Why Winning Isn't a Priority in Youth Soccer

"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 and why does this youth league have tournaments at the end of the season?" When I walked out of the meeting I knew that EVERY coach had the same thing on his mind. They were already planning their "killer tactical plans" for their Under-12 soccer team.

Think of this mistake as a process, kind of a life cycle that many good coaches go through. Remember most of us start out as bad coaches. We don't really know what we're doing, we just know we are trying to get to a certain point. Along the way and through the years we just 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 soccer players. Eventually we become pretty good at what we do.

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The problem that evolves in this pattern is the natural cycle of the parent/coach. We generally start out with our children at a young age. We teach them basic technical skills and focus on the simple things. We expose young players to the game by having fun, but at the same time teaching the basic skills that make them a skilled individual player.

Now the little ones start to mature, the season rolls on, and here is where the poison starts to trickle in to our coaching: Our human nature.

Resisting the Urge to Win

Human nature is the one thing that is very hard to change. However, to be a truly great youth soccer coach we must learn how to overcome our desire to win, or at least win at all costs, which really is a natural behavior.

Our job as youth soccer coaches is to teach young players individual skills and make sure that these skills are not only taught, but also repeated to the point that they become instinctive. We should make sure the young soccer experience is fun and well rounded.

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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're losing 3-2 is seen as suicide by many. But if you are not allowing rotations on your young teams, you are doing the kids a disservice.

Spending a great deal of time on technical skills is easy at first. However, when we start to lose games we feel we are 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 that add to this difficulty.

  • Parents, a HUGE contributing factor, want their child to be on a winning team. If a team is losing all their games, it's not their child's weak technical skills that are the 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.

  • We often don't sit down with all the people involved and communicate what our goals are for the season. If only a few parents understand that we are not there to win but to learn, then it simply will not work.

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