5 Ways to Prioritize Development Over Winning at all Costs

In my last blog post (Development vs Winning at all Costs) I addressed the issue of the “Win At All Costs” mindset that many grassroots coaches seem to have. In youth soccer, focussing on results, although still important, should not be the main goal of a coach. Players, parents, and coaches all like to win games, and it is human nature to want to be on the winning side of things. That innate competitive nature is not the problem. The problem comes when this mentality detrimentally affects the development and their love for the game. So, here are five ways coaches can make sure that player development is their main goal and how to stop from slipping back into the Win At All Costs mindset:

1. Plan 

Thinking of a session on the drive to practice or even as the players are warming up? We've all been there. Planning is important. You should enter each practice session with a clear topic and objective in mind. With limited practice time, planning is crucial for hitting tangible objectives. Players are competitive, so set them specific challenges: "In today's game, the only thing I am focusing on is our 1v1 defending. I'm going to record each player and how many times you win your 1v1 battles." And do it! Take a notepad, record it, and tell the players. Their focus will shift from 'I want to win this game' to 'I want to be the one who coach calls out for winning the most 1v1 battles.'

- Set objective/goal of session or game

- Plan drills based off of objective

- How does the objective tie into a style of play/curriculum?

- Record development objectives in a game situation for tangible results.

2. During a Game, Take a Step Back and Observe

We've all stood on the sideline listening to a running commentary of commands from the coach..."LOOK UP, PASS, CONTROL IT, SHOOT!" The game is a chance for the players to show what they have learned in practice. Your role in a game is not to instruct every move each player makes ('joysticking'). Observe and assess learning and development. Yes, you probably do know more than the players you are coaching (that's why you are the coach) and you will probably be able to see every correct decision from the sideline. However, instructing at every opportunity risks turning players into robots with an inability to make their own decisions and solve problems. Practice is the time for equipping players with the skills to make their own decisions. Games are a chance to demonstrate these skills. This is not to say you should not be involved in the game as a coach. Encourage and recognize players that have made correct decisions but as a coach you should do your best to refrain from instructing from the sideline.

3. Rotate Positions

It's vital that players have exposure and knowledge of all skills within the game. Young players should learn every position and the different skills required in those positions. A striker who's good at scoring goals but can't defend is not going to be able to improve those skills as much as if he was put on defense. If players are not put in a position where they can consistently practice all skills, how will they be able to develop those skills? It is also important that players build their understanding of certain positions and as it can help their natural position. For example, a striker will develop a better positional understanding by playing as a midfielder and seeing what strikers do from that position's perspective.

We are also seeing High School and College coaches utilizing players in several different positions. A center midfielder may get to high school and be asked to play right back. They may be very adept when it comes to having space and time to play wide in both directions, but can they adapt when they have a sideline next to them? Soccer is not Football or Baseball. You cannot solely practice a specific set of skills for a specific position and hope to develop as a player. Development needs to be well rounded.

4. Create a Culture of Error

This may be a weird one to hear. Soccer is a game of mistakes. Mistakes are constant in every game, even at the professional level. Holding a youth player accountable for every mistake creates a scared player, apprehensive of trying new things. Take a step back and see if the player had the right idea in what they were trying to accomplish. If the player had the right idea but the wrong execution, let it go. If the player made a poor decision, step in and coach. Creating a culture where players are able to make mistakes leads to new ideas and greater development. If a player is scared every time they attempt to pass the ball then they will be uncertain about making any pass. Trying new things should be encouraged. Mistakes should be welcomed and encourage them to find the solution. Doug Lemov investigates the 'Culture of Error' in Teach Like a Champion. This is not to say that all mistakes should be supported. Mistakes made through laziness and lack of effort need to be addressed. Rather, mistakes borne from creativity should be encouraged rather than berated.

5. Check Your Ego at the Door

Perhaps the most important point. Everyone likes to win. Players, parents, and coaches all like to win. What you have to remember is that youth coaching is not about you or how many wins or losses you have. It is about fostering a love for the game in your players and developing them to their full potential. This is not something that can be accomplished in the short term. It is not something you can do by winning your game next week. Rather it is a long term project built over time. Short term thinking of wins and losses is only building into your own ego. Take a step back and remember why you became a coach. It's not about the coaches. It's about the players.

Thanks for reading,

- Matt Needham

Beestera Soccer Training

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