Youth Soccer Clubs that Develop and them that Just Want to WIN!

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Always try to win. There’s nothing wrong with winning. It’s winning at any cost that is a problem!

The majority of local and franchised soccer clubs websites around the US are mostly plastered with photos of their teams holding trophies, boasting of goals totals for elementary and middle school kids. Is it an observation? Naaa, it’s a way to get you to spend on their product!

Believing these youth soccer clubs must be doing a good job, parents are happy to drive their children great distances and open their pocketbooks to provide the best opportunities possible for their 8, 9, 10, 11… year old! What they fail to realize is this culture of winning can have a significant negative impact not only on their children’s enjoyment of the game, but mostly on their development. It is a vicious cycle pushing clubs to advertise their trophies rather than their retention and improvement of players’ abilities. Yes, Development!

There is a clear distinction between the two:
The first is them that have set their primary goal to develop the player from the age of 8 and they do it in a learning environment.
The second is the franchising that has to take the win no matter what and they do it for very specific reasons.

Now, I wont spend that much time on the the second, I really don’t need more than a couple of paragraphs to describe what they do and why they do it.
WIN, WIN and WIN! The more they win the more they can showcase it, the more they can expose the brand as something totally awesome! Initially parents fall for it, they think that winning even at a U10 level is a part of the development program they have set up. In reality all they’re doing is helping chip away at the very essence of what this sport is meant to be. It’s as though some of youth soccer’s most treasured values, like integrity, respect and the preservation of a level playing field are being discarded, and thrown to the wayside in the name of ambition and hollow victory.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that there should not be a winner. I believe there is massive value in teaching our youth soccer players to win. In fact, it’s that competitive flame and that hunger to be the best that drives our society forward. It’s also an inextricable part of what makes this great nation of ours so remarkable. But on the youth soccer level, that appetite for victory cannot, and “must not”, be allowed to step on the fundamental principles of development. The future of sport depends on these values. Europe and South America are the perfect examples of youth soccer development, that includes developing constantly amazing goalkeepers!!!

So how do you fix it in a WIN at all costs youth soccer club? You can’t that’s their policy, it comes from the top and it is injected into the coaches below. That’s how these branded clubs make the Ca$h! Easy tournament placing and lot’s of homemade tournaments, you’ll also notice that they like keeping the team at a lower level/division so that they can dominate, but by doing so, they’re not developing your child and at the end of the day, it’s the kids themselves who are most harmed by this unethical way of running a youth soccer club.

Winning matters… But development matters more!
For me and for other coaches that think the same way I do, “winning†or more specific a “winning mentality†means soccer players who are very determined to give 100 percent at “Improving everything they do”. Inspire our youth soccer player to be hungry and motivated to improve without rest at whatever they do, and the hunger to win games will also develop in time. Too often, however, we start on the wrong end.

Win at all costs is a poisonous idea that permeates through all aspects of youth sports (not only soccer) and is one of the major factors that sees kids dropping out at an alarming rate. The “win at all costs†is the most damaging aspect of youth development. Do kids want to win games? Yes, but how long do they dwell on losses as compared to mom and dad?

By the age of 13, around 55% of kids involved in organized youth soccer drop out. It’s a fact, and in all this debate, adults are the ones throwing around what kids want. It’s fascinating when a 40 year old is explaining what their 10 year old son or daughter wants. Lucky for us, however, someone much smarter than myself decided to do a study where they simply asked kids what exactly they wanted from soccer.

It’s become a taboo word, not just in soccer but in all youth sports. Most recently the debate has become an issue of coaches choosing winning or development, as if they are mutually exclusive. Coaches who develop players the right way don’t have to choose either or because winning and development go hand in hand, but first you will have to understand what “winning†truly means.

The idea we face today that winning doesn’t matter, only development, stems from the extreme “win at all costs†mentality that many involved with any youth sport promote. Because of that extreme, the polar opposite has arisen where we tell our players that winning doesn’t matter, and here is our ultimate issue.

