Winning is not everything
"Winning is not everything? What a bunch of junk." I remember uttering those words in my mind many years ago after listening to the usual coaches' meeting before the season started. I thought to myself, "If winning isn't everything, then why do they keep score?" When I walked out of the meeting I knew that every coach had the same thing in mind. They already planned their "killer tactical plans" for their u12 soccer team. Think of this mistake as a process, kind of life cycle that many good coaches go through. Remember most of us start out as bad coaches. We really don't know what we doing we just trying to get to a certain point. Along the way and through years we kind of figure it out. We go through coaching education, certification, watch videos, read books, watch other coaches, and rely on what we learned as a player. Eventually we become pretty good and what we do.
The problem that evolves in this pattern is the natural cycle of the coach. We teach them the basic skills and focus on the simple things. We expose the young players to the game by having fun, but at the same time teaching the basic skills that make them a skilled player. Now the little ones start to mature, the season rolls on, and here is where the poison starts to trickle in our coaching: OUR HUMAN NATURE.
Human nature is one thing that is very hard to change. However, to be a truly great youth coach we must learn to overcome our desire to win, or at least win at all costs, which is really natural human behaviour. Our job as youth soccer coaches is to teach young players individual skills and to make that these skills are not only taught, but also repeated to the point they become instinctive. We should make sure the young soccer experience is fun and well rounded.
Moving a weak offensive player to the forward position is easy to do when you are up 6-0. However, making this move when you losing 3-2 is seen as suicide by many. But if you are not allowing rotations on your young teams, you are doing the kid a disservice. Spending a great deal of time on technical skills is easy at first. However, when we start to lose games we feel weak on tactical strategy and we have a tendency to make practices all about tactical work. The much needed "technical training" just seems to disappear.
Here are a few things to add to this difficulty.
* Parents want their child to be on a winning team. If a team is losing all their games, it's not the child's weak technical skills that are a problem. It is the coach and his game plan that is causing us to lose.
* We as coaches/humans want to win or be successful in the eyes of others. Unfortunately this is often based on what people see as the public grading - the win/loss record.
A truly great youth soccer coach understands his job is to teach his young players individual skills. Our job is not to teach a 10-year old extended tactical vision for the game, but instead give him the mastery of the tools that it takes to play the game. The creativity and vision for the game will only truly come once this process has ended and they can focus on the game as a whole. It's hard to be creative when you keep tripping over the ball while dibbling. Yes, we do give them some basic vision points for the tactical side of the game.
Coaches have a natural human nature to win. That doesn't make them bad people, just bad youth coaches. Most of us want to succeed at what we do. We just often define the "definition of success" incorrectly. Until we break this cycle of winning at all costs and pressured competition, our kids will continue to suffer. Until the definition of "success" in youth football is redefined, there will be kids that are set up for failure at the expense of adult winning.
You will always find some youth coaches that somehow justify themselves around basic youth soccer principle. They will still wear their "badge of victories" proudly and debunk this essential and critical understanding. Remember they not bad people, just bad for youth soccer. They can't help it, it's their nature.
Sadly we as soccer coaches must come to grips with the fact that we are not training a winning team for our sake. Our job is to help young players by teaching them individual technical skills. We the graciously turn them over to another coach hoping they are better with what they have learned.
Young players will remember a good soccer coach for the rest of their lives. That is what we coaches call a reward. NOT WINNING.