Rene Miramontes, Coaching Director at Crusaders Soccer Club. Photo Credit: CSC
Youth Soccer News: The Challenge of Youth Player Development in a “Winning at All Costs” Society
Rene Miramontes is a well-known fixture in Southern California and national soccer. In 1988 Miramontes was named NSCAA National Coach of the Year and received US Youth Soccer and California State Coach of the Year honors. A former U.S. Soccer National Staff Coach, Rene Miramontes currently is the Coaching Director at Crusaders Soccer Club (CSC), and he is also Assistant Coach at San Diego State University, where he was a standout defender between 1976 and 1980.
Before joining SDSU and CSC, Miramontes was Assistant Coach for the Colorado Rapids from 1997 to 2000, helping guide the team to a 63-61-4 mark over four MLS seasons. He has also been an Assistant Coach at Cuyamaca College, A U.S. Soccer Coaching Coordinator and National Hispanic Coaching Coordinator. He holds a USSF “A” coaching license and takes great pride in his work with the Barrio Youth Center in San Diego.
When asked to contribute to SoccerNation’s current series on Development versus Winning at All Costs, Coach Miramontes provided this thoughtful evaluation of the situation in American youth soccer.
A veteran of youth soccer as well as a member of U.S. Soccer's National Instructional Coaching Staff and a National Staff Coach for Region IV, yes he has quite the pedigree ...
Rene Miramontes says...
Please keep in mind that these are only the opinions of someone who has been in the game for about three decades, has seen a lot of changes in the soccer landscape of the U.S. and, for sure, has more questions than answers. Take this these views for what they are, which are nothing more than opinions. Different ways of thinking are highly respected and valued.
Having said this, I would like to begin by addressing the reasons why we have the situation that we have today beginning with the question of winning versus development.
First is the attitude of our society as a whole. We live in a society that praises winning above anything else. It simply comes down to this: Win or Fail. This permeates through all facets of our society, from the workforce to organized youth sports.
Second, we are a statistically driven society and "Numbers Tell the Story." This may be true in the traditional U.S. sports, but not so in the game of soccer. So many times the team that plays better ends up losing to a lesser team that was more physical, bigger, etc., but not better at playing the game. This is the nature of the sport and it is hard to overcome, but for those who persevere in playing the game right, the rewards will come.
In my opinion, the best example of how silly this can get is the ranking of youth teams. So many people pay so much attention to the "rankings" without asking questions such as: Who is ranking the teams? When was the last time they saw the teams play? And finally, what qualifies the person ranking the teams? Yet rankings are taken at face value every day.
Third is the change in parenting practices by today's parents. Today, parents are much more involved in the youngster's sports. This situation has prompted a new term for this group, which is the "Hoverer." These are parents that cannot stay away from training, games and any other activity that their children participate in. In many cases, they are as involved in the kid's game (if not more so) than the kids themselves.
At times I feel that some parents see the result of games as a reflection of themselves. They are so vested in the team that perhaps they might think that if the team loses, it becomes a personal loss, and then what will people think. There really is nothing wrong with all of this, except for one thing: They bring adult values and concepts to a child's game. This causes difficulties for everyone: coaches, referees, and most importantly the children themselves. This most definitely stumps development.
The fourth issue is the pay to play situation. There is no doubt that youth soccer in the U.S. has evolved into a tremendous industry.
Parents have changed from Moms and Dads to customers. As customers, they have a right to demand "service," be it in terms of playing time (as opposed to training time) or winning records. In so many cases, it really doesn't matter what the child's contribution might be to the game, but the fact that he or she is on a "winning team" is more important. Why? “Because I'm paying for it.”
Then we look at the coaching side of this. Winning equals recognition, which in turn equals better opportunities to cash in. There is nothing wrong with this because if an individual is good enough, then he or she should be paid just like any other professional. The challenge here is to balance the “winning at all cost” with the core values and the basic ethical principles required in a teaching profession.
The best example I can offer is the use of the Sweeper in the youth game. There is nothing wrong with this at the earlier stages of the player’s development, but to have a U16 elite team still playing with a player 15 yards behind the back line, respectfully, in my opinion is inexcusable.
So many coaches take winning so much to heart that they are willing to compromise ethics, values and for sure development in order to win the next competition.
A good example of this would be the recruiting games that take place every year during tryouts. In this situation, it begs the question: Why should I develop a team and its players if I can just out-recruit the competition and continue to win?
Here, everyone is happy with this practice. The coach is a "winner," therefore everyone wants to be on his or her team. The club is happy because it has a winning reputation, which will bring more players and more teams to the club, and will in turn result in more funds being accrued by the organization. The parents are happy because they now have the "bragging" rights, at least until next competition. And of course, the players. All that work has paid off, and they are reaping the results of their hard work and sacrifices.
It should be noted that "everyone is happy" until they lose, and then everything changes. Now, their players are being recruited and the game goes on. But one thing is undeniable: Some of these teams are "successful".
It must be said that just as there are recruiters that coach, there are plenty more coaches that do a tremendous job for their players in the area of development and are moving the game forward on the basis of their knowledge and sound developmental practices.
After all that I have said, the question still remains: How do we balance development with winning? I don't have an answer but I will offer a couple of ideas.
There is no denying that in the competitive arena, winning is of paramount importance. One of the pillars of soccer in this country for his contributions as a national coach as well as a national instructor, Coach Bob Gansler, once explained his views on this issue with this question: "Would you ever train a sprinter to come in second place?" My answer naturally was no. "Why not?" he asked. I said because it is a race.
He corrected me by saying: "No, it is a competition; the same as a soccer game. Therefore, one cannot take winning out of any competition." Lesson learned!
Perhaps one way of dealing with this issue is from the perspective of planning. More to the point: Periodization.
I am going on the assumption that everyone involved in youth soccer today should have a very well defined philosophy in terms of player development. Departing from this point, I would then propose that if clubs have a very well defined seasonal plan, then there should be cycles that will focus on training, development and finally, competition. Maybe one way to deal with this issue is to have periods within the season where the focus is on development.
Here, winning takes a "back seat" and results are not as important. This will allow the coach and the team to establish basic game concepts and skills that will bear fruits when the competitive period comes up. This will also improve the product on the field because the coach and the players would have more latitude to try and experience more situations that at this moment are restricted by the "must win" attitude and approach. U.S. Soccer has very detailed information on this subject that would be very helpful in this case.
Another suggestion would be a more dedicated educational approach that would affect all involved. Perhaps there should be standard information for coaches, parents and players on the process of player development.
At present, there are very limited informational programs on the subject, and parents and players are subject to what the coaching community wants to present its "clients," the parents.
This would be a program that would focus more in training and what a good training session looks like and how it is prepared.
What are the qualities of a good coach?
What role do tournaments and games play in the development of players? They say that practice make perfect. I disagree. Practice makes permanent. Big difference! Therefore training sessions must always be considered very carefully.
In conclusion, the question of winning vs. development is a very difficult one indeed.
Our society, the opportunity to for coaches to make a living coaching this beautiful game, the excessive number of games youth players play and unrealistic parental expectations make for a complicated situation.
Perhaps education and proper planning might offer a small light at the end of the youth soccer tunnel.
Editor's Note: I know we all hope so!
Related Article: Youth Soccer Player Development vs. Winning at All Costs