12 Ideas for How to Not Run Up the Score in Soccer Games
How to Avoid Slaughtering Your Opponent While Still Playing Good Soccer
Not Running Up the Score is Good Sportsmanship AND It Is Also Better for Your Team
Running Up the Score Can Be Bad for Your Team Because It Makes Them Overconfident and They Start to Play Slow and Sloppy

The challenge is finding a way that still makes your players play fast and try hard and doesn't change the style of play or soccer formation you are trying to teach

As you're well aware, it's no fun if your soccer team is slaughtered. It's no fun for your team, or the team you are playing. Most coaches don't like slaughtering another team and realize that it's not good for their team. It isn't good sportsmanship and from a practical standpoint it encourages bad habits because if a game is too easy players will get sloppy, overconfident and play slow. That's why there are so many upsets after a team has had an easy victory, and it even happens to college teams. The problem a coach has is how to avoid slaughtering an opponent without changing the way your team plays. I found some methods such as requiring an extra pass to be ineffective for my Rec teams and I was reluctant to change the way I was teaching my players to play because it was confusing to change (it was hard enough to get them to remember what I was trying to get them to do). Below are ideas. My favorite is to put your Fullbacks at Forward, but if that doesn't work, two other ideas I like are to either pull your Goalie (play without a Goalie) or to play a player short (if you normally have 8, only play with 7). Those approaches let you play your normal game, and, in fact, your team will have to play even harder. Many leagues are now requiring teams to do one of these when they get ahead by 5 goals.

Following are ideas I like from the SoccerHelp Premium Forum about how to avoid running up the score against a weak team:

Letter # 1:

Hi SoccerHelp,

How would you advise handling a game in which the two sides are not evenly matched? More specifically, if your side is playing well, what can you do to prevent the kids from running up the score? Obviously you can set limits on what they can and cannot do (must make a certain number of passes, must make a soccer move etc. prior to scoring are things that will keep the score down and help advance their training) but what is the coach's recourse if they don't follow the guidelines? This is particularly difficult for kids in U6 or U8 because they just want to play and often equate success with scoring goals.



Hi Coach,

I had the same experience and found the best approach to be to either:

1. "Play Short" -- meaning to pull a player off the field so you have one less than your opponent, or

2. Move players to different positions than they normally play (e.g., move Fullbacks to Forward)

I agree that you don't want to dampen enthusiasm or hustle. And it can be confusing to young players to tell them to try to score 90% of the time, but then to say "don't score". And I agree it doesn't make sense to punish them for being enthusiastic.

The best solution for me was to "Play Short". That way my kids still had to play hard. My rule was that if I got 5 goals ahead I would take one player off, if I got 6 ahead 2 players off, etc.

It doesn't matter so much at young ages, but at older ages it hurts a team to win too easily because they can get overconfident, sloppy and start to play slow. When everyone starts to score, players start to dribble too much and not play as a team. I noticed that when my team won too easily they would not play well the next game because they thought they could take it easy. For that reason I tried to change things so we didn't have it too easy.

Hope this helps and I would really like to hear other ideas. This is a common problem.

David at SoccerHelp


Letter # 2:

In my U10 rec league we pull the goalie once one team is up by 5. Another player is taken off if you go up by 6. Usually by that point the other team gets a goal.

We've had some games that would've ended 10 - 0 turn out more like 7-3. I've found the losing team doesn't mind getting beat as long as they get to score some goals.

I also tell my kids once we're up by 4 that they can only score off a header.

Coach Ess

David's Comment:

I like the idea of pulling the Goalie and one other player a lot. That requires your entire team to play hard and they don't have to change the way they normally would play, and they can't "play Slow or sloppy", which leads to bad habits that can haunt you in future games.

David at SoccerHelp


Another idea I like:

Challenge a Forward by telling them that they are going to be the ONLY Fullback:

"You're going to be the ONLY Fullback -- see if you can keep them from scoring". That makes it fun and challenging, and the Forward should improve her defensive skills.


Letter # 3:

My older daughter plays in a U13 league. When they are up by 6 or more, the coach puts in a "3-minute, 1-minute" rule. When he shouts "3 minutes", they have to play keep away for 3 minutes with only 2 touches per player at a time. Then he shouts " 1 minute", and they have one minute to score. If they score or they pass one minute, he calls out "3 minutes" again. The other teams appreciate the obvious attempt to avoid running up the score, and our team appreciates being allowed to still "try", although in a more challenging way. It also helps them learn to score quickly, something that is important in more competitive games.


David's Comment:

That's a REALLY great idea!!!!

Thanks for sharing it....I've never heard it before.

David at SoccerHelp


Letter # 4:

The leagues we participate in discourage taking a player off the field in those situations. The suggestions above are good. We have been able to best manage the situation by doing the following:

- Change to a formation that works for the situation. Maybe a 3-1 in your situation.

- Use the field markings to help control the play. Depending upon your field markings, don't let your players go into the penalty area.

- When I haven't been able to pull a player off the field, you can have them run over to you and give them some one-on-one instruction while they are still on the field.

Just a couple of thoughts. I guess the bottom line is that you need to experiment while in the situation to find a solution that works. The solution may vary from one game to the next.



