There are plenty of examples of coaches taking the easy, bad way out, piling up points in epic blowouts to either give their team more practice time or, occasionally, massage their own ego. It's much more rare to find a coach who goes so far in the other direction that he actually holds his team back from advancement, simply because the degradation a blowout would cause to his school's opponent isn't the right thing to do.
This is one of those rare good stories. It occurred in Arizona, where the prep soccer season is just getting underway, and it featured an early season tournament where goal difference would serve as the likely differentiator between which team advanced to the semifinals and which went home.
As reported by AIA365.com, the website affiliated with the Arizona Interscholastic Association, Tuscon (Az.) Mountain View High entered the third and final round-robin game of the Bill Vanney Tempe Diablos Soccer Tournament tied in the standings with Corona (Az.) High. If both teams won their third and final matches, the team with the better goal difference would advance to the semifinals of a prestigious early season tournament.
Mountain View's final match was against Tuscon (Az.) Marcos de Niza, a program that had scored just once all season. Needless to say, de Niza was a winless team, and with past losses of 15-0 and 10-0 in the Diablos Tournament alone. Mountain View needed to win 16-0 to advance, a score that normally would seem far out of the question, but against de Niza seemed like a probability.
Yet, faced with the opportunity to move on, Mountain View coach Brian Ronan decided to pass, both figuratively and literally. After watching his starters roll out to an early, 6-0 lead, Ronan instructed his players to run a ball control offense, but never to shoot. The game's final score was 6-0.
"It could have been all about putting the ball in the back of the net," Ronan told AIA365. "I felt this was a coaching moment. A chance to teach a life lesson. I told them how we were going to approach it. I think we left feeling like we represented our school, and were proud of how we did it.
"We left the tournament more mature, and together as a team. I think it was the right thing to do. I have no regrets and neither does our team."
In the end, Corona did advance on goal difference, and Mountain View did go home. Yet, it's hard to say that Ronan's Mountain Lions weren't ultimately the winners. That's certainly the way an unnamed parent of one of the players felt, at the very least.
"Brian made this decision before the game and taught his girls that sportsmanship and compassion are more important than a semifinal. ... I appreciate this lesson more than the alternative."