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Youth Soccer Player Development vs Winning at All Costs

Youth Soccer News: Directors of Coaching on Winning versus Development

We hear it all the time: there is too much emphasis on “winning at all costs.” Yet how many times have you gone to a game and heard parents yelling at the kids to do what it takes to score goals and win? Coaches are told from one side that development is the priority in youth soccer, but then see their decisions questioned when the team loses.

At the top, Directors of Coaching have the unenviable task of balancing these often competing elements – winning versus player development.  What do DOCs really think about winning games compared to developing successful players? SoccerNation spoke with top Southern California Directors of Coaching and a former international player turned professional coach for their insights.

For the first part of this new series on player development, SoccerNation spoke with Alberto “AB” Bru of Real So Cal Soccer Club, Colin Chesters of Surf Soccer Club, Noah Gins of Albion Soccer Club, Teddy Chronopoulos of Chivas USA Youth Academy and Warren Barton of Fox Soccer TV and San Diego Flash Soccer Club to get their insights.

DOCs on Winning and Development on SoccerNation News
Alberto "AB" Bru of Real So Cal Soccer Club

Alberto “AB” Bru, Director of Coaching at Real So Cal Soccer Club

How do you balance player development and winning?

Player development and success go hand in hand; you cannot have one without the other.

I change “winning” to “success,” as winning is only a byproduct of three factors: the coach's ability to get the most out of his players, the amount of time and effort spent training and the talent level that the players bring to the team.

How important is winning, and why do you feel this way?

Competing to win is very important. Players should be developed with the abilities to be able to help teams to compete for victories.

Do you believe a club's reputation is impacted by their teams' winning records?

Clubs’ and coaches’ reputations are definitely affected both positively and negatively by results.

Unfortunately, [winning] is the easiest way to determine success, as parents and youth players often do not have the insight or the luxury of time and observation to properly understand all that can take place when coaching a team.

When do you coach to win?

I always coach to give my team the best chance of beating the opponent, but I have a proper perspective on several important aspects which balance the growth of the team and individual players. These include age- and level-appropriate playing time for all team members, goals and objectives the coach would like to achieve and the particular style of play you are trying to accomplish, along with a realistic understanding that your team will win and lose games during the course of the season.

If your players did not pay to play, would you coach differently?

Finances should not be a factor at all in how you coach youth soccer players. The most important concerns are the players' ages and their playing levels.

Do you have any other thoughts about winning and development?

Often coaches do their best work when teams lose more than they win, and there is certainly no shortage of poor to mediocre coaching at the youth level of teams that win. Why my team won and why it failed to win is also very valuable feedback that is gathered through competition.

DOCs on Winning and Development on SoccerNation News
Colin Chesters of Surf Soccer Club

Colin Chesters, Director of Coaching at Surf Soccer Club

How do you balance player development and winning?

We have a long term view that playing the right way will pay dividends over the long haul and are willing to take a few losses along the way to help our long term goals. 

Is there a coach anywhere who does not want to win a State Cup or a Surf Cup game or a tournament final? 

Do all coaches make the right choices on the field when coaching? Of course not.

For instance, joy-sticking the players is always going to be a part of coaching at the younger age groups because it is very effective. I liken this style of coaching to a parent doing the kids homework. The kid might get 100% tomorrow, but one day in the not so distant future this approach will prove to be the wrong approach.

Most of life’s best lessons are learned after mistakes.

Kids need to learn from their own mistakes, but coaches don't want that to happen as it will mean a loss to a rival team and even second guessing as to why the coach didn't help with the kids’ “homework.”

How important is winning, and why do you feel this way?

Winning has its place in the game. It helps to recruit players. Kids, coaches and parents like to be associated with a winning team. These teams are easier to manage on a daily basis. But the message should be clear at the younger ages that player development with technique and touches on the ball are more important than winning.

When do you coach to win?

