The debate is constant, the emphasis on results in this country cannot be ignored. Everything is about competition. It is a discussion I hear and have had many many times. There is the belief that if we do not have points and ladders that our kids will not develop a competitive hunger. Of course, this notion is nothing more than an opinion. Very little is ever based on actual evidence, data, common sense, research trial and error. Its usually just, “it’s the way we did it and it worked just fine back then”, or that’s how it’s done overseas. Of course, this in itself is ludicrous as not only do we have a varying degree of memory in regards to past events but what happens overseas cannot be used as a template here because our culture and our systems are totally different and just because it works for one country doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for another. What the public needs to understand is that there is a huge difference between adult football and children’s football. They do not belong in the same basket! We are busy measuring kids to adult standards and this is a very big mistake. Children must learn through mistakes not by avoiding mistakes. In junior football, the coach must focus on the individual first and foremost even at the expense of a win. In senior football, the coach manipulates the individual for the good of the team and the result. But our culture teaches us that winning comes first at any age and in doing so we end up abusing our authority at the expense of the individual.
Now don’t get me wrong I like to win in fact I’ve won my fair share of titles both as a player and as a coach. Just for the record, coaching youth league I have accumulated the following; NPL1 2 years and NPL2 2 years are 4 titles, 3 grand finals and a league champion. What I am most proud of is that I believe that each player that was under my care improved.
I believe that it is part of Australia’s culture to win and when we don’t regardless of the circumstances we become overly critical, that’s not just here it happens everywhere. Argentina, for example, has reached three finals in as many years one of which was the world cup, the greatest sporting event on the planet, yet many Argentinians complain. Everyone sees things in their own way based on personal experiences and circumstances. People, in general, tend to form opinions without access to knowledge that comes through lived experience.
This presumed opinion that not winning is ultimately failure then gets carried into the world of youth sports. This is where problems in the process may occur and it is universal. Recently I posted an interesting article on our Facebook page about the Cruyff system at Ajax.
Here is an excerpt:
“We did this in order to take away this incentive for them to win. The players, of course, want to win. That is natural and in the DNA of every player. But a coach in the academy who wants to win at the expense of everything? That is bad.”
Ajax is recognized as one of the world’s best and most advanced youth development program in the world today. However, it has had its fair share of problems in the past. These issues stem from club coaches who place more importance on results than development, they also recognise the changing face of how our youth are growing up today, so they changed and tweaked their system and the results today are evident.
I myself have long accepted that if I want my kids to improve and play the game intelligently then I must forsake my primal urge to win on the scoreboard. My good friend and mentor former teammate and Socceroo Alan Davidson would argue this point with me forever and a day! However, I hold firm to my belief that winning is more than just the result on a scoreboard at the end of a game at the youth level! If winning was my main concern then this would lead me towards treating the children under my care with bias, I would focus only on what’s best for the team, only on what I perceive to be my best players and the result, which automatically places me in a situation where I need to discriminate against the weaker individuals. My job and that of all youth coaches are to develop the individual, the individual’s needs are far more important than the needs of the team in youth football.
The need to win clouds our judgement, we focus on characteristics in children which are results centred so we look for the big the fast the strong not realising that children develop at massively different rates. A perfect case in point is that of Antoine Griezman, rejected by every single club he trialled for in France. He was spotted by a recruiter that offered him a trial in Spain. Long story short the little blonde kid becomes Frances leading figure winning the last world cup in Russia and becoming one of the worlds best footballers. The Spanish saw past his size and realised that there was something innate, that he would grow and his technique was far more important than how big he was.
The problem, as Cruyff and his cohorts saw it, was that these coaches were too preoccupied with getting their team to win matches. “We did not want the results to be important,” says Jongkind. “There is only one team that needs to win and that is the first team. A youth game is the same as training. It is a means to an end not an end in itself. It is a tool.”
