Empowering Coaches Step-By-Step

Youth Football Poor Sportsmanship or Not? You Make the Call

What to Do in Poor Sportsmanship Situations When Coaching Youth Football

I heard from a youth football coach recently who wondered if he was the “victim” of poor sportsmanship. It was late in the 4th quarter of a game his team was losing by a score of 20-7. The other team was driving inside his 40 yard line and in the last 45 seconds they used all 3 of their time outs. The last timeout they took was with 8 seconds remaining from his 10 yard line. They scored on the last play of the game on a pass play.

In the handshake line the losing coach calmly asked the opposing coach what the deal was with scoring on the last play of the game and the other coach responded with a mumbled “it was a two score game.” While I can certainly agree with anyone that you want to play to win the game and a two score game is not in the bag until the gun sounds. If the goal is to win the game, simply letting the clock run out would have done the trick. The other team had no timeouts remaining and the opposing coach had a first down when he called the last timeout. I also agree that it’s the job of the defense to stop the offense and there are times when in order to get better you have to try and work on some things, this seemed to be over the line a bit.

This coach wondered if letting the opposing coach know he thought this was unsportsmanlike was the right thing to do or not. I’ve found in these types of situations it’s usually best to smile, shake their hands, tell them good game and move on. Most adults that have poor attitudes and bad manners when it comes to sportsmanship simply aren’t going to change their minds via a talk from an opposing coach.

All you can do is take care of, prepare and do the best you can with your team. Let him worry about his team, you aren’t going to change his heart or mind with a heated exchange in the handshake line. Those type of exchanges do nothing to help him or your team and you come off as a sore loser.

Some people hold grudges and think that the way to show someone like this is to do the very same thing back to that coach when you have the chance. They feel by having the very same thing done to them, the coach will see the “error of his ways”, repent and change his approach. Doing something like that only emboldens this type of coach. He now thinks everyone does it and that it is perfectly fine to continue with that way of doing things.

The only thing I have seen work a few times is setting a different example. A few years ago we played an out-state team that had often times won games by 50 plus-0 scores. We had them 35-0 in the first quarter as we were both running rapid pace no-huddle offenses. We let off the gas and the final score was just 49-14. They knew the score could have been much worse and thanked us profusely for not pouring it on. After that game they got together as a coaching staff and reevaluated how they were going to approach blow-out games. They let me know later in the season that their kids and coaching staff learned a lesson about compassion from us. They subbed kids in more liberally and called plays they thought had little chance of success and slowed the pace down when they got up by 3-4 scores. For the first time in a number of seasons they didn’t score more than 50 points in a game that season. They felt that while they scored fewer points they had a much more enjoyable season.

If you are faced with a situation you feel is unsportsmanlike, take a deep breath and think how you are going to be viewed by your players, coaches and parents if you create as scene. Worry about your team and the example you set, that is the only way you are probably going to change the heart and mind of an opposing youth football coach.

Copyright 2011 Cisar Management, all rights reserved. This article may be republished but only if this paragraph and link are included. //winningyouthfootball.com


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  1. Robert

    I can see this from both sides as I coach myself.. but from a Pop Warner point of view.. I would not run up the score if I could run out the clock without scoring even if I was up and had the 2nd team in and they have not scored all season

  2. Jason

    Dave, I see where you are coming from on the issue of running up the score. However, consider this: You and many other coaches (myself included)constantly emphasize the importance of playing 100% until the clock says 0:00, so to me, it is contradictory to then “take our foot off the gas” just because we might be dismantling the other team.

    I believe our #1 priority as coaches is the safety of our players and our opponent’s players.

    Our 2nd priority as coaches is to help OUR players become the best that they can be, and part of that is teaching them to play 100%, no matter what the score-“Up by 50, down by 50, all out til the clock says 0:00” is my motto. You cannot tell them that when they are losing by a lot and then tell them to take their foot off the gas when they are winning by a lot, that is not fair to them and it makes no sense. If a few other teams get demolished in the process, that is too bad, maybe it will be a catalyst to have those coaches removed and get better coaching that every football player deserves to have.

