Blowouts suck. They suck the spirit out of the losing team, and they aren't even fun for the winners.
The best way to avoid being in this situation is to avoid letting the game ever get there. The time to start pulling back is not at 5-0 (which is the common definition of a blowout), and it is already way too late at 4-0 -- by that time your players are already roaring at the top of their game, and the other team is likely disheartened which just makes your job even more difficult.
The time to start pulling back is as soon as your team scores any two unanswered goals, so that if and when your team scores a third unanswered goal your players should already be working under your system of scaleable controls. Yes, applying the brakes after only a couple of goals might leave your opponent a chance to come back and win the game -- and that is exactly the point!
The only really effective method to avoid a blowout situation is to sustain the opposing team's belief that this game is still worth trying to save right now. Flip things around and look at the field from the other team's perspective. When the score is 0-4 against them will their defenders really fight to win the ball -- or will your attackers start having an easier and easier time getting the ball in advantageous locations? At 0-4 will their strikers still build an effective attack -- or are they increasingly likely to try desperate shots that won't test your keeper? At 0-4 will their midfielders be as willing to sprint end-to-end to help sustain their attack as well as hustle back to manage your counter-attacks -- or are your players going to find much more room to control the ball, enjoy more time to look up and see the field, and have the confidence to be able to make a stellar play, all with less pressure than they usually experience in your practices?
You cannot wait until you are sure of victory before you start pulling your team back. The moment your opponent loses heart in the match, that is the moment your job becomes infinitely more difficult. Adjust while the game still hangs in the balance and you have some chance to be quietly effective, wait too long and no matter what you do things will get ugly.
As stated above, the best way to manage a blowout is to avoid the situation in the first place. Start making adjustments early, the longer you wait the more radical your adjustments will have to be. Once a game gets lopsided then everything gets ugly and the coach's ability to influence is greatly weakened.
Getting Blown Out
The trick is to understand what weaknesses are being exploited and what you can to mitigate them. If what you are doing isn't working, try something different. Adjust your player positioning to diminish player mismatches. Change to a different goal-keeper if your opponent has figured out how to exploit a flaw in your current keeper. Swap your players around to fill the key roles with the players who still have the most energy.
Remember, your players will react to how you act. If you show that you are defeated then they are more likely to give up trying, and you will lose all control over what they do on the field. If you show them that you care, and that you have ideas for what they should try, then you still have some influence over how they play.
Have some ideas where to draw the focus of your players, something other than the game score. Give them simple objectives, and celebrate whenever these are achieved. Maybe it's "just get one goal of our own", more probably it is something like "complete three passes in their half", and possibly it is something as basic as just "clear the ball first time". Build on each objective, help them see that they can still play (even if it not at the same level as the opponent, even if it is not even really the same game) -- then you have something that you can build on, as well as something you can use to help them play better next time.
Also, you are not alone on the sidelines. Talk to your opposing coach. Ask for some suggestions. Work together with your opponent to make the game better for both teams (they are likely to want to help -- winning a blow out is not as much fun as playing a better game). Talk about limits before things get ugly -- maybe the game is lopsided enough it makes more sense to stop at halftime and just scrimmage the second half after swapping players around. Work together to improve the situation rather than just let everything get uglier.
Blowing Them Out
Again, it happens. Be prepared.
Losing a blow out is difficult to coach, but winning a blowout can be even more difficult on the coaches. Everyone will demand you exert control of the game right at the time your players begin to recognize they can score at will even if (especially if) they don't listen to you. All of the energy in the game (the excitement of your players and the disappointment of their players) is working against you and it will take a relatively long time before the game even begins to react to any changes you make. The best solution is to avoid falling into this trap.
Start acting as soon as your team scores a second unanswered goal. Have a plan in action before the third unanswered goal, and be working the brakes hard before any more unanswered goals are scored.
First, adjust your players attitude. Your team has already shown it can score, now what else can they do? If you can score two unanswered goals it is time to shift their attention away from scoring, become more possession oriented and less goal focused. Come up with different achievements for them other than just putting the ball in the other net; maybe have them focus on a passing sequence they struggled with in practice, maybe just concentrate on bringing the ball up the wing to the corner flag (and back again). This is not the time to polish the corner-kick scoring play, nor is it the time to try that trick-play on a free kick. Rather than show they can score, this is the time to have them show they can make their least developed teammates become successful.
