Running Up the Score: The Pros & Cons

Running Up the Score
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Is running up the score the right thing to do?

By Travis Armideo

When you were a kid and dreaming about playing sports, you likely had fantasies about winning the big game by dominating your opponent with some ludicrous margin of victory.

Sure, winning big sounds great. But did you ever stop to think about what that would actually mean?

Running up the score on an opponent is risky business and not everyone views a lopsided victory as an accomplishment. A somewhat recent example is the California high school basketball coach who was suspended for two games for “mercilessly running up the score,” after his team won a contest 161-2.

How does winning like that affect your team and the rest of your season? What does demoralizing your opponent do to their team? Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of running up the score:

PRO: Don’t Ever Give Up

As the late, great basketball coach and broadcaster Jimmy Valvano said in his famous 1993 ESPYs speech: “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”

It’s important for athletes—particularly young athletes—to learn that sports require persistence and the ability to overcome obstacles. Things aren’t always going to go your way, and winning big once doesn’t guarantee winning big often. Points, games, seasons and careers can change on a dime, and athletes must know how to always keep pushing and striving, rather than give up or become complacent.

CON: Karma is Real

At pretty much every level of play, no matter how badly you beat a team, it is inevitable that you’re going to have to face that team again. And just remember, competitive people don’t forget their bad losses.

Your opponents shouldn’t need more reason to want to beat you, so be wary of giving them extra motivation. You never know what kind of monster you might be creating for yourself.

PRO: A Boost of Confidence

Along with matching team apparel and personalized gear, winning—and winning big—is the easiest way to provide a huge confidence boost to your team.

It feels good to be the best, and there’s no better way to feel like the best than by embarrassing an opponent on the ice, field, or court. And feeling good and confident goes a long way toward continued success in sports.

CON: Winning, But Without Grace

Yes, confidence is important. But so is good sportsmanship.

Winning big is great and may give your team a boost to make a postseason run, but there’s something to be said about being able to win with grace. Respecting your opponents is an important quality and one of the main reasons why running up the score is frowned upon.

PRO: ‘Garbage Time’ Becomes Experimentation Time

As a captain or coach, there actually are some benefits to running up the score. When a game gets out of hand, you have the opportunity to give your underachieving players more ice time.

Maybe execute a couple of new plays or ideas that you normally wouldn’t do when the game is a bit tighter. Let your players try new things and hone their different skills. It may also prove valuable down the line.

CON: Too Much Garbage Time

While giving your second and third stringers the opportunity to play during a blowout is great—you never know when you’ll find your next superstar—you may run the risk of making your top players complacent and/or rusty.

If your team is really good and is able to consistently put games out of reach early, your first-string and star players may end up spending too much time on the sidelines. That may lead to them feeling overconfident as they expect to blow out every team, which may haunt them if they need to play from behind later in the season.

When you play to run up the score on another team, you forget how to play to win.

While there are pros and cons to blowing out your opponent, do you think it’s right to run up the score? Or is that something we should look down on? Let us know in the comments below!

Travis Armideo is the Lead Marketing Specialist at Gladiator Custom Mouthguards. is reader supported. When you buy via the links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more.


  1. Thanks for the great article and insights; many things to ponder. As a coach, when I find my team dominating another team I will often use several of the methods suggested. Usually this begins with enforcing some rule like making my top players complete at least 5 passes in the o-zone before attempting a shot (3 for 2nd line, and nothing for 3rd or 4th). I then will move towards working on systems or tactics that we have been working on in practices, things like power play formations, new breakouts, or forechecking schemes.

    Nothing beats true game-like scenarios for working on new concepts or techniques. I will then consider switching offense and defensive positions. I’ve never had a situation where I have done all of these and we still continue to pound the opposition. If for some reason we did I would continue to enact more and more rules in order to make the situation more and more challenging.

    In this way all of my players can continue to play and work hard during every shift. If I find players unwilling to follow the new rules they get the opportunity to watch the game next to me on the bench. Respect includes considering the other team. Nothing more frustrating than getting beat bad and the other team continues to rub it in.

  2. It depends. I have been on both sides. Sometimes you need to “kill the will” of the other team to set a precedent for the rest of the season or the playoffs. Other times, if you are losing, you take your lumps, regroup and come back stronger. If you stick around long enough, your time will come. Look at John Scott. He even finally got his 15 minutes.
    Examples of big winners in hockey that are now nowhere on the map: Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, NY Islanders, Russian National Team, etc. On the other side of the coin, look at the Blackhawks, L.A. Kings. They took decades of lumps and now look at them.
    You can’t change fate. If they are running it up on you, they get it. We all know it never lasts. Just don’t start enacting all kinds of rules. A mercy rule is fine for kids. Adult beer leaguers need to let their money do the talking. If it is consistently unfair, then don’t join the league until the teams are more even. The commissioner is the guy who should be doing that job. If not, then fire him.
    I draw the line at physical punishment. If a team is constantly trying to hurt the other team by exploiting their size, then that is totally uncalled for and must be stopped immediately. And/or, fire the refs.
    Lastly, a great example of dealing with loss correctly is to watch the losing team at the end of a Stanley Cup run. They watch and stare at the other team as they celebrate wildly. Trying to understand that feeling, feeling so close to it and wondering what else they could have done to get there, thinking and hoping more and more how much they want that to be themselves.
    I have a ton of second place medals on the wall. They are just as important to me as the trophies that I now have for winning it all. Winning truly makes it all better, it makes you appreciate losing more… As the saying goes, “The end justifies the means”. Just Play Hockey, Baby!

  3. You forgot the worst Con of all: you open yourself up to constant hacking.

    My current team is in a weak league; we are moving soon, and we usually win 10-1, 12-2, that sort of thing. And we are taking it easy after the first period.

    What I’ve noticed is that if you are up 8-0 after the first period, the refs stop calling anything against the other team. It becomes a total hackfest, where you are getting two-handed every time you carry the puck, grabbed, tackled, checked, etc… I literally got tackled from behind by a defenseman one game and they didn’t call it!

    We’ve been trying to make 5 passes before taking a shot to limit our goals, but we still manage to ring up a ton. On the plus side we are all over 40, very experienced and tend to not react to the BS. Teams have slowly realized we don’t play dirty and have toned it down, but you still have that ‘one team’ that likes to goon it up. Running up the score just gives them an excuse to go nuts.

    • Hackers always suck. But, as you said, your team is in the wrong level. Everyone loses every game you play. Your team feels stupid. The other team feels stupid, and the commissioner plainly should be fired.

  4. Running up the score is never worth it. Treat the other team with respect. However, never let the other team score. Treat your goalie with even more respect.

  5. As a hockey coach when our team goes up by six goals and the clock goes to “run time”, our team no longer celebrates goals–skates by the bench, whooping it up, etc. They immediately go line up at center ice for the next face off. After being up by ten goals, we do some other things. I tell my players, that they may not be here after a few years but I will be to receive any retribution by the other team when the situation may be reversed.


  6. I like to switch defense and forwards so players get to keep playing hard and gain an opportunity to try something different that could improve their game for the future.

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