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Sport and Competition

How to Manage Blowouts in Youth Sports

Guidelines for navigating lopsided competition.

Key points

  • Blowouts are lopsided victories that occur when competitors are unequally matched.
  • By manipulating the context of competition—playing a “game within the game”—valuable lessons can be taught by winning and losing coaches.
  • Regardless of the score, athletes can achieve success by doing their best and giving maximum effort.
  • Post-game meetings give coaches opportunities for teaching things that can be applied outside of sports.
Ford Video/Mastery Approach to Coaching
Source: Ford Video/Mastery Approach to Coaching

A blowout is a one-sided victory that occurs at all levels of sport, from youth leagues to the ranks of the pros. It occurs when one team or individual athlete has a huge advantage and outscores their opponent by a large margin. From early in the contest, the underdog has little chance of beating the powerhouse.

Sometimes a brutal drubbing is just a reality of sports. But when an inexperienced or rebuilding team gets pitted against a longtime stalwart, that often results in crooked numbers on the scoreboard. The following are examples that occurred last year in high school sports in Snohomish County, Washington:

  • Football—Lake Stevens 91, Jackson 6
  • Girls soccer—Archbishop Murphy 9, Sammamish 0
  • Girls basketball—Glacier Peak 53, Mariner 2
  • Boys basketball—Sultan 81, Granite Falls 26
  • Softball—Jackson 19, North Creek 0

Outcomes such as the above often spark a visceral reaction among coaches, athletes, parents, and fans. And opinions vary on how to play games when teams are clearly mismatched from the outset.

Why blowouts are an important issue

Youth sports provide miniature life situations in which children and adolescents can learn to relate more effectively to other people and cope with realities they will face in later life. During blowouts, winning coaches and athletes are challenged by the ethics and sportsmanship of the event. For example, is it appropriate to give full effort at all times and run up the score? On the other hand, the losing participants usually become frustrated and/or embarrassed, making it difficult to keep their cool.

I doubt that any single sports experience is going to have a lifelong impact on a youngster. But blowouts give coaches opportunities for teaching lessons that can transfer to everyday life. What follows are guidelines for dealing with blowouts. The approaches involve manipulating the context of competition—in essence, playing a “game within the game.”

Recommendations for coaching the winning team

Dominant teams work hard to be superior, and they deserve to enjoy the fruits of their efforts. But intentionally running up the score doesn’t benefit anyone.

  1. Coaches should modify how the game is played to keep it challenging. For example, adjustments in basketball include requiring three passes before taking a shot, not using a full-court press, and walking the ball up the court instead of pushing forward on a fast break.
  2. Focus on improving weaknesses. Coaches can also take advantage of extra “practice/scrimmage” to try new or infrequently used plays.
  3. Give reserves more playing time, so they can develop their skills during real game situations. This should be done by gradually integrating subs with starters, and by reducing reliance on first-stringers. For example, star running backs in football are given fewer carries, and outstanding receivers are less frequently targeted.
  4. Rotate athletes to different positions to give them an opportunity to expand their skill set. Baseball infielders take a turn on the mound. Basketball forwards bring the ball up the court. Football linemen become running backs. Soccer midfielders try playing goalkeeper.
  5. Tell athletes to show good sportsmanship—respect for their opponents, being a humble winner, and giving opponents a pat on the back or a high-five in a sincere manner.
  6. Reaffirm the importance of giving maximum effort and having fun.
  7. During the post-game meeting:
  • Let athletes know they should feel good about winning and enjoy it.
  • Compliment and reinforce them for evidence of good effort and sportsmanship.
  • Remind athletes about the importance of continued effort and striving for improvement.
  • Ask them, “Did you learn anything from this that you can apply in school and in other parts of your life?”

Recommendations for coaching the losing team

Losing sucks, but there are always some benefits to be derived.

  1. When blowouts are unavoidable, coaches should instruct athletes to focus on achieving objectives other than winning—self-improvement, teamwork, sportsmanship, and having fun.
  2. Emphasize that success is related to commitment and effort. The goal is to do your best, rather than be the best. Tell athletes they are never “losers” if they commit to doing their best and giving maximum effort.
  3. Give reserves more playing time and mix them with starters.
  4. During the post-game meeting:
  • Don’t blame or get angry with athletes. They feel bad enough already.
  • Avoid the temptation to deny or distort the disappointment athletes are feeling. For example, it isn’t helpful to say, “It doesn’t matter.” Rather, allow athletes to experience the emotional letdown of a loss.
  • Let athletes know that the pride felt for them is not affected by their subpar performance.
  • Compliment and reinforce them for something positive that was achieved during the game.
  • Focus on the future, and emphasize that athletes owe it to themselves and their teammates to continue to give maximum effort.
  • Ask athletes, “Did you learn anything from this that you can apply in school and in other parts of your life?”

Final perspective

Youth sport is an educational medium. In a fairly non-threatening environment, youngsters can be exposed to challenges that are faced in everyday life. In the bigger picture, it really doesn’t matter who wins or loses a particular game. If coaches and athletes focus on the lessons to be learned, then regardless of the score, all participants can be “winners.”


Davis, C., Hereth, Z., & Van Til, C. (2021, November 29). When is a high school sports blowout over the line? Everett Herald.

Smoll, F.L., & Smith, R.E. (Producers). (2009). Mastery Approach to Coaching [Video].

More from Frank L. Smoll Ph.D.
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