This is not to say that I teach my players to accept being losers, on the contrary, I teach my kids that football is about many things but trying to win is a big objective but not at the expense of taking risks. The way we work is that virtually every exercise requires an objective or some sort of problem that needs to be solved. The problem always has an end result where one either is successful (wins) or is unsuccessful (losses). The outcome of any practical exercise is dependent on many different factors. When it comes to football there is a natural tendency to be competitive, all kids want to win and we nurture that desire, it’s what we call having a winning mentality. Therefore, it is much more important for us to create a culture that understands what winning means and what is required to become a winner. Winning is a by-product that comes from a specific process and in that process nowhere does it include avoid losing, don’t take risks. Failure is a large part of the development process, in fact, it is the most crucial aspect of becoming great. Its failure that creates, resilience, its teaching children to deal with disappointment, learning to take responsibility, to be a competitor and not a victim of circumstance, the area that a child needs to develop most is emotional intelligence.
It’s the process that creates champions, and a big part of that process is how we control the environment, what we facilitate in terms of methodology. It’s not hard to see that if you are in an environment where every action is requiring one to be challenged, it then drives the competitive juices. Take the Rondo, for example, the rondo is a simple game in which there are winners and losers, the loser is represented by the one who loses the ball, the winner is the one who doesn’t. The better skilled you are the less chance you have of losing. The desire to stay out of the middle, which is a form of punishment, drives the individual’s competitive nature and in turn, pushes them to work harder to improve, this is what I mean by the environment, the training not only has a purpose in terms of improving technique, first touch, passing, awareness and decision making but it also allows us to experience heightened emotions, it nurtures internal drive and a desire to succeed.
Part of the process also encapsulates the ability to lose well. This is why we encourage our kids to shake hands and congratulate the other team whether we win or lose. A true test of character comes from one’s behaviour when things don’t work out, throughout life things will not always turn out the way you want them to!
Recently a coach in Italy was sacked when his team defeated another team by 26-0. He failed in his duty of care not just for his team but also for the players of the opposing team. The club said that this was not a situation in which the club’s values where represented. Perhaps what this individual failed to understand is that development has greater power when things are hard, so if you have an easy opponent you do something that will make it more of a challenge for your team, for example, you can add conditions to the game like 10 passes before you can score. Even better speak the coach on the other team and offer to mix the teams in order to even it out. Not every club you play will have recruited well, in some cases you pick what shows up and if you pick them you teach them, all of them but you all so protect them.
I always try to even the sides out at training but at times I quite often place kids that are excelling in weaker teams when choosing sides. I do this to test their resilience. Quite often many of these kids will ask me if I can change the teams, I ask them why and more often than not the answer is because it’s not fair. This is not a bad thing because it shows me that they want to win but I seldom do make changes because I want them to understand that they should be the ones who make a difference in their teams if you are not winning then work harder, solve the problem, become a leader and rally your teammates. Think about how you can use your voice in a positive way to influence those around you. Don’t look for the easy way out, don’t whine, complain or quit and don’t let the disappointment affect you in a negative way, use that emotion to empower you through greater physical exertion.
Learning to Deal with the disappointment of a bad result is important, in both cases, there is a fine line, a balance between too much emotion and too little! This is where values come into the picture. The act of living out principles through emotional highs and lows. This video below depicts the kids from Barcelona showing great character after the final of a tournament. A lesson many adults can learn from the kids at La Masia!
I warn any parent to avoid basing your ideas or beliefs on simple opinions, of course, everyone has one but not all opinions are backed by facts! Not all opinions are expert opinions. Most people tend to form their opinions on their own perceptions which come from lived experiences. This is no way that one should come to any sort of conclusion. I would like to think that science and evidence along with a healthy amount of common sense should be the default means in developing an informed opinion on anything. My rule is that I must always try to see things from every angle, I must take myself out of my shoes as there are always three sides to a coin. Intelligence sits on the edge and looks at things from both heads and tails. Always check the source of the information that shapes your mind. Who wrote it? whats the narrative? What are the facts? Where is the evidence? Does it hold ground?
Learning to win is so much more important than the win itself. Scoreboards and points are there for adults, for bragging rights so that they can feel good about themselves. My advice, don’t be a tool, love your kids unconditionally!