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Winning v's player development

The most important thing in sports is to take part and play. Unfortunately that sentiment has long been forgotten in most youth soccer clubs. At youth development, winning should not be the motivation of the parent or the coach. From a players perspective, it's all about winning. If they are not winning, the coach has to come up with a plan that get's the group believing they are on the right track. If the coach does not have a philosophy or plan, this can be really tough for the coach.

Let's take youth soccer in the U.S. It is by far too competitive and this is no doubt a big contributing factor in holding back development in America.

It is causing more premature drop-outs from the game than in any other country as its structure is not child-like. Children are forced to play like adults. Their vital needs are not respected at all. How can you build a successful soccer program if your training program is determined by the fact that clubs stop at nothing to win? Regardless of whether their players are young adults or beginners.

Instead of having the mentality of play to win, the leaders of any soccer club should have the philosophy that we 'play to learn'. As parents we play a huge part in positioning our children in an environment where we feel they can learn and develop.


Development v's winning

Before getting involved in youth coaching the coach or club has to choose from two very different approaches:

  1. Lead the team to victory in the short term, no matter the cost.

  2. Gradually introduce to their players the understanding of what it takes to develop as a soccer player and have a long term goal


If the coach or club is only interested in winning then player development suffers from the following disadvantages:

  • The players size and strength will be a deciding factor for joining a team or for winning a game

  • The late bloomers will never get the opportunity to bloom

  • Instead of coaching decision makers and becoming a teacher, the coach will play boot ball soccer to accommodate the athletic players. These will be the only tactics and the majority of the tactics will be negative and defensive.

  • Even though the players are young they are fully aware when things do not seem fair. Children thrive from structure, honesty and fairness. If they see injustices or contradictions from the coach they feel like they are being lied to and more often than not give less effort. Their feelings are 'What's the point?'


The best youth coach is not the one who holds a great win-loss record, but the one who accomplishes a few things:

  • They talk about the 'bigger picture.' They can keep their players engaged so that they show up at every practice ready to play and work hard. 

  • They instill passion and inspire the players to work on their skills away from the practice field.

  • They have the skills to run game related practice session specifically to suit the needs of their players. The practice sessions include, Technical, Tactical, Mental, Physical and Social aspects

  • The players feel like they are achieving something. They are rewarded because of their efforts

  • They are great communicators. They have no agenda and nothing to hide. They follow a plan.


We all coach players at various skill levels and physical strengths but we have to try and get the best out of all our players. We have no idea who's going to blossom under our leadership. Planning your practice session is critical. If you have the attitude, 'This is how I've always done it' then your development will come to an end. The modern day coach has an inner self belief that they can teach the game correctly and also get results. This takes bravery, dedication and studying. A head coach is not selfish. They are also students of the game.

There is a huge need to educate coaches and parents on a new, more holistic and game-intelligent approach to developing young soccer players.

The most important human muscle has been forgotten about completely (The brain). In the future, we have to consider soccer more a game of knowledge – a cognitive game instead of a physical game! It is about creating decision makers.

There may be unique pressures in soccer (especially the USA) as many parents see sports scholarships as a ticket to future success and a way of saving vast sums of money on college fees. Also there can be an over-emphasis on athleticism, strength and speed.

In the modern game of soccer these talents have become less important, being replaced by greater skill and especially by game intelligence.

It is critical to consider the brain as the greatest power on the soccer field. Give me an ounce of intelligence over a pound of muscle any day.

If the natural competitiveness, athleticism, and creativity of kids were harnessed in a more optimal development model, then we would truly keep more players involved and get the opportunity to see the late bloomers.

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