Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Winning at all costs

It’s a strange feeling watching my youngest son play for another coach. He’s played in my teams since the under 4s ran outdavidclarke1.gif in their bright yellow Nike kit in 1999, won their first game and never looked back. A lot of the values at Better Soccer Coaching come from watching young players develop and the joy they experience with a ball at their feet.

This Saturday one of my son’s friends had asked him to play for their team in a “friendly” match against another local village team. Straight from kick off our team were attacking the goal and my son got the ball just outside the penalty area beat a player and shot into the goalkeeper’s arms. I was about to shout well played to my son but our coach got there before me. “What did you shoot for?” he bellowed, “Mark was open!” And down the line he marched gesticulating and muttering.

In the second half again my son won the ball in midfield beat a couple of players and was surging towards their goal. Our coach was nearly apoplectic with rage. “Keep it simple” and then “You’re not bloody Ronaldo!” The big number 5 at the back put a stop to my son’s charge and he lost the ball. “Pass, pass, you should have passed!”

One of the other coaches standing next to me expressed his surprise at this shouting. “Why did he shout at your son, who did he have to pass to? He should be shouting at the support players who were just watching instead of running outside him to allow him to pass.”

I guess this is one of the problems of the win-at-all-costs mentality. In general creative players are discouraged in a lot of matches. What you see is plenty of crunching tackles, brave headers and long punts upfield. What the coach wanted my son to do was blast the ball down the pitch and charge after it.

What would happen if the authorities changed the emphasis and we did away with cups, medals and prizes for winning teams? There must be something we could do instead? Better Soccer Coaching wants to see players develop, but when I write about developing players in Better Soccer Coaching a lot of coaches say to me: “ah yes developing players, the excuse for losing.”

But I like developing players. It gives me great pleasure to see, over the seasons, how different players develop, and not just the ones with a big kick and a sliding tackle. This is what Better Soccer Coaching is all about.

Are flair players the future? I think so…


9 Comments so far
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You seem to have missed the point, you are preaching to the converted. Coaches like that usually don’t look to these valuable resources, and if the do, they are quick to dismiss the input. In the long run, it is our kids that will playing long after his have moved on to other sports. These guys just don’t understand, the vast majority will never be more than high caliber recreation at best, and if they are good enough to make it to the professional ranks, they will be recruited off his team in due course. Stick to your principles, there are a lot of us out here supporting you.

Comment by Ted Lorenz

I fully support the sentiments in this article. A coiach should be focussed on developing the players in his team and less concerned about winning. One is not solely exclusive of the other but it often is. So often we see in yyouth socer the more more mature player that is prepared to make a cruncjing tackle and kick the ball 30 yards up field favored to the exclusion of other more skillful players. The problem is too many coaches living out their competitive ambitions via the players in theri CARE. I suggest that they get the competitive outlet by taking up five-a-side football and focus on encoraging and DEVELOPING all the players in their charge.

Comment by Mark Edwards

Here in Wales all mini-football (up to and including U-11s) is ‘non-competitive’. That is to say no leagues and no cups to be won – all games are friendlies. Of course, every game of football is competitive, this competitiveness comes from within the players themselves, but because no team looks at a league table to see themselves 20 points adrift at the bottom with a -70 goal difference after a dozen games then the children don’t get as despondent, they simply look forward to the next game. Of course there are still ‘win at all cost’ coaches (you’ll never get rid of those who’re living their dreams through their children), but the pressure of winning and losing points and cups does not come to bear on the children.

At our club we still reward players, though. Every year we have an award ceremony where each player gets a trophy – their ‘players award’. Each age group has a ‘player of the year’, and each also has a ‘most improved’. This way everyone gets something, the better players compete for an award and the most improved can be won by anyone as each player is assessed in his/her progress throughout the season compared ONLY to where they were at the beginning of that season.

Further to that, our age group (U-10s) have a ‘player of the match’ trophy which is awarded after each match – usually selected by the opposing coach, and after each game each member of our squad votes for who will be captain the following week. This way everyone has an input, and the award of the captains arm band is valued as it has been given by their team mates.

Comment by dave archer

Thanks for getting in touch. Couldn’t agree more and really like the 5-a-side idea. There’s a line that some coaches cross where it becomes more about them and less about the individual players.


Comment by soccercoachblog

Thanks for getting in touch. What you describe is certainly how I like to do things too. I just wish every football playing jurisdiction was as enlightened as yours. All the best to you and your team.

Comment by soccercoachblog

If we are not careful football will change into a non contact, non competetive game. There is nothing wrong with having a competetive edge and nothing wrong with having a desire to suceed. Whats the point in developing a good technique and develop players if they have nothing to aim for?? What age is correct for competing if they havent been developed to do such a thing.
If we bring kids up just to enjoy and not bothered if they win or not what kind of mentality and end product are we hoping to achieve??
If i went to watch Birmingham City or England play in ten years time and proper tackling and competetiveness have gone out of the game then i’ll switch to rugby because they seem to be able to tackle and compete properly without everybody trying to change it.
Its a physical and passionate game, anyone over the age 20 has been bought up with school sports days with winners and losers yet this next generation are being wrapped up and protected in everything they do.
Football will turn into “tig” or “tag” (depending on where your from) with handshakes instead of goals if were not careful!!

Comment by swift1

I agree with swift1. We should emphasize wining less at younger ages and start emphasizing it as the players go to higher levels and by the time they are 15 or 16 winning, along with good sportsmanship, should be and must be a major reason for playing. At younger ages winning should not be the only goal but it should always be understood that winning is important but the level of importance goes up as the age level goes up.

Comment by Robert

I don’t know about Europe, but in America we have coaches that coach with only their reputation in mind and forget about the players development. Don’t get me wrong I am a highly competetive coach that would love to win everything, even a scrimmage but in the end, who does winning benefit? I think coaches should look after the well being of their players and should only focus on playing a good game of soccer, not matter what the outcome. I also play and when I do, I am only disappointed when I know that I didnt connect my passes or didnt see the openings for my shots. Coaches, let your kids enjoy the game.

Comment by Johnny

Swift1 couldn’t agree more. Leagues, etc, are great. Winning is great, unless you’re not the winners. That’s the whole point, otherwise it’s just gymnastics with a ball. Football is in danger of becoming like a reality TV show, where only those who want to showboat get appreciated, while other talents – like an ability to win or work hard for the team – are shunted to the sidelines because they’re seen as vulgar.

Comment by Allan Tracey

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