    And at the same time, I would much rather a coach burn 3 timeouts on the final seconds to get in a score in on me because it means he is holding nothing back against me and thus giving me his best shot. I have always believed in “Do unto others”; you will not see me whining about someone running up the score on me, but at the same time I really do not want to see anyone complaining when my team does.

    1. davecisar


      As a coach, you can take the foot off the gas without telling your kids to let up or play in an unsafe manner. Too many youth coaches use that as an excuse to score more points. Many seasons we could have easily averaged 60 points per game. One year we scored 3 touchdowns in the first quarter of 8 of our 11 games, we scored less than 50 points in every one of those games. I’m not out to prove how many points my teams can score, that isn’t why I coach.

      If a coaches goal is to keep the score down, you can call plays you know will have little chance at succeeding, you can let weaker players carry the ball.

      Personally I’m not going to embarrass a bunch of little kids by scoring 80 points so they fire their coaches, but tha’ts me. I’m there for my kids first and then the other kids. I don’t want anyone to drop out of playing the game for me or the other team.

  3. Scott Caldwell

    I did the oppisite thing last week in our playoff game. We were losing 44-0 against the “OTHER” SW team in our league. The opposing coach told me that he was going to kneel it to run the last 1 min. off the clock. I told him to put in some of his kids that have never run the ball and continue play. He agreed and it was fun. Their kids got to run the ball and our kids ended the season with a sucessful defensive stand.

  4. Bill Shanahan

    Our jr. league has very specific rules in place when a team is up by 3 td’s and so far it has worked great. When up by 3 TD’s, all runs must be inside the tackles and passing is not allowed. If the other team cuts it closer, then the winning team can open up again on offense. It really forces all coaches to keep things in check and we all agree it works. Many of these rules help the Shenendehowa Jr. Plainsmen in upstate NY run the most successful (in terms of participation) jr. football division in the state.

  5. Jodi Murphy

    “Worry about your team and the example you set, that is the only way you are probably going to change the heart and mind of an opposing youth football coach.”

    Great point! Trying to show someone the errors of their ways isn’t going to get the job done if they aren’t willing to listen. No one likes to get blown out of the water, so maybe that is the only way to get someone to change their mind–they have to experience it first.

  6. Tim

    In sports, as in life, what they say is true……What goes around, comes around.

    If encountering an unsportsmanlike coach running up the score on you, I’ve always reverted to the mantra of “controlling what you can control”. It is futile to try and change others mindsets on this, especially in the heat of battle. In due time, they will be on the reverse end, and possibly have to suffer the same indignation they have doled out.

    Living by that same code, when ahead in that situation — remember that karma can come back to haunt you! I agree with Dave – simplifying your plays, having different ball carriers, working on something new…..keep your kids engaged in their performance, without rubbing an opponents nose in it.

    This past season it was very satisfying to take a knee on the 20 yard line at the end of our second round playoff game, up 18-0, versus the same team that called 3 time outs in the last minute to score on us with 7 seconds left in our season opener while shutting us out – just like the original poster had experienced. In the end……I think both sides knew who the better men were!!

  7. Jason

    Coach Cisar,

    I like the idea of getting your backups more playing time, but personally I do not agree with using plays that have less chance of being successful, I think you should continue to rep your best plays because those are the plays that your backups will be required to use if they are ever called up as a starter due to injury or player absence (as you well know with youth football I am sure, the latter being more likely). Your backups will know if you are having them run plays that don’t work, why not let them play all out just like the starters?

    Don’t you think the expectation to play 100% at all times should apply to all your players, not just the starters? IMHO you have to hold the entire team accountable for that from day 1 forward, in every situation. I do not want to embarrass the kids of another team, but again my belief is that my job is first to ensure the physical safety of my players and the opposing players, and then after that, I am responsible for developing my players.

  8. Dave Cisar

    Our backups get regular snaps during the course of the game, where we run our full playbook. We don’t put all of them in at the same time like we do when we are up by 3-4 scores, but they will play a snap or 2 here or for some even a series here and there. Our backups play all out- the entire game. However I’m not going to run up the score on a team- ever. Most youth football players don’t know if I’m calling an optimal play or not.


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