Unfortunately the answer in the cutthroat world we live in here in the states is: everytime in important games. I feel it would be detrimental to our club, team not to win an important soccer game such as in State Cup, Surf Cup, ECNL and Academy. 

Other soccer games we have a longer-term view on. If you want a number - here: Roughly 10 games where winning takes a priority and 40 where it is about playing the right way.

Winning plays a bigger part in the older age groups, when tactics and fitness start to take priority over technical development. I have said many times that winning can be a great deodorant and can cover up -- in many people’s minds --things that are wrong with a team.

Do you believe a club's reputation is impacted by their teams' winning records?

This goes back to my theory about winning being a great deodorant. If we lose, our team gets relegated or doesn't win promotion to a higher league that the better players want to play in. Are these then important games that become 'must wins'? Unfortunately, the answer is yes.

Do you have any other thoughts about winning and development?

It takes a brave, mature coach to let his Goal Keeper take goal kicks when he has another player who can launch it over the half line. But in reality, who wants a GK who can't take their own goal kicks later in life?

How many times is a coach willing to lose a game when there is an easy fix at hand? Not many.

The American system has kids flying around the country for tournaments.  Should a coach allow his GK to take his own goal kicks at an out-of-town tournament? Would he get eaten alive if he used that time of the field for development instead of coaching his team to win?

Our system is wrong.

We need more 4v4, 6v6 8v8 9v9 small sided games. Why do we go from a nail biting 5-4 u 10 game to a boring 0-0 u 11 game 4 months later, where the young kids can't get up and down the field. Surely it is time to introduce 9v9 games at the  U11 level.  Small sided games will produce better MLS and college players down the road.

Change the emphasis on winning and change the game for the better.

We need our governing bodies to make decisions help shift the emphasis away from winning, promotion, relegation and tournament play. The Southern California Developmental Soccer League (SCDSL) has implemented some healthy rule changes in its league. So moves in the right direction are being made.

U.S. Soccer is the only organization that could change the way we do business. If they jumped in and pushed through the changes needed and the message came from the top there is a better way to teach the game for the long term, clubs and coaches would welcome the change and the game would improve.

DOCs on Winning and Development on SoccerNation News
Noah Gins, Director of Coaching of Albion Soccer Club

Noah Gins, Director of Coaching at Albion Soccer Club

How do you balance player development and winning?

Player development versus winning is the long-lasting discussion. Often times we as coaches are dictated by the environment we are in, and we have to play by the rules according the environment.

Southern California is one of these environments where you have to develop to win. In other environments you can develop the player from a technical point of view and be safe to compete with that.

In So Cal, in order to be a winning team or program you must teach your players, develop your players, to win, which is development as well. 

Everyone defines development differently, too. We as a club develop the players – and we have the ability through our training and curriculum to technically develop our players – but we also develop winners.

How important is winning, and why do you feel this way?

Winning is very important; it is a product of the work. But winning is not ‘win at all cost.’ Winning must be done with the right understanding of what it takes to win and how to win.

Winning will come with doing things right and will come with sacrifice. Winning is something that rewards those putting in the work. 

Do you believe a club's reputation is impacted by their teams' winning records?

A club's ability to succeed directly impacts the reputation of the club. Everyone wants to be associated with winners. But there is much more to a club than just winning. The coaching staff, the player development, the ability to manage and mold a player to go on and play at the next level, and the level of customer service a club has are all important aspects of the club’s reputation.

When do you coach to win?

I coach to win every game. The teams I coach are all competing for something bigger than a trophy. But also we train to win, we play to win.

Why do you play a game if you are not trying to win?

If your players did not pay to play, would you coach differently?

No! We explain to our players you pay to be with the club and gain training; playing time is then earned by the player.

Teddy Chronopolous on SoccerNation News
Teddy Chronopoulos of Chivas USA Youth Academy

Teddy Chronopoulos: Chivas USA Youth Academy Director

How do you balance player development and winning?