Winning matters… But development matters more! Let’s understand that. They both matter. There’s a score at the end of the game, there is generally a “winning†soccer team and a “losing†soccer team in games. There’s a reason, however, that there are quotations around both those words. What does winning mean after all? Does winning mean having the better score in a U10 league game? Does winning mean a team that goes unbeaten in Division 1 in their U11 group?

To some, yes. For me, “winning†or more specific a “winning mentality†means players who are hungry and determined to give 100% at improving everything they do. Inspire our youth to be hungry and motivated to improve constantly at whatever they do, and soon the hunger to win games will also develop. Too often, however, we start on the wrong end.

Winning at all costs! It’s a poisonous idea that permeates through all aspects of youth sports and not just soccer, it is one of the major factors that sees kids dropping out of organized sport at an alarming rate. Read again, the “win at all costs†adultification of youth sports is the most damaging aspect of youth development. Do kids want to win games? Yes, but how long do they dwell on losses as compared to mom and dad? This is more of a problem for the high level academy and development teams because of the expectations and pressure from clubs, coaches, and parents.

Once again here I bring in the Aspen Institute reports on a study conducted five years ago by George Washington University where kids were asked why they participate in sports (and not only soccer). Over 90% of children responded that they participated in sports because it was fun, that’s right… FUN!!. Fun, however, means a lot of things for a lot of people. The children were asked to describe what fun meant for them, and we ranked them in order of most important as a response.

Guess where “winning†ends up? Just “48th” on the list. Winning was ranked by children as the 48th most important reason to describe fun. Enjoy the important results!

During the winter pre-season of 2017 I was very unsatisfied with where my son was playing youth soccer, thus mainly because he wasn’t happy there. Shortly after joining the club we found a very unusual hostile environment, this wasn’t helping develop my child mentally and he wasn’t having any fun on the field. During the 4 months that we where at that club the team changed 5 coaches (maybe 6, I’ve lost count). He wasn’t winning, the opposite, they were getting hammered and during practice he was receiving zero development. Sitting on the sideline and watching mistake after mistake on behalf of the coaches then eventually got to me. My son at the tender age of 7 was ready to tell me he wanted to drop out of soccer.

So, I sat down at my computer and did my homework, I took a look at the surrounding clubs and did a “snoop” on some of the coaches backgrounds. The club that had the most qualified set of coaches was a place called Deltona Youth Soccer Club. I was impressed when it came down to the coaches playing careers, the coaching licenses and international soccer coaching diplomas. After talking with the Director of Soccer Operations I registered my son at the club.

Registration was a third of the price of the many franchising’s and no fancy uniforms to buy at a crazy high price all very simple and convenient… Later I discoverd that the low fees and cheap uniforms are to be easy on families pockets and to bring in the talented kids.

First of all I was very impressed by the surroundings, I mean this club has the best fields in Central Florida, 10 full size fast draining soccer fields in perfect shape and all lit up.

Soccer Complex

The most important factor of the club is the development program, they’re taking the U9, U10 and U11 age groups very seriously, the plan is when these teams reach the U14 bracket they’ll be fully developed and very advanced for their age and in order to make that happen they’ve selected among the most qualified coaches to follow each team. Coaches have to meet the standards of qualifications required by the club, by 2020 all coaches must have a USSF C license and it is all paid by the youth soccer club.

The culture of the club is to have the development teams confront themselves with pre-ECNL and NPL teams in order to understand at what point the actual development process is at. The coaches are very technical and every training session is progressively more and more deep into details, concentration plays a huge role. It sounds very serious and it is, but the kids are having a lot of fun at the same time!

But, do they win? Well, two seasons ago in Division III they won every game they played all but one and scored more than 5 goals per game. So instead of keeping my son’s team in the same division to dominate once again, they moved them up to Division II, the outcome was again very good 4 wins, 4 draws and 2 losses. The coaches and directors hope to see this improve and at a steady pace and then move the team up to the next division. There is no hurry, everything has to be in place, every child needs to get there before the team can move.

The philosophy is pretty standard if we were in Europe. No tournament after tournament and coaches that demand win after win, no showing off!

In the end, as the children grow older and face the real world, translating lessons learned on the field into useful life experience for handling both life’s successes and failures is the most valuable training of all.


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