There is a lot of talk these days about the nature of youth sport and the intent of it. Even though the majority of coaches will tell you they are focused on development, many will focus on winning, sometimes at any cost. Sadly, that cost may be higher than at first thought. If you’ve ever been to a kid’s soccer tournament you’ll have maybe seen the 12-year-old fly like Superman after someone runs near him. An Olympic dive, followed by hitting the deck and rolling around clutching his ankle until he realises he isn’t getting a free kick, and he sprints off like Usain Bolt. It’s sad. It happens. It’s a disgrace, and so are the coaches who teach it, allow it, and fail to punish it.
However, this is not to say that winning isn’t important, it is just not important at any cost. Especially the cost of development.
Johan Cruyff is said to have told a story about a young player he had been told was the best. He looked in the different youth teams and couldn’t find him, eventually finding him in the 3rd youth team. In a discussion with the coaches Cruyff said “Put him in the first team. He will grow. Everybody grows.”
“Yes, but we will lose.” Replied the coaches.
“If we lose, we lose. We need to create players.” Was Cruyff’s response.
Development must come before winning. It has to or the players won’t develop as they get older. However, winning is important, in fact, in a long-term plan it is the most important aspect, which is why the right foundations need to be laid, and why sometimes a few battles need to be lost in order to win the wars.
Here are the three takeaways for today:
1 – Youth coaches are leaving a legacy. They leave behind ripples in the lives of others. If you throw a rock into a lake it creates ripples a long time after the rock is disappeared and at the bottom of the lake. We all leave ripples.
2 – Everyone wants to win. However, losing is important too. Losing gives us a chance to grow, develop, and see where we need to improve. For kids this is important. Too much winning and they won’t know what it’s like to lose. We’ve all seen the bratty kid who sulks because he’s losing or decisions are going against him. Losing gives us an opportunity to correct those behaviours.
3 – It is important to have players playing at competitive levels. Too much losing and they lose hope, too much winning and they lose interest and become complacent. People like to be challenged. They like to feel success was worked for, and hard work pays off.
Cruyff changed the world of soccer. He was prepared to take some losses along the way with the end goal of development. Without Cruyff changing the mentality at Barcelona and making the coaches give a young player by the name of Pep Guardiola a chance, would they have Lionel Messi today? Had they failed to develop Guardiola simply because of his size, what would the cost have been to Barcelona? Messi is a legend, arguably the best player ever. Had Guardiola not been through the experience of being a smaller player, Messi could so easily have been overlooked. Not only could on the field success have been impacted, but the global brand and millions of dollars in sponsorship, advertising, and any other number of income sources. One man, prepared to take risks in the name of development changed the world of soccer.
You can read Part Two of this trilogy here.
And Part Three here.
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