Our program is based on long-term goals. Winning should not override the process of developing kids in our program. It's not about winning games. It’s about winning your individual battles on the field and knowing your role within your team.

Too many kids do not know their functional role on the field. Being able to teach a right back to play his position effectively is more important for their long term growth as a player. In the end, they are a byproduct of both.

If you develop players properly, you will win games.

How important is winning?

We teach our kids to compete. At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, is a kid going to remember what he won at age 10? No.

Our job is to create a great environment for the kids and work to communicate what their expectations are as an academy player. The parents’ role in their child's development is just as important as the coach’s role.

If your players paid to play, would you coach differently?

No. Your job as a coach is to develop players. For us, it's to develop players for our first team and college. We have programs for our players who are going to college and those who are being looked at for the pro team. Either way, every kid is prepared for when they leave our academy.

Do you believe a club's reputation is impacted by their teams' winning records?

It all depends on your club’s philosophy. If you set a strong foundation from the beginning at the younger age groups and set your objectives for each age group, you will create a winning environment. We look at how many Youth National Team kids we have. We currently have 11 players in our youth national team system (U14 through U23). I think that's a pretty good measurement on how our program is doing.

We also look at how many players we have playing up. How many 16's are playing on the 18s and how many of the 18s are training with the professional first team or reserves? We obviously start this at U8 and move on up. That is what is most important to us.

When do you coach to win?

I don't think a coach ever goes into a game wanting to lose.

We have certain objectives we want to accomplish game to game. One game we may want to improve on how we get out of the back. What are our center backs reads and looks when playing against 1 forward as opposed to 2 forwards.

Are you going to make mistakes? Yes, that's part of the process. If we are doing our job and the players are developing correctly, then winning becomes a byproduct of the development process.

What is the difference?

We have goals and objectives at the beginning of the season. What tournaments we are going to and what do we want to get out of each tournament. State or National Cup, Surf Cup and any out-of-state tournament (such as Dallas Cup) are the obvious ones you want to do well in.

DOCs on Winning and Development on SoccerNation News
Warren Barton of San Diego Flash Soccer Club

Warren Barton, former English Football star, TV Pundit for Fox Soccer and Head Coach of San Diego Flash Soccer Club

How do you balance player development and winning?

Player development is very important, especially starting at the younger age groups, such as ages 5-8. Coaches have a responsibility to develop players, but we are also in the business of a competitive sport. Even in Europe it is about how well you do on the field, especially in the teenage years.

Helping kids to understand the game and the professionalism of the sport is important. Winning starts to become important at ages 11-12 and becomes a stronger component of the game after U14. Remember that only a few years later these youth players will potentially be professional players on the soccer field, especially in Europe.

Parents have a responsibility as well, and they need to understand how they influence their players. Recently at a U8 youth soccer game I was appalled when parents started jumping up and down when the team was winning. I was equally upset when I saw a parent furious when his son's team lost.

Parents need to understand the affect they have on their kids. Young players should not feel so bad that they cry when they lose or scream and shout endlessly when they win. I believe many parents would be horrified if they were videotaped and saw how they behaved on the sidelines. Parents have to show kids how to lose with dignity and win with respect. 

Winning and losing are always a part of the game of soccer. 

Editor's note: It does seem obvious that the better the player development, the more frequent the wins should be.  But soccer is a game.  And an internationally competitive one.  American's are hard-wired to want to win. It is important we temper this drive with a long term view and patience for player development.

It is important that we teach our players to be mentally strong and tough - with humility and modesty.  We are, afterall, raising our children. 

READ PART 2 with Christian Lavers of ECNL, former U.S. Men's National Team captain Thomas Dooley, Billy Garton of Manchester SC, John Napier of SDSC and Eric Warner of FC Hasental for their insights on Player Development vs. Winning at All Costs.

MODIFIED @ 7:00 AM August 28, 2012

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