The Excess Focus on Winning in Youth Soccer – Success Should Not Be Defined By Results
The focus on winning at the youth level has come to overshadow the true aspect of improving player development. Many players often jump from one youth soccer club to another, searching for a perfect team, because they believe it is important to be on a winning team to develop. Searching for a team that wins is not a method of player development.
This article is written by Steve Hoffman, Director of Coaching Education and Player Development at Cal South. Hoffman discusses the need for coaches and parents to focus specifically on technique rather than chasing glory for the sake of a trophy.
I think we would all agree that kids love to win games and, it goes without saying that too much emphasis is based on the results.
We know that players develop individually through quality training sessions and in Southern California we have highly competitive playing environments that challenge elite players week in and week out. With that being said, the value we place on winning can and does stifle the development of young players. Losing is challenging for coaches and players; however, we must realize that it helps them grow as a team and individually.
Success should not be defined by results.
Let me share a couple of my experiences when addressing 600 parents and 300 players in Pro+/ODP at an orientation to the program.
I ask the parents in the Pro+/ODP orientation, “How many of you have played the game of soccer?” The responses typically range from 15-20 percent… in other words, a very small amount.
I then ask the players a couple of questions — to re-affirm my perspective on winning versus performance.
“If you lose a game 1-0 and your team played badly, what is the drive like on the way home?”
I ask the players to clap loudly if they get a lot of bad criticism from their parents — remember, 75-85% of parents have never played soccer. The response is reliable: a fantastically loud round of applause.
Then I ask, “If your team loses a game 2-0 but played really well, what is the difference on your ride home from the game?”
A majority of the players give me the indication that because their team performed really well, their parents give them very little negative criticism and the ride home was good.
You can deduct from this that even spectators understand that a team’s good performance is very positive; even if the end score is not good.
The challenge then is for all coaches, parents and players not to use winning as the only tool of assessing how the team is doing.
When I have coached teams in highly competitive leagues; my goal was to prepare my team individually to compete each week at a very high level and be consistent.
I believed this would determine my team’s success because the reality is, when your team plays at the highest level, one or two mistakes can change a game.
Winning is not everything.
You might wonder if winning plays a part of being selected for youth national teams, Pro+/ODP scouting or college recruiting. The reality is that scouts typically do not look at the score of a game; they focus on the individual players technical and tactical abilities.
So, what other tools can you use to assess the development of individual players and the performance of your team beside league standings?
Coaches should set clear goals for his/her team and individual players. The coach should always develop challenging practice sessions, including varied types of age appropriate games. Older teams should have a seasonally-based plan to attend exposure events to allow players to be seen by college coaches since many sophomores, juniors and seniors in high school are looking at college soccer as their final destination.
Some of the most important factors when choosing and staying at a club/team for your child should be based on the type of coaching and competitive environment. Here are a few different questions parents can ask to assess their child’s team — besides wins and losses.
- Is the club/team player centric?
- Is my child being challenged at every training session?
- Does my child receive individual player feedback at least once or twice a year?
- Does the coach build a tactical plan for each game?
- Does the coach evaluate the team based on performance (and does not place his whole evaluation winning and losing)?
- Do I see an improvement in the team and my child’s performance over the course of a season?
If I could change one thing in today’s youth soccer environment, I would ask parents to be more patient and loyal to their club/team — and give coaches time to develop players.
Parents should not jump and leave the team just because of a few bad results.
Southern California is without a doubt the most competitive youth soccer environment in the country and therefore you should realize that your child is playing in one of the top leagues in the country. The fact that we can play fifty-two weekends a year and develop player’s year round, attracts every college coach in the country to Southern California to recruit.
Again, coaches look at players’ technical and tactical skills, they do not assess players based on which was “the winning team.”