Work by adjusting players. Move your obvious goal scorers away from the front line (sit them out if you can). This is the time to put your developing players into key positions (replace your front line with players who have yet to score, fill your back line with players who need to improve their tackles or ones who may struggle to clear the ball, go ahead and put the goalie gloves on someone who isn't used to using their hands). Do not just rotate your best players to defense -- that just makes it so much harder for your opponent to ever score (and having your opponent score is the only way to relieve a blow-out situation...)
Gradually add requirements to how your team plays.
- All shots need to be volleys (or headers for the older ages) [effectively "one touch" shots, encourages teams to cross balls in from wide attacks].
- Require every possession to include a pass back to your goal-keeper before the team can advance on the opposing goal [encourages lots of build-from-the-back experience in game situations] -- or even: every possession must include all teammates on the field before any shot is attempted.
- Limit all players to three touches (or two touches, or even one-touch) every time they receive a pass or regain possession [encourages players to learn how to increase their pace of play].
- Limit players to passing and shooting only with their weaker foot [encourages players to be more balanced and eventually become less predictable].
Mix and match these requirements as needed to balance the game -- adding these requirements together multiplies the difficulties (if your team can score only with volleys after more than eleven one-touch weak-footed passes without the opponent disrupting the play, well, then maybe you do need to find a different level of competition...) Note that many of these restrictions tend to decrease your team's ability to sustain possession, which leads to the other team having opportunities to gain possession in more advantageous locations -- all of which increases your opponent's potential scoring chances (and the more your opponents score the sooner you escape a blow-out situation).
Finally, reach out to your opposing coach. Work together to avoid a blow-out from becoming ugly. Offer them suggestions for what might work against your team. Listen to their levels of frustration and offer to call the game (and perhaps swap some players and scrimmage the second half) based on when you both agree that players are giving up rather than rising to the challenge.
Referees are going to try to manage a blow out, but they are coming from a different angle -- in blowouts they may be thinking more about safety first, they are likely to be watching a bit more for the ugly fouls that come when players are frustrated and perhaps worrying a bit less about whether everything is absolutely "even" or "fair". For example, don't be surprised if the refs wave off a hand-ball in the penalty area -- awarding a penalty kick to a team already winning a blow out is not going to really change the outcome of a game, so the referees may be using a different definition for "intentional act" than what you or your players expect. The calls may go a bit more against your team -- don't complain, adjust to how the game is being called.
Remember, over the course of an eight or ten game season, unless your defense is as weak as your attack is strong, your team will have a total budget of only about 20 to 30 goals for the entire season if you are avoiding blow-out situations. If you find yourself with a team that is likely to dominate most or even all of your games, then you need to be careful about how you spend those goals. If you have a couple of players focused on getting hat-tricks each game, their dominance will mean that nobody else on your team ever gets the chance to score. Instead, in a development league, a much better objective would be to work so that every member of the team enjoys the thrill of scoring a goal themselves.
League Blow Out Mechanics
PCSSL does not deduct points directly for each blow out, there is not a fixed value where a game is labeled a blow out (we've seen 9-0 games where both teams had a good time, and we've seen 5-0 games which were horrible experiences for everyone involved). Instead, PCSSL may choose to deduct points from any team that appears unwilling or unable to control their games (the scale of any such deductions will be determined by the PCSSL Board and it is possible the penalty may be larger than all points earned for winning a game). Note: in these cases where the PCSSL Board reviews blowouts, the opinions of the referees and the opinions of your opponents about how your team managed the game are likely to be given more weight in the deliberations than whatever were the final scores -- treat your opponents well.
Forfeits are a possible methods of dealing with a blow out situation. We do prefer to see all of our games played, but if teams foresee that a blowout situation is difficult to avoid in their game then the teams can agree to a forfeit result and instead swap players around to play a scrimmage -- the referee must agree to this change in game conditions (typically this means these decisions need to be made during warmups or at half-time). In cases where teams agree at half-time, the league is willing to consider the half-time score as a final score when a scrimmage is played for the second half.
We also have some messages regarding blow outs contributed to us by long-standing AYSO coaches.