The Goal of the Game is to Win – How Youth Soccer Has Created a Monster in the USA
Noah Gins on Winning vs. Player Development with a revealing look at the youth soccer world in USA vs. Europe.
The objective of a game is to win, whether it is a sport, a board game or a video game. You play a game to win.
The problem is that winning is a consequence of action and doing things the right way, and in the USA, winning can be a negative if the resounding goal is victory over the style of play or player development.
If winning is the single-minded goal, in the end the player suffers.
I believe some soccer games are won through development, while others are won through the type of soccer played. Some coaches win soccer games by recruiting players, and others win due to mismatches or other variables that have nothing to do with developing the player.
When you talk to Academy coaches at professional clubs around the world, all the coaches tell you they have no desire to go after “wins” at the youth level.
Why? Because these coaches are so focused on player development. Their goal is to develop their players to the professional ranks. They are not worried on a day-to-day basis if they won or lost the last game. The professional clubs have a job to develop the individual player to the first team one day or to sell that player off to another professional club. The investment they are making is into the player individually.
This professional system of player development is contrary to our model here in the USA.
In this country, many youth soccer coaches are teaching our players at the young age of 7, 8, and 9 technical habits and starting to train them to be good young players. However, we are also eager to put these kids into fierce competition and start building a winning mentality to gain team success.
There is no question that in the USA we have created a monster; we are entirely too competitive in youth soccer. We are pushing our teams and our players too hard to win.
We live in a culture in the USA where winning is the priority and development is second. It is sad but true.
I know that all of us as coaches wish things could be slowed down and focused purely on a more player development platform.
Why are we in this race to win?
One of the issues we face in the USA is our emphasis on education. As youth soccer coaches, we are developing our players to play in college. In Europe or South America, youth coaches are developing players to play professional soccer.
If we, as clubs, had a pro team sitting above us we would not be worrying either if we won on the weekend. We would be judged on “Did we develop a player to the Pro Team?”
In addition, in Europe or South America there is a big payoff for developing a player to the professional ranks. The fame and fortune of developing a youth to the pro circuit incentivizes the focus of the soccer academies and the coaches. Player development is the only priority.
In the American soccer world, there is so much more emphasis on the team as a whole and how that team is performing and less about how the individual players are progressing.
Clubs want “good” teams, coaches want “good” teams, parents then want “good” teams, and even players fall into the trap that they have to be on this “good” team. All this happens even if their current player development environment is healthy.
With the focus of our success-oriented culture being getting players to college, the pathway is often paved with teams competing in college showcase events.
While there are many ways to get players into college, the showcase path forces the emphasis on team wins. Soccer teams must advance to gain exposure; teams must win games in order to gain recognition and then, as a result, get accepted into these college showcase tournaments that enable these players to be seen and scouted for college.
This issue alone forces coaches, teams and players to play to win as the total focus.
We all play in a youth soccer system where the main focus is on trying to be the top team in the city, state, region or nation. Youth soccer tournaments focus us all to chase the prestigious crown of champion.
This is not good or bad, it is just our reality.
We all have a desire to be #1 in the USA. This mentality pushes us to go after these titles which, in effect, creates a winning mentality. We all share the desire to win when it comes to competitions.
I know for us at Albion SC, we – as much as possible – take the “Must Win” factor out for most of the soccer season and focus on a style of play which involves total possession and ball/player movement.
Our goal is to give the game back to the players and allow them to play the game.
There is an argument that developing the player to win is development. As coaches here in the USA, we are teaching winning habits and building winners. So to teach a U8 player what it takes to win a soccer game with the disciplines of the game, proper habits and proper positioning may not be a negative. This is development of the player and its consequence is winning the game; thereby developing a winning mentality in the player at a very young age.
There is no question that in this country the players must become more familiar and comfortable with the ball compared to players in others parts of the world. From the youngest of players starting to train to the ages of U14, we must continue to focus and provide a technical platform for our youth to develop.
If these players do not have the technical abilities mastered by the age of U14, these players will not have a chance at future levels.
And if we compare this with what is going on around the world, our players in America are getting very, very comfortable on that ball.
At Albion SC we have a development-first approach and require that players master technical skills. We take a very academic approach to the game of soccer, and it is has really paid off for our players. Players are tested monthly on these skills to ensure continued development.
One of the things we are going to establish at Albion SC in the coming months is a dynamic and strategic partnership with one of the biggest European Professional Clubs in the world. We plan to build off their player development platform and give players that possess the game at a higher level the chance to fall into the professional system and potentially align themselves with the goal of playing professional soccer.
This will be for a very small percentage of players, and will keep those who are identified as having the potential to play professionally from falling into the USA’s college-oriented system of development.