Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

How to win when you’ve lost

David ClarkeGoing into our game last weekend, my Under-11s were playing on the back of a seven-match winning streak. That run has been built on a good passing game and the idea that every single player is involved as the ball is moved up the pitch. In the match, we were up against a physically big side… not that my players were put off by that challenge.

And it was the best game of passing football I had ever seen us play, even if our winning sequence came to an abrupt and unexpected end.

Essentially, all our training, practice and repetition of movement has started to pay off. Yet we lost 4-0. But who cares? Some of the one-twos and link-up play were mouth-watering… I counted five back-heels that beat a player and put one of my players into a great position to create a goal.

And yes, we created a lot of chances, but the opposition were very strong at the back and the goalkeeper showed excellent awareness coming off his line to sweep up any through-balls. The opposition themselves played some great football and the match was an excellent advertisement for grass roots soccer.

We gave away a goal on the stroke of half-time, but that didn’t change my team-talk at the interval. I told them they were playing superbly. Sure, they were more concerned about leaking a goal, but even they admitted that the manner of the performance had been very encouraging.

The second period followed much the same pattern – both teams created chances. They took theirs, but we didn’t. That is sometimes how it goes in a match. I was buzzing afterwards because we had performed so well, and so much of what I had coached them had come through.

Sometimes that’s enough in soccer, because while things didn’t come off on Saturday, I know that if the players continue to play like that, they’ll win many more than they lose. And that’s the point – if they go out thinking they have a chance of winning, we have won together as a team – coach and players learning from each other.

The result should never be the main thing. It’s much more important that your team plays to the best of its ability – remind them that for as long as they do that they’re developing and growing, and you’ll find they’ll keep responding, no matter what the scoreline is.


10 Comments so far
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You say “the result should never be the main thing” but at some point it should be, no? Our focus on developing and growing will ultimately lead to a bunch of 30 year old players who will only be able to say “well, we didn’t win many games when I was a kid, but I did develop and grow as a soccer player”. At some time, isn’t the point of playing games to actually win the game???

Comment by Coach Eric

The result should not be the main thing in coaching kids football, the most important element is providing the boys and girls with the techniques, skills and know-how to become good footballers plus to ability to work together as a team. Call it groundwork if you will, but once this ground work is in place, the results will come naturally. Just teaching them to win might be effective in younger teams, and probably please parents, but will not help the players when they get older, especially when they start playing against technically better footballers.

I started coaching an under 9’s team years ago, and we used to get beaten by a hatful each week, but we kept working on passing, moving, getting heads up etc etc, and now 3 years later the team winning more games and now being competitive against stronger teams.

In a couple more years I fully expect all the boys to be good footballers, able to play in different positions, and even if they don’t stay with me, they will be assets to whatever team they go to.

Comment by Richard

I would rather be a 30-year old player and say “well, we didn’t win many games when I was a kid, but I did develop and grow as a soccer player” than “well, we won a ton of games when I was a kid, but I did not play much, did not have fun, quit the sport when I turned 16, don’t play it now, and never grew much as a soccer player”.

Comment by jamserra

Why does it have to be one or the other? I’d rather say “I frequently won my league and challenged for a few tournament championships. Granted, I didn’t score a lot of goals because I primarily played sweeper, but that’s okay. Did I become the most well-rounded player I could? Of course not, but I had a ton of fun, won a lot of games and remain enthusiastic and passionate about the sport and continue to play in the Sunday pub leagues with my friends”.

Comment by Coach Beiter

Agree 100% Coach Beiter. I was responding to Coach Eric who seems to think winning should be a higher priority than developing as a player.

Comment by jamserra

Am sure it is about winning as winning creates a great mentality and shows the team is putting in consistent effort. However losing can be a positive experience for some players to learn and lift motivation to do your best the next time. It also enables the coach to point out where players need to develop and usually this is getting them to pass more and keep possession of the ball. If players learn and develop in this way they will be all round better players and less selfish with the ball and they will look for the killer pass.

Comment by george davis

I always tell my under 9’s team that ‘winning isn’t everything, it is the wanting to win that is’.

Comment by CC

Totally agree with your philosophy. A winning mentality is always important but how they play at this age should be the most important. We won our division last year and I decided this year I wanted to improve the quality of football. A team ethic with everyone involved, controlled possession, below head height, wall passes, overlaps, and seeing a goal scored starting from our goalkeeper rolling the ball out and several passes later a goal. We drew against the team top of our division a few weeks ago and totally outplayed them. My boys were buzzing at half time and one boy said ‘best game ever’
with the score at 1-1. Winning at all costs is not how we want our children to act in later life, and seeing them achieve results by playing entertaining football where they have all contributed is far more rewarding irrespective of the result.
We have won games without playing well yet drawn/lost playing really good football. Although the boys like to win they also like the fact there is no pressure to win. They can enjoy their football without feeling they have to win to succeed.
Success is measured by the boys/girls smiling faces
Keep up the good work and enjoy your newsletters

Comment by Colin Baldwin

I partially agree with your statement Eric. But I have always been a strong “its not the score its how you play” guy. I have three teams 9’s, 10’s, and a highschool team. My little ones play in a highly competitive league. Kids know the big games. Last weekend all 3 of my teams played in a championship game. 2 lost but played great. Not a dry eye on either bench. They compete on their own, but they know what my expectations are. But I would say if you wanted to coach winning. Between 11-13 in my mind would be ok. Hope that helps.

Comment by Matt

Agree with you, David. When winning’s the by-product of aiming for excellence, you generally get both. When winning’s the main thing for young kids, and excellence is secondary, you get less winning as time goes on. I’ve seen far too many youth championship sides that end up being pretty ordinary by the time everyone else grows up.

Comment by john

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