Monday, December 31, 2007

How Important Is Winning In Youth Soccer

The question is “how important is winning in youth soccer?”

The answer to the above question it will vary and it also depends from who is answering it. For the youth players the answer evidently is, “not really, we like to have fun”. When youth players, between the age of 9 to 13 were asked if “winning” was important to them the response was “Not Really”. The same players were asked the simple questions of “what would they change about playing soccer”, the answer was “less emphasis on winning” and “make it more FUN”.

Of course the importance of winning changes with the players ages: Younger players are more interested in the "fun of the game”, while older players become easily more concerned about winning. But even then, many players say that they would rather play on a losing team than "sit the bench" on a winning team.

If coaches or parents were asked the same question “how important winning is” to the success of team, many of them clearly would respond, "VERY IMPORTANT!"

Even when some coaches do not keep scores or win-lost records, the other adults involved, “parents” know exactly what the results are. For them, winning games is more important therefore "Winning isn¹t everything, it's the only thing," attitude develops.

Some parents along with some coaches believe that winning is essential to success in youth soccer, they place emphasis on which division they play in or which travel level they play. Some may count the trophies they bring back from tournaments, keep track of the scores, check standings to see who has to win and who has to lose for the team to move up. They try to recruit players to their teams rather than support the development of players from within the team. Coaches and parents who focus on winning in these terms are viewing youth soccer as they likely would view adult endeavors.

This thinking often results in loosing players at a younger age. Players are pressured in a negative way instead of a positive way. This may be one of the reason why at the age of 14 we see a decrease of children playing soccer.

Concentrating exclusively on the final score of a soccer game as the important outcome causes negative feeling between youth soccer players, let alone parents! The attitude to have from coaches towards parents or the other coaches who want to win at all cost is simple: Winning should not be everything but trying to win is ok. Determination to win is the essence of soccer. By placing the emphasis on the players and their effort, winning is redefined in such a way that it comes within the reach of all. But here is a good question: how is effort defined and measured?

The answer lies in observing the youth players while they play. It is relatively easy to see whether they are taking the game seriously or are simply "playing the game."

If they are taking the game seriously then we will notice a “great effort”. If they are “playing the game” we will notice “some lack of enthusiasm and effort”. Each of those performances must be evaluated within each game.

The challenge is not for the players but for the parents and coaches to redefine winning in terms of effort and to restructure the soccer development. Some potential changes lie in:

  • Creating balanced competitions so that outcomes are not in doubt.
  • Helping players set achievable and individual goals.
  • Teaching players to measure their success in terms of attaining such Goals.
  • Celebrating with and rewarding players who reach their goals.

Most of the time youth players look forward to competitions to be fair and for the outcome to be balanced. If these conditions are met, they will make and give a maximum effort, otherwise, they are likely to spend their time complaining about how unbalanced the teams are or how unfair the game was. It is coaches who do not see the player development concept as an important aspect of the soccer game that "stack" teams and want to win at all cost. Statistics show that youth players look for fairness in the games they play.

Meaningful and attainable goals are essential to success in any activity, but never more so than in youth soccer. Young players should have defined clear goals to work for and learn, and they should be involved in establishing these goals. Individual goals are much more effective than group or team goals in a younger age group. Team goals allow each player to know exactly what needs to be accomplished as a team. Individual goals give players an idea of what should be done to have their efforts measured against each other. Reaching the goals can only be accomplished through learning and executing the basic fundamentals, the goals become the means of measuring effort:

  • Did the players give the effort in practice
  • Did the players give the effort in the game
  • How was the performance
  • What should we do to improve the above

Finally, when the goals are reached, the players achievement should be recognized and respected. This will motivate the players and acknowledge the importance of striving to meet the goals and to be competitive.
Giving effort is within the reach of any players and is appropriate for all players. Consequently, it constitutes a definition of winning that can be applied to all situations.

The proper questions for parents to ask to their children are not "Did you win?" or "How many goals did you score?" Rather it should be "Did you give your best effort?" or "Did you learn from the game?"
Youth players often can answer "Yes" to these questions, even when the results were negative.

The result of defining "winning" in terms of effort and development rather than outcome is to make youth soccer more interesting, meaningful, satisfying and enjoyable. Striving to win and giving the best effort are objectives that every coach, player, parent or adult can and should support.

About The Author

Antonio Saviano is the founder of Soccerkix, Scuola Calcio, Italian Premier Soccer School and Soccerkix Academy, a clearing house for the Italian Soccer experience. He has been the North America Director for many Italian professional soccer clubs, including Ascoli Soccer Academy, AC Parma Scuola Calcio and AC Perugia Scuola Calcio. In that capacity he has been helping, leading and developing coaching and player development programs for over 100 affiliated soccer schools across North America and Europe. He is also a freelance writer for Soccer Coaching Magazine.

Antonio has written several books on youth development, among them, “U-6 – U-12 Development Theory”, “U-8 – U-10 Soccer School Development Manual”. He co-authored “Playing to Learn to Play, Didactic Progression for the Development of the Technical-Tactical Fundamentals in the Soccer Schools” and has produced a training video.

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