IS TOO MUCH EMPHASIS PLACED ON WINNING IN YOUTH SOCCER?

By Steve Hoffman 
Cal South Director of Coaching Education and Player Development

I think that most of us would agree that kids love to win the games they play. But, in regards to youth soccer, is there too much emphasis placed by coaches and parents on winning those games?

We know that players develop individually in a highly competitive playing environment, such as Coast Premier, which is a very high-level league where elite players are challenged week in and week out. As coaches, we naturally consider recent results when preparing for the next practice session or the next game. Using our recent knowledge of our teams, we try to identify and implement changes that are needed to perform better in the next game.

With that said, the value we place on winning can often stifle the development of young players. Losing can be frustrating and challenging for coaches and players, however, we must realize that it can help them grow, as a team and individually, equally as much as winning can. 

Success should not be defined merely by positive results.

Let me share a couple of my experiences when addressing 600 parents and 300 players attending a recent orientation to the Cal South Pro+/ODP program. 

I asked of the parents in the Pro+/ODP orientation, “How many of you have played the game of soccer?” The responses typically range from 15 to 20 percent of the parents overall… in other words, a relatively small amount.

I then asked the players a couple of questions to reaffirm my perspective on winning versus performance.

“If you win a game 1-0 but your team played badly, what is the drive like on the way home?” I asked the players to clap loudly if they get a lot of bad criticism from their parents (remember, 80-85% of the parents have never played soccer before). The response is a reliable one. What erupts from the players is a fantastically loud round of applause.

Then I ask them, “If your team loses a game 2-0 but played really well, what is the difference on your ride home from the game?” A majority of the players give me the indication that because their team performed really well, their parents give them very little negative criticism and the ride home was a comfortable one.

You can deduct from this that even spectators (in this case, the parents) intuitively understand that a team’s good performance is what should be taken from the game as a positive, even if the final score is not.

The challenge then is for all coaches, parents and players to not use winning as the only tool for assessing how the team is doing. I have coached teams in the highly competitive Coast Premier League. My goal there was to prepare my team to compete each week at a very high and consistent level. I believed this would determine my team’s success because the reality is, when your team plays at the highest level, one or two mistakes can change a game and result. Winning is not everything.

You might wonder if winning plays a part in being selected for youth national teams, Pro+/ODP scouting or college recruiting. The reality is that scouts typically do not look at the score of a game. They focus on each individual player’s technical and tactical abilities.

So, what other tools can you use to assess the development of individual players and the performance of your team beside league standings?

Coaches should set clear goals for their teams and individual players. The coach should always develop challenging practice sessions, including varied types of age-appropriate games. Coaches for older teams should have a seasonally-based plan to attend “exposure events” to allow players to be seen by college coaches, since many sophomores, juniors and seniors in high school are looking at college soccer as their final destination.

Some of the most important factors when choosing (and staying at) a club/team for your child should be based on the type of coaching and competitive environment. Here are a few different questions parents can ask to assess their child’s team (besides wins and losses): 

  • Is the club/team player-centric?
  • Is my child being challenged at every training session?
  • Does my child receive individual player feedback at least once or twice a year?
  • Does the coach build a tactical plan for each game?
  • Does the coach evaluate the team based on performance (and not base his whole evaluation merely on winning and losing)?
  • Will I see an improvement in the team and my child’s performance over the course of a season?

Southern California is without a doubt the most competitive youth soccer environment in the country and your child is playing in one of the top leagues in the country. The very fact that we can play fifty-two weekends a year and develop players year-round attracts every college coach in the country to Southern California in order to recruit. Again, it needs to be stressed that college coaches and scouts look at the technical and tactical skills of the individual players. They do not assess players based on which ones were on “the winning team.”

If I could change one thing in today’s youth soccer environment, I would ask parents to be more patient and loyal to their club and/or team, and to give coaches the time to develop players to their full potential. Parents should not automatically jump and pull their child off a team just because of a few bad results.