Winning VS. Learning

I read a very interesting article this week about the rankings of youth soccer in the US and couldn’t agree more with what the writer had to say:

The article distinguishes the unimportance of rankings and results in young ages vs. the importance of skills development, learning the game and the emphasis on the WAY rather than the outcome.

I would like to say that it is very important and crucial to develop a winning mentality and the desire to compete to win. However, I too feel that the way to achieve the win cannot compromise the way you play the game. To quote from the article,

 “In Gotsoccer, you don’t get ranking points fro style, or possession, or close games. You don’t get points for letting all your athletes have playing time, or putting your fast goal scorer in the back or midfield to develop his all around ability”.

 Another part of the article discusses the importance of allowing young players to take risks, give them the confidence to possess the ball and play it from the back, including with your goalkeeper. Most coaches, however, would rather play it “safe” and implement a system in which the fastest player on the team is playing upfront, and the goal of the other players on the field is to get the ball to him up the field as quick as possible. That way there is no risk of losing the ball in dangerous areas and you can rely on the speed (usually not skill) of the striker to score goals for your team. This can work in youth soccer very well, and get you the wins and the points, but this is a very short term solution. The questions that need to be asked are, what do our kids/players really learn about the game playing that way? What kind of development do we see here?


I deeply believe that only a system that will allow a coach to work on the technical development of their younger players between the ages of 6-12 (ages 9-12 are known to be “the golden age of skill development”), will reap the benefits of it down the road and will enjoy a winning team that is truly capable to compete in a higher level.


Another component to that is of course, the parents!!! Parents of young players must realize that it is not about here and now. That win/draw/loss at 8 years old doesn’t determine their young star’s soccer career. Parents have to buy into a bigger picture, to be patient and understand that a coach who truly cares about his players will be less focused on results, but rather on setting goals such as: use of skills, movement off the ball, overlaps, possessing the ball, and moving up and down the field as one unit. Once the player can do all of that in a game the results will follow up, but the process will be full of mistakes and YES, also lost games.


 I had the privilege to work with a coach/team last year that did just that. This team was formed a couple of years earlier by a coach who understood that development comes before everything else. More so, this team was a mix of where 80% of the players were cut or didn’t make it on any other team.

For two years they worked with myself and other skills coaches on developing their technical ability. Setting the ground for success for those girls, this coach encouraged them to use their skills and applauded them even when they made a mistake while trying to use them. The results weren’t late to come either, within two years this team became a major force in their age group in the top division.


Coincidence? I don’t think so!
This goes to show that if you put the time to truly develop players’ skills and teach the game you will have a winning team in the long run.


To sum up, this needs to be a collaborative effort of clubs, coaches, and parents. It is a long process that requires patience. But let’s take the focus off this coming weekend end result and test our players based on all the other criteria that really matters.