Oldham Soccer Club

Player Development

November 2013

Winning at all Costs vs Player Development – A Clash of Philosophies

 

I often get asked the question ‘What is the vision of Oldham Soccer Club?’ For me it is a fairly easy one to answer, but a harder one to explain. One of the most challenging roles as a Director of Coaching is to try and convince players, and more so parents of players, that the long term development of a youth soccer player outweighs the importance of the score on the scoreboard at young ages (16 and below). Here in Oldham County we have a proud tradition of developing very talented soccer players through exceptional technical coaching. Do we care about winning? Of course we do, we wouldn’t be coaches if we didn’t! However, it is important for coaches, and parents, to also realize that soccer development is a long term process and that winning at the expense of player development is an absolute NO. Results at a young age are not necessarily an indication of progression. There are many coaches of young teams out there who preach, and probably believe, themselves to be good coaches because they are winning games now. This is not necessarily the case. 

Winning at the expense of development is an absolute NO

The important thing to remember is that like school, soccer development takes YEARS. It is not an overnight process. A student will see many years in school, will see many teachers and will study many subjects to the point where one day he/she will be ready for the next chapter in their education. Coaching soccer is the same way. As a coach you have to give skill the time to develop. Unfortunately in today’s society many parents are impatient with the process and concentrate solely on short term results. This is probably due to the culture of professional sports (something that nearly all of us follow) where the paying customer (spectator) wants instant results. If a coach gets hired at Real Madrid he better make sure that they win quickly and bring in trophies – even then he probably isn’t safe! Youth soccer is different. If you look deeper at the professional model, for example a youth academy in England, those youth coaches/managers are judged depending on how many players they bring through the ranks and eventually into the first team. Winning in professional youth academies is completely irrelevant! 

The important thing to remember is that like school, soccer development takes YEARS. It is not an overnight process.

Like I mentioned earlier, we would not be good soccer coaches if we weren’t competitive. Unfortunately the win/loss record is the easiest way for many people to determine whether progress is being made, particularly for those who may not have been exposed to soccer before. But, what is more important than a win/loss record is that we as a club promote the WILL TO COMPETE! Vince Lombardi once said “Winning is not everything, but making the effort to win is”. At Oldham Soccer Club we want to promote that our players compete, whether that be on their own, at training with their teammates or out on the field against opposition. 

What is more important than a win/loss record is that we as a club promote the WILL TO COMPETE!

The way I insist that all our teams play is exciting, attacking, possession-orientated soccer with teams playing (passing) out of the back. We want our goalkeepers to roll the ball out whenever possible and our defenders to pass out of the back as opposed to kicking the ball as far away from our own goal as possible. This is a high-risk way of playing soccer. We will inevitably give up goals throughout the season by ‘overplaying’ in our own defensive third. This is OK! It’s OK because in the long term it is encouraging technical quality and retaining possession. In the long term these players will be technically more efficient than the kids on the teams that (we’ve all seen it) punt the ball long to the super-athletic forward who runs onto the ball. The fact that the rest of the team didn’t touch the ball is irrelevant! I also encourage our coaches to allow the players to problem solve on their own at times. We’ve all seen the stressed out coach on the sideline joysticking players around like he is playing on the PlayStation! We have to allow young players the freedom to make mistakes in order to grow as soccer players.

The way I insist that all our teams play is exciting, attacking, possession-orientated soccer with teams playing (passing) out of the back

Our ’00 (U14) Boys Thoroughbreds team is a wonderful example of development. It was clear that this team always had great potential. However, by U12 the boys were finishing mid-lower end of the KSSL table and had been knocked out of the Final 8 in the Eurosport Cup. The message that I continued to send was that we were clearly a very technically efficient team (that had been our focus from the time they started playing soccer) and to hang on in there as it is a PROCESS. The other teams had some athletes, lacked our skill, but we were still losing to them. By the Spring of U13 (11v11) our team had won the KSSL Premier Division, had gotten to the final of the U13 State Cup (lost to Kings Soccer Academy) and had been accepted into the MRL Division, where they are currently playing against some of the best teams in the region. The team is still developing and Coach Luis is doing a tremendous job with them.

When do results become the priority? Well that depends on who you are talking to! What I am certain of though is that the development model allows for a young player to nurture his/her skill so that they can continue to play and compete at soccer for life, rather than vying for results at any cost now – and neglecting the future.   

Simon Bird
Director of Coaching, Oldham Soccer Club
thoroughbredsdoc@yahoo.com