Letter # 5:

Our league also won't allow us to play short due to mandatory playing time rules. I have found that having the players pick a small target 5 yards to the side of the goal and 5 yards beyond the goal is an excellent way to avoid running up the score. A vacated lawn chair or advertising signs are my favorite targets. If the players hit the target, they get a reward. I know intentionally kicking the ball out of bounds is illegal, but a strategically placed parent can keep this from causing a long delay. I also ask my players not to celebrate if they hit the target, so the opposing team and spectators are none the wiser.



Letter # 6:


I would suggest putting some guards and defense in as your forwards. I believe that the whole team, at this age, should learn to play offense and defense. This would be the better time to show them!!! Good for you!

Coach Wendel


Letter # 7:

Our league has a mandatory "play short" when the differential gets to 5 goals. At the U8/U10 level we play 5+ Keeper on the field at a time and you can end up with situations where you have only 1 player on the field. (I've only seen it twice).


Letter # 8:

When your team is way ahead, play three touch, so every player can only touch the ball three times (and the ball must either be passed, shot or surrendered). If the team can successfully keep possession with this restriction try using the left foot only or passing backwards once in a while to make things more difficult. It is really can be a great training tool.


Letter # 9:

One of the best ideas I've heard is to play without a Goalie -- you can let your Goalie play in the field as a Forward and play without a Goalie. This is a great training tool and is similar to the "Small Sided Scrimmage Without A Goalie" Practice Game because it forces all the field players to play tough defense and block shots. I've talked to coaches who tried this and it worked well.


Letter # 10:

Here's another - tell them that everyone but defenders are to play left foot ONLY. If they are left footed, they are right foot only. That definitely helps even up the game, and gives your team work on something they probably don't spend enough time on.


Letter # 11:

We had a game like this last week. We play different variations of a keep away game in practice, sometimes for over an hour. One variation is to see how many consecutive passes we can make without losing possession. If that gets too easy, we restrict the players to 2 touches total. If they've touched it twice and the ball still isn't distributed, they have to kick the ball to the other team.

These games are rare and it's a no win situation. The other team can take this as showing them up, but I'm also not willing to put up more than 5 goals in a very lopsided affair. We've been on the receiving end of a 20+ goal blowout and some of my kids came off bawling.


Letter # 12:

There is one other idea I've used and that is if you have a player that hasn't scored that season, tell your players to get that player the ball so they can score, and that only that weak player can shoot. Particularly at the young ages in rec leagues, you need to be careful about any method of not slaughtering the opponents so the weaker team doesn't feel that you are taking it easy on them.

Use this Format to evaluate your players:

The main factors to consider are:

  1. Bravery

  2. Speed/Hustle

  3. Skill

  4. Experienced and success in a particular position (example: has she been a successful scorer or a good Goalie)

Start by separating them into Groups according to whether they are Brave or Timid, then Speed and Hustle, Then Skill (Skill can't overcome being timid or not hustling):

  1. Best (Can play any where -- brave, good speed, hustle and skill):

  2. Brave, good athlete, speed, and hustles, but not great skill (this type of player is great for Stopper as long as you tell them to kick the ball forward and don't try to teach them to make passes until they develop the skill to do so):

  3. Brave, hustles, average speed and has skill (this type of player can play about anywhere except Stopper or Sweeper - can make a good Forward, MF or FB):

  4. Brave and hustles, average speed, lacks skill:

  5. Doesn't hustle or not a team player.

  6. Timid but hustles or has some skill (you can't play a timid player at Fullback or at Stopper or Center Mid - they can play at RMF, LMF or Forward is if they have skill):

  7. Timid and doesn't hustle or lacks skills (this player can play the fewest positions - try them at Goalie or you need to "hide" them at RMF or LMF until they become brave)

Here are some general guidelines for which positions players can best play:

  1. You need your fast, brave players on the field � try to find a slow or timid player who is a good Goalie. Read the article titled "Stopper Importance" where a coach describes an experiement he did about this during a game. For how to test who can be a good Goalie and the basics of training a Goalie quickly, see "Goalie Selection & Training" on Premium

  2. You can put an unskilled player at Stopper or Sweeper as long as you tell them to just kick the ball straight ahead or out of bounds and don't expect them to try to control it (they don't have the skill to do that).

  3. Try to find a slow or timid player who is good at Goalie -- try to keep your fastest, best players on the field.

  4. You can put slow players at Fullback if they are brave and if you Defend Deep (have them stop at the Penalty Box Line or not Push Up farther than they safely can without risking giving up goals on Breakaways), or you can have them "Push Up" if you have a great Sweeper backing them up to stop breakaways. Don't put a timid player at Fullback or you will give up a lot of goals.

  5. If a timid player has skill and a shot, they can play at Forward.

  6. If a timid player lacks skill, and can't play Goalie, the best place for them is RMF or LMF (this assumes you have 3 MFs, including a good CMF). If you play 5v5 or 6v6, and don't have enough players to have 3 MFs, the best place is probably at Forward. (For example, in 6v6, a 1-1-1-2 soccer formation).

  7. Put a skilled, brave player at CMF - this player doesn't have to have great speed, but it will help if they are a smart player - they must be brave and have good dribbling and passing skills.

  8. It will help if you have at least one very fast Forward who you leave "Pushed Up" all the time as a "Target Forward". If you send some "long balls" into the open space between this Forward and the opposing Goalie, the opposing FBs will be scared of giving up breakaways and will stay off your half of the field - this will keep the opposing FBs from pushing up so far to support their attack.