Friday, February 11, 2011
To Win Or Not To Win....
News has broken over the last couple of days that minor soccer associations in both Winnipeg and Calgary will be eliminating scoring in soccer. Well not really, but that’s how the respective media, the Winnipeg Press “ Soccer Set to be Score Loser” and the CBC “Scoreless Soccer Considered for Calgary” decided to set up the story of shifting focus from competition do development at the younger ages of the game.
Immediately, thanks in large part to the headlines, the naysayers jumped on with this is political correctness gone mad retort, there is no need for this, we’re trying to “wussify” our children and finally we’re going beat the competiveness out of them.
Nonsense. The idea behind the move is nothing of the sort. What is being attempted is to get coaches and parents of players, this has little to do with the players, to be less focused on the winning of trophies, where U8s are in the standings and who is leading the scoring race and more accepting of the idea that players need to learn to play the game well before they learn to compete.
Learning to compete is a bit of a red herring to me – this has always been the silliest notion ever put forward to me as a coach – I believe we are all born competitive, it is part of our nature as humans and while some are more competitive than others and competitiveness can be refined to say that we need to spend valuable training time teaching this to 8 to 11 year olds is nonsense.
At these ages what we do need to focus on is the development of individual skills – intensely and exclusively. This is where the competition versus learning approaches start to clash and people tend to lose the plot and fail to see that developing players is a (very) long term process – not something that happens by the age of fourteen.
There reasons for players dropping out of sport at the ages of 13/14 have been extensively studied with the main reasons given for “dropping out” being fairly consistent from study to study:
• Lack of Playing Time
• Overemphasis on Winning
• Other Activities are more interesting
• Lack of Fun
• Coaching/Adult Behaviors
• Dissatisfaction with Performance
• Lack of Social Support
Notice that only one of these elements, other activities are more interesting, are not controlled by the adults. All the others are a direct reflection of an over emphasis on results and winning.
The players understand there are winners and losers what they don’t understand is why when their team is winning (or losing) by four goals why they are still on the bench.
They don’t understand why their parents are so disappointed with a loss and the focus on them “trying harder” the next time.
They don’t like or understand “drills” where they are forced to stand in line and wait their turn before getting a chance to play.
They don’t understand parents and coaches screaming at them, opponents and referees and then asking later, “Did you have fun?” Um, really?
It does not need to be this way but unfortunately for the majority of children in our sport this is the way it is – there is an over emphasis on winning and teams over developing players.
They know what the score is, they like to win, who doesn’t? But they are confused by the mixed messages they receive from the sidelines demand they win, it’s okay to lose, try harder, have fun, get better, listen to their coach, listen to them… a confusing mess for most if not all nine year olds.
Unfortunately while many of the adults talk the talk they refuse to walk the walk and the only way to get the attention of the coaches and parents and their over fascination with winning is to mandate a lesser focus on competition. In effect, while winning and losing are part of sport that at these younger ages it should not be the only measure we use in determining if a player is developing and if a program is successful.
Some day the adults will figure it out.