Is winning everything?

winningWinning is everything… There’s no prize for coming second… If winning isn’t important, why do we keep score?

Heard these clichés? Of course. But, in the context of youth development, how important is winning a game?

Clearly, if you are going to play a game, there is little point in not trying to win it. However, the problem with much of youth football today is that winning has become too important and the development of players has been sacrificed for the result.

In England, as elsewhere, we have many youth leagues. Success is easily and invariably measured by results each week and the league standings. But if the emphasis is predominantly on results what mindset does this put the coach and the players in? Training, tactics and team selection will be based around the next game. Long-term development of players is sacrificed for the ‘quick fix’. Ask yourself these questions in relation to your team:

1. Does everyone get equal time?
2. Does the coach encourage players to express themselves and learn in a game?
3. Does the team selection and tactic revolve around a few more physically able/mature players?
4. Does the coach invariably bench perceived weaker players even when the team is winning?

If your coach were doing these things then I would challenge his/her emphasis. Players need to learn a variety of positions. They need to be encouraged to express themselves and make decisions without fear – fear of being criticised or fear of losing.

Coaches, parents and players must think in the long-term. Training, development programmes and matches must be based around a long-term development programme that works on every aspect of player development and caters for individual needs. Chances are your coach doesn’t have such a plan and just ‘lives’ for the next game. But as in any other educational activity there is (or should be) a syllabus or plan to work to.

Don’t forget that an individual, and a team, can play well and lose. So when your son or daughter comes home from soccer don’t ask ‘Did you win’? You should be asking ‘How did you play?’

The second question also reinforces in your child that her performance is not being measured by the result of the match. The result is just one indicator of performance and, at youth levels, not the most important one.

Children want to make their parents happy. If a parent over-emphasises the result, so will the child. Don’t say winning isn’t important, just don’t make it the most important thing.

Winning – what does it mean?

Maybe we as coaches and parents need to redefine winning.

Winning to me is to have everyone still playing at U12 that started at U6.

Winning is giving the children a passion for the game they can enjoy for life.

Winning is challenging every player to achieve realistic goals based on the child’s individual abilities.

Winning is giving them positive role models.

Think of the difference the child sees in coaches who want their kids to have fun versus those coaches screaming at the players, the ref and each other across the field.

Soccer can be enjoyed at all ages. Let’s not drive the next Mia Hamm or David Beckham from soccer at U7 because of our misguided concept of winning.

Let them have fun and remember it’s their game!

Understanding why children participate in soccer

By: Dr. Colleen Hacker, NSCAA National Academy Staff Coach and Professor of Sports Psychology at Pacific Lutheran University; Tacoma, Wash.

A majority of the reasons children participate in sport are intrinsic reasons. The top priorities are:

  • To learn and improve their skills
  • To have fun
  • To be with friends
  • To experience the excitement of competition
  • To demonstrate their competence
  • To enhance their physical fitness

Notice that the extrinsic goal of winning and beating others is not at the top of the list.

Similarly, when children drop out of soccer, their withdrawal can be traced to the inability of the sport experience to meet their primary motivations for participation. The common reasons are:

  • Failing to learn or improve their skills
  • Not having fun
  • Not being with their friends
  • Lack of excitement, improvisation and creative opportunities
  • Lack of exercise, meaningful movement and fitness improvements
  • Lack of optimal challenges and/or consistent failure

Practical suggestions for coaches:

Encourage players to measure their performance by improvements in their own, personal levels of proficiency and ability rather than by comparing themselves to other players or to other teams based on the game outcome.

Because children have several reasons for participation and not just one, design practices to meet as many different participation motives as possible (i.e. learning, fun, friendship, fitness, challenge, etc.).