Thursday, February 21, 2013

Play to win or to have fun

As a coach this has been very difficult for me. I coach two youth teams U14 and U16 Boys.  They play in a league and recently they played in the Northeast Regional Futsal tournament.

We all try to teach the kids that we all play for fun, but is it really for fun?  When there is a trophy for the best team and when we have playoffs and semi finals and final games then how can we tell the kids to just play for fun?

At the regional tournament we played against teams from NH, NY and MA.  The games were very heated and very exciting. We lost the final game and till today ( after 30 days ) the players of the team are still upset!  Is this fun???

What is the job of the coach to teach the player go there and have fun or go there to win or….


  1. My style is to try to focus the kids on doing their best, and to try to make the practices fun - even the drills. Then the outcome is what it is, but if they tried hard and did their best, they can be satisfied (if not happy) even with a loss. I think this helps players who are prone to psych themselves out under the pressure of _trying_ to win. They should always be just going out and doing their thing.

    It also lets me put the same expectations on all players, despite differences in skill/speed. The more gifted ones don't get to coast on their (current) relatively superior performance, they get pushed to work hard and improve also.

    1. I have the discussion on LinkedIn also and Mike Pireddu from Italy ( Futsal coach ) says :

      As a coach, your goal is to teach your players the game: with the game I mean the tecnique specially, and from the age of 12-13 start also with the tactic approach.
      Respect of themselves and for the opponent is also mandatory.
      Winning doesn't mean anything if it comes from a lucky play or from only an individual act. If winning comes from an application of what you teached them.. this is a real win.

      And about the fun.. is really more fun for the kids to learn and play as a team, and see they become stronger every day instead of "only" winning games (normally if this is the approach only few player are involved in the game).

      So if you have to choose, I will say have fun, and having it you will also win ;)

  2. Another view from Luis Arreola on LinkedIn

    All we have to do is look at Academies to get this answer as far as majority goes. Most "serious" top clubs look to mirror that model in hopes of one day achieving "Academy" status. It's win, win, win and most times at the player's development expense. Most Parents buy into winning, a "structured" environment, rankings, etc. before they do development. They think they go hand in hand. We should be seeing the very best local players being developed in these Academies since they are U8 & team rankings should not be in their vocabulary at U9-U14. I see the complete opposite. I see the best players coming out of small clubs at U10-U15. Why is this? If Top clubs aren't developing these players is it really a good idea to promote them as the next level of play? I side tracked a little but if this is the model we must look up to then how do we ever truly focus on development, in general? If we really want to develop first we : 1. Limit our rosters for Max play time (3 subs). 2. We play league games as if they were organized scrimmages, if you do this you limit the stress of winning and therefore your players will want to play more soccer on the weekends ( more scrimmages or pickup ). 3. We always play our best 2-4 players up an age or 2 to further challenge them. 4. We encourage dribbling, skill, creativity over defense. 5. We dont waste training time teaching set plays until U14. 6. We rank clubs on player's individual achievements and not team wins. 7. We train 4-5 times a week. 8. Play more than 1 game a weekend, depending on the age group. U8-U11- as much as possible, U12-U14- 1-2 a weekend with a few pickup games, U15 and up 1 "Full" game a weekend. It amazes me that we teach are kids to sub in and out of a soccer game like it was hockey when FIFA rules only permit 3 subs per game total. Why? $$$. We roster 12-14 kids at U8-U10. Why?? $$. We win to get ranked. WHy? $$. We scholarship top players to win and not develop. Why? To win and to make people think you developed them. Why? $$.

  3. I really like Luis's view. Completely different but I believe to some level its true. At some level the $$ ha more weight than youth having fun and development; for youth !

  4. Yah, Luis explains the bigger system issues that your question is embedded in very well.

    But "development" focus does not always yield "fun" either. I was assistant coach for the top girls' team in town for several years, then was head coach of a mid-level team for several more. The athletic ability of the top players allowed them to master foot skills and complex drills quickly, to their enjoyment. The mid-level players could not do nearly as well, so the same exercises brought them frustration and disappointment - not fun.

    If I focused only on rewarding "dribbling, skill, creativity", that would work very well for the best players, but it would yield meager results for the less physically gifted. Instead, I also challenged them, and rewarded, other qualities, like position awareness as plays developed, tenacity, and cooperation. These could be developed in any player, even ones that are less athletic, and they could feel good about mastering them.