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Winning v's player development

The most important thing in sports is to take part and play. Unfortunately that sentiment has long been forgotten in most youth soccer clubs. Most soccer clubs have full time staff and coaches that demand quite high salaries. To cover the crazy cost the club needs members. When try outs arrive, why not take every player to cover the high costs? So when a team takes 4 - 5 teams per age group or a coach (that's looking for more pay) looks after 2 or 3 teams, are the players really getting the quality service they need to develop? If the age group has 4-5 teams per age bracket, who's monitoring the development of all those teams?

The culture of winning in children's sports causes damage on a daily basis, not just to children, but also to the clubs that they play. Winning is important - FOR THE PLAYER!  At youth development, winning should not be the motivation of the parent or the coach. From a players perspective, it's all about winning. If they are not winning, the coach has to come up with a plan that get's the group believing they are on the right track. If the coach does not have a philosophy or plan, this can be really tough for the coach.

Let's take youth soccer in the U.S. It is by far too competitive and this is no doubt a big contributing factor in holding back development in America.

It is causing more premature drop-outs from the game than in any other country as its structure is not child-like. Children are forced to play like adults. Their vital needs are not respected at all. How can you build a successful soccer program if your training program is determined by the fact that clubs stop at nothing to win? Regardless of whether their players are young adults or beginners. Very few clubs measure the quality of their training program. Very few Directors of Coaching monitor their staff and hold them accountable for developing their players. The majority of soccer clubs have short term goals and parents are fine with this, as long as the team is winning. Why is it when the team starts to lose, the wheels come off? Because there is no plan and parents have never been told about a long term goal.

Instead of having the mentality of play to win, the leaders of any soccer club should have the philosophy that we 'play to learn'. As parents we play a huge part in positioning our children in an environment where we feel they can learn and develop. Would we allow our schools to teach the same way as our soccer clubs? Would we allow our school teachers to walk into the classroom and teach whatever they want?

When I ask Technical Directors, "Do you have a plan?" They all say yes. It usually involves a mission statement on their website or a picture of a pyramid that has statements on each level of the pyramid. It can also be a statement like, "Week 1 we do dribbling, week 2 we do shooting..." At least the latter is a start. What are the chances that the DOC is checking this? What if you have a group of players who are terrible at defending but you have to wait another 6 weeks before the club curriculum is doing defending?

I then follow up with:

Can I see your plan?

Do all the coaches in your club know about it? And if so, do they follow it?

Do you monitor your staff on whether or not they are attempting to follow the club plan?


 A Technical Directors plan usually consists of:

  • Look at a winning only philosophy. They have short term goals. "Let's win so more people join the club" mentality

  • They post a mission statement or material to read on their website and call that a plan

  • They are not capable of writing or teaching a plan to others 

  • They just don't believe in having one

  • They are not being held accountable by a board of directors that understand child development

Development v's winning

Before getting involved in youth coaching the coach or club has to choose from two very different approaches:

  1. Lead the team to victory in the short term, no matter the cost.

  2. Gradually introduce to their players the understanding of what it takes to develop as a soccer player and have a long term goal


If the coach or club is only interested in winning then player development suffers from the following disadvantages:

  • The players size and strength will be a deciding factor for joining a team or for winning a game

  • The late bloomers will never get the opportunity to bloom

  • Instead of coaching decision makers and becoming a teacher, the coach will play boot ball soccer to accommodate the athletic players. These will be the only tactics and the majority of the tactics will be negative and defensive.

  • Even though the players are young they are fully aware when things do not seem fair. Children thrive from structure, honesty and fairness. If they see injustices or contradictions from the coach they feel like they are being lied to and more often than not give less effort. Their feelings are 'What's the point?'


The best youth coach is not the one who holds a great win-loss record, but the one who accomplishes a few things:

  • They talk about the 'bigger picture.' They can keep their players engaged so that they show up at every practice ready to play and work hard. 

  • They instill passion and inspire the players to work on their skills away from the practice field.

  • They have the skills to run game related practice session specifically to suit the needs of their players. The practice sessions include, Technical, Tactical, Mental, Physical and Social aspects

  • The players feel like they are achieving something. They are rewarded because of their efforts

  • They are great communicators. They have no agenda and nothing to hide. They follow a plan.


We all coach players at various skill levels and physical strengths but we have to try and get the best out of all our players. We have no idea who's going to blossom under our leadership. Planning your practice session is critical. There are lots of coaches that go to their practice session and just 'wing' it. This will eventually catch up to the coach and over a period of time they will have shown no signs of improvement. If you have the attitude, 'This is how I've always done it' then your development will come to an end. The modern day coach has an inner self belief that they can teach the game correctly and also get results. This takes bravery, dedication and studying. A head coach is not selfish. They are also students of the game.

There is a huge need to educate coaches and parents on a new, more holistic and game-intelligent approach to developing young soccer players.

The most important human muscle has been forgotten about completely (The brain). In the future, we have to consider soccer more a game of knowledge – a cognitive game instead of a physical game! It is about creating decision makers.

There may be unique pressures in soccer (especially the USA) as many parents see sports scholarships as a ticket to future success and a way of saving vast sums of money on college fees. Also there can be an over-emphasis on athleticism, strength and speed.

In the modern game of soccer these talents have become less important, being replaced by greater skill and especially by game intelligence.

It is critical to consider the brain as the greatest power on the soccer field. Give me an ounce of intelligence over a pound of muscle any day.

If the natural competitiveness, athleticism, and creativity of kids were harnessed in a more optimal development model, then we would truly keep more players involved and get the opportunity to see the late bloomers.

Go to our PRACTICE DAY section of the website to see how we coach decision makers. The sessions are productive and have a purpose. If you are not comfortable running the whole practice, just run one of the exercises. At least it's a start.


Practice90 feels so strongly about this subject that we have reached out to many soccer clubs asking them if they would like to work with us to design a soccer development plan for their own club. The plan will be written by coaches who have been there and done it at grass roots level. We know what works and our advice to clubs has been a huge success. We have helped 5 organizations develop a development plan that is geared towards their soccer club. If you would like to know more, please contact us.

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