Winning Isn't Everything in Youth Soccer
It was one of the most exciting finishes of this or any AYSO season for the Pink Ladies.
The score was 1:0 to the “Ladies” and they were desperately trying to hold onto their lead in the dying minutes of the last game of the season.
Every lawn chair was empty. The parents were all up on their feet. The referee was taking an age to blow the final whistle.
This was the kind of drama that makes soccer so exciting, no matter the standard of play you are watching. The sense of relief was palpable moments later as the referee finally called an end to our suffering.
Suddenly the girls who were a picture of dogged determination for most of the second half were silly little kids again, dancing and leaping around the pitch. Parents who’d barely said a word to one another all season were hugging like long-lost buddies. As the winning coach I tried my best to look humble as a line of people waited to shake my hand.
The Pink Ladies had won their first game of the season.
We had the end of season party the next day and it was one of the best spirited I can remember. Then the team went their separate ways.
Most encouragingly, all but three of those girls came back to AYSO the next season, albeit to different teams. The other three went on to play club.
It was, quite simply, the most memorable season I had coaching soccer – and it had absolutely nothing to do with winning or losing. The season was all about learning technique, developing physical and mental skills to call on in a game – and having fun.
The more senior figures I speak to in the youth game the clearer it becomes why our players are not reaching their full potential. There is far too much emphasis on winning games and too little on developing individual skills.It's no accident that stars like Lionel Messi grow to fulfill their potential and more. The Argentinian was nurtured carefully through the Barcelona youth system.
Academy teams may be an exception and take time out of competition to teach the game but most parents gauge the success of a club on the win total, not on its long-term development of talent.
They feel, perhaps correctly, that college recruiters are looking at the same win-lose stats. It’s the American way to win, they argue.
But coaches are spoiling kids by pushing them harder to score goals to win games and often by overplaying their minutes. Yet the truth is that even the best youth players need individual coaching to help them with everything from the most complex dead ball tactics to kicking the football properly.
To compensate, knowledgeable parents are having to pay for additional coaching outside their clubs with private tutors.
The answer is for a new focus to be placed on development. Youth players must not be afraid to express themselves on the football field because the coach is yelling at them to win at all costs.
There will be plenty of time for the win or bust mentality if they make it to the pros or even if they end up playing for adult teams.
Winning isn’t everything. Just ask the Pink Ladies.