? I have watched as teams were strictly instructed to not shoot and have witnessed teams dumping the puck in, retrieving it, passing it back to the neutral zone and repeating the process again and again. When the talent gap is enormous I will argue that there is no humane solution—other than to not play the game.
As a coach it is difficult to tell 3rd or 4th line players not to score. These are often players who might get limited ice time in close games and now when they have a chance to play they are instructed to lay back. I have watched teams not celebrate after they score, intentionally lose face-offs and back in to let opponents get a scoring chance. In nearly all situations, winning coaches are berated and chastised for their strategy, no matter what it is. Starring up at a skewed scoreboard brings out the worst in nearly all of us. It is truly a no win situation.
Sometimes these types of games can be predicted; sometimes they come as a surprise. I remember one of the surprise variety and after doing what I thought was a good job of holding the score down, I was ripped following the game by the opposing coaches. I was caught completely off guard by their comments and perception of what had just transpired.
I love the handshake tradition that is engrained in the hockey culture. Watching the NHL teams sincerely exchange handshakes is one of professional sport’s greatest moments. It is a stark contrast to the NFL and the past escapades of the likes of Richard Sherman or the recent fly-by handshake between Matt LaFleur and his friend Kyle Shanahan. Poor, make that bad sportsmanship should never be rationalized at any level of play. Regrettably I have had my own disappointing outbursts, mostly as a young coach too worried about his won-loss record.
After forty plus years of watching and participating in those handshake lines as a youth and high school coach I often wonder if that tradition should be reserved for those teams of more experience and maturity. While its intent at the amateur level is honorable, it is often the spark plug of unpleasant exchanges between coaches and disrespectful comments between players. Dragging your gloves past each other isn’t a handshake or a meaningful gesture of mutual respect. To me it is a waste of time and an unintended insult to the tradition.
We all would like solutions for the things that ail our sports. Perhaps opposing coaches should meet following the end of the first period, when the obvious mismatch has been established and decide on the preferred strategy for finishing the game. It is irresponsible as a head coach to have an unbridled approach to this situation. The recent 92-4 score in a girls’ basketball game in Connecticut is a prime example. While I don’t believe humiliating defeats will scar us for life, they do nothing to support the sportsmanship and respect for opponents we speak so highly of in athletics. Not even a political strategist can spin these debacles into a positive.
I think we have all experienced that moment when our best wasn’t nearly good enough. It is a humbling and frustrating moment that is difficult to embrace. Faulting and blaming someone for being good, for excelling at their craft, seems to be the wrong response no matter what the circumstance. Some will argue there is benefit to getting your lunch handed to you via a blowout and with more mature players that may be true. For those youngsters still trying to decide if this game is fun or not I think it can be an unproductive and deflating experience. Ice cream usually helps.
Every amateur coach will find himself in this predicament at some point in their career. It is paramount that you have a strategy to hold down the score—humiliation is not a lesson you want to orchestrate. I am sorry to say that I have been the lamentable engineer of some cakewalks.
And when your team is on the wrong end, chalk it up to fate and hold your tongue in the handshake line. Emotionally charged comments in the heat of battle are always regrettable and swallowing your pride tastes better than the lingering bitterness of a regretful comment.
One team will skate away with a win, but when the scoreboard reads 10-0, nobody wins.
Dan Bauer is a free-lance writer, retired teacher & hockey coach in Wausau, WI. You can contact him at email@example.com.
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Please also keep “woofing,” taunting, and otherwise unsportsmanlike behavior to a minimum. Your posts will more than likely be deleted, and worse yet, you reflect badly on yourself, your favorite team and your conference.