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Does winning supersede development – Conflicting Philosophies?


In a nutshell, NO. Player development is the ultimate goal. I believe in creating a culture of learning and progress rather than one of winning. Needless to say, winning is important, however winning at the cost of player development does not correlate with my development based philosophy. At the younger ages, typically U16 and below, on field results aren’t always indicative of player growth. Coaches may boast winning records, but a player’s progress may ultimately be stagnant. One of the most challenging roles as a Director of Coaching is trying to convince, players, parents and team coaches that the long term development of the player massively outweighs the score on the scoreboard.


Youth clubs need to balance the demands of success by the parents with development of the players. Educating parents/coaches about the big picture is a priority. As coaches, we shouldn’t  justify our product by winning and losing. While winning is great, parents should look to reduce the amount of pressure on the coaches and players based on short-term results. 


“As a kid you need to touch the ball as much as you can. You should always be with the ball. You should have a feeling that wherever the ball is, you can do anything with it. No matter where it is, where it is on your body, how it’s spinning, how it’s coming at you, the speed it’s coming at you, anything. You can learn the tactical side of the game later. It’s amazing to me that people put so much emphasis on trying to be tactical and worry about winning when it doesn’t matter when you’re 12 years old. We’re going to have big, strong, fast players. We’re Americans, we’re athletes. But if we never learn at an early age to be good on the ball, then it’s just useless”
 – Landon Donovan

As a coach, I care about every child’s progress and will favor developmentally appropriate coaching over game success.


Development doesn’t happen overnight


In modern society, people are often judged on short term success, which is hindering the progress of youth soccer players nationwide. Like anything, sufficient development takes years. Coaches should invest their time towards player improvement rather than team results. Oftentimes, improving results is a byproduct of team and individual development.


If we take the European Academy system model, coaches are evaluated on how many players progress through the ranks and ultimately into the first team, not on the results they produce on a weekend. Winning at the academy level is irrelevant. Coaches are assessed on the development of each player.


Personally, I challenge coaches to not allow on-field results to be a priority. Our priority should be progress through the developmental model to allow each player to nurture his/her skills and stay involved in the sport throughout their lives. WE DO NOT choose results over the development of individual talent.



Tips for soccer success.....


1) Give players the opportunity to get as many touches on the ball and make game-like decisions – Decision making in key!


Individual ball mastery is a priority, however recognizing the the time to pass and retain possession is crucial for players U10 and older. Encourage technical quality in all aspects of soccer. Decision making is often a decisive factor between success and failure on a soccer field. Allow kids to make decisions, limit coaching from the sidelines and give kids the freedom to ‘think for themselves’.


2) Distribute touches across all players on the field

Playing non-possession soccer enhances the quality of only a few team members. Possession oriented soccer allows everyone to stay involved and supports technical growth


3) Coaching players how to stay involved when they do not have the ball.


Coaching rarely involves affecting the player on the ball, coaching often involves manipulating and teaching the players off the ball. Coaches create off-the-ball movement to help players stay involved in the game when they do not have the ball at their feet.


With effective off-the-ball movement, possession based soccer becomes easier. When players are moving, the player on the ball has more options moving forward.


Possession based soccer is our default style of play.  The US Soccer Federation advocates for it, as do many other soccer associations worldwide.


Promoting success with athletic vs un-athletic players


Athleticism in youth soccer is a great trait to have. However, many coaches fail to teach their most dominant youth players. Over time, teams will learn how to defend pure athleticism. Therefore, as coaches we have a right to teach technical efficiency, and decision making (intelligence) to help the player develop. One-dimensional players struggle to be effective as they move up through the age groups.


Expose players to multiple positions (U3-U14) and give them the tools to attack and defend and try to develop a player who is comfortable in every position on the field.


Calm Coaches = Calm Players

A coach should be calm and composed in teaching (or reinforcing during a game) so players can be calm and composed when executing. When a coach brings their emotions into it you add one more variable that distracts the player from thinking about his or her own execution.


As coaches, try to remember we are here for the development of the players. If we can take our own agenda/ego out of the equation, it provides an environment where player progress is easier to attain.


Reinforce decision-making over the outcome

Making the right decision with a poor touch should be acknowledged, conversely, taking a  good touch with a bad decision should be addressed. Making the correct decision is harder to learn than the touch, therefore coaches should reinforce correct decision making. Over time the technical skills will improve to aid the performance behind the decision.  When coaches constantly reprimand mistakes, it stifles creativity and opportunity. If the idea behind the mistake is right, negative reinforcement should not be given. As coaches we should praise correct decision making and work on the technical execution of the mistake.


We have to remember that players are going to get it wrong. When the successfully make the right decision, be sure to reinforce the behavior.


Long Term vs. Short Term

Leaders begin with the end in mind.  The end of all this effort is to develop a well rounded player who is technically competent, physically able, who is game smart, who loves the game and wants to impart it to others.

What would be more rewarding?  To have a trophy at U12 or U14, because you kept the best keeper in the goal, let the “subs” ride the bench, and kept “your team” together?

Or rather, watching your club grow and advance players to go and play Super League, ECNL, Developmental Academy, College or even professional soccer?

What is your trophy?   When we are developing and promoting excellent players, that’s our reward.

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