Reading the comments and blogs/articles that have sprung up around the topic of no standings/trophies for U12 & below in the last couple of weeks has left me both laughing out loud and shaking my head at how far off-base many people’s interpretations of this initiative are. At the same time they are clearly demonstrating the need for it.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and I believe that is the reason driving this particular initiative. Too many adults (parents & coaches alike) have put too much pressure on the kids and each other to win at all costs. Listen to the voices, watch the play, look at the kids. If you are around enough different environments in differing regions, you should start to notice it: screaming parents and coaches, stressed-out risk-averse kids, coaches shortening the bench to get a result, minimal touches on the ball as kids are shouted at to “KICK IT OUT!”, and it sadly goes on and on and on.
The biggest misstep in this initiative for me, was even announcing “no scores” to the world. It has become a red herring that most people can’t seem to look past. THE KIDS KNOW THE SCORE. The kids know the score in training. They know the score in games. They know who “won” or “lost”. I put those in quotations as quite often in younger ages, the scoreline is the least revealing metric of actual success in a game environment.
Here’s some stats (before the battery dies in the last 5 mins) from a game our U11’s played in Washington State last year, ironically against opponents who wore Barcelona kit. Scoreline : 6-1. Winner’s stats: 43 purposeful connected passes, 4 pass strings of 4 purposeful connected passes or more, 11:30 time of possession, 21% pass completion rate. Loser’s stats: 161 purposeful connected passes, 9 pass strings of 4 purposeful connected passes or more, 23:06 time of possession, 51% pass completion rate. This is for a 60 min game of 10 year old soccer. One where a particular young player on the other team received about 6 mins of playing time. I know which team actually “won” and which team “lost”, and the scoreline tells us nothing about it.
What does that game reference speak to? Well, the thing I haven’t mentioned is that the touchline of that group and others we faced was literally jumping with overzealous adults chasing the result. The coaches and parents were screaming and yelling the entire time “KICK IT OUT” “GET RID OF IT” “GET IT FORWARD” “DON’T PASS IN THE MIDDLE” (my personal favourite). All in the name of chasing after a $5 trophy, and in the process no child on that team learned ANYTHING about winning and losing that day. In fact, no child on that team learned about playing proper developmental football that day either. But the parents on the other touchline didn’t know and certainly didn’t seem to care. All that mattered was that their little Johnny got a picture with the trophy and their team got a glowing write up in some local newspaper. Results over learning.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. I believe that’s been the biggest driver of the “no standings/no trophies” for U12 and below. WE, collectively, are an extremely naive footy culture. We lack the understanding and sophistication of just about every other country that plays the game. The only thing the majority of adults understand is the score. We think if our child’s team “won” on any given weekend, then it was job done. Despite the fact that many times there were minimal touches on the ball for the young players, kids were constantly instructed to get rid of the ball near their goal, the fast kid played up front again and got on to the end of all the thoughtless long kicks up the field, the keeper just punted the ball as hard as they could every single time from his/her hands up the field, the team “won” 5-0, everyone cheered and the coach feels like a genius. This happens all over our footy landscape, complete with overzealous frothing adults baying for a win.
AC Milan’s model [click to enlarge]
But what does one of the world’s greatest club’s know?
“Results of the team are not important.”
In reaction to this, the CSA’s Long Term Player Development model is attempting to remove the shiny things attracting all the adult attention. Moths to a light. Obviously harder than it looks judging by the comments we have seen recently, but look what happened to Belgium when they decided to take Player Development seriously.
Of course kid’s know the score, and should always be giving their best efforts in any environment, and if winning is a by-product of hard work and thoughtful play that is a good thing. Our collective naivety doesn’t allow us to understand this though, hence the reaction to remove standings/rewards for U12 and below. IF we were a more sophisticated footy nation we would not have to go to these measures, but we are not that nation.
Kid’s learn about winning and losing every time they fall off their bike, swing a bat at a ball and miss, and every time they get the wrong answer on a math quiz.
Soccer has much more far-reaching goals and challenges to address than teaching young kids about winning or losing. Brendan Quarry writes about the special nature of learning around soccer and he is correct, it’s a unique game. THE KID’S KNOW THE SCORE! Soccer loses up to 70% of it’s participants by the age of 13, many stating one of the biggest reasons being overzealous adults. We have a childhood obesity epidemic in Canada, one that could possibly be mitigated by keeping more kids active and engaged in sport. Soccer, and sport in general, offers many youth connections to their communities that they may not get elsewhere. Sadly for many youth, their sports teams are a respite from their home life. Our goal needs to be to keep as many kids playing the game as long as possible, removing the adult shiny things to hopefully to reduce the pressure of performance and put the focus back on learning. Learning the requisite technical skills to PLAY the game, before we focus on the RESULT. We suck at retaining youth players AND developing the elite player. We, as a nation, are 110 in FIFA’s men’s world rankings and are mired in irrelevance internationally. We suck. The women’s game is an entirely different situation and one I won’t go into here.
Too many soccer environments I describe as over-pressurized balloons, simply straining to not explode. The look on the faces of the kids is one of fear and compliance. Risk-aversion becomes the survival tactic of the kids, as the frothing adults need results to brag about to their co-workers and peers. We need to change the environment, take some of the pressure out of the balloon, to allow more coaches to feel at ease teaching the game and not being judged by results. [Want to know how to do that? Read here.] This allows a coach to let his players play out of the back and maximize touches for learning opportunities without fear of a goal being scored through an error and the parents jumping down their throat. This allows the coach to feel more comfortable playing kids in different positions, not shorten the bench, and allow more decisions to be made by the players. Learning over results.
Finally, I would like to address some of the common responses I’ve seen whenever an article on this topic has been posted.
– “But they don’t do this in [insert proper football nation here]. If it’s good for [insert proper football nation here], then it should be good for us” We are not [insert proper football nation here] and we are so far away from [insert proper football nation here] in our cultural attachment and delivery of the sport, we can’t even see [insert proper football nation here] if we had the Hubble telescope to look through. Taking snippets of information out of a much larger context has little to no value.
– “Hockey has standings/trophies in these ages and we do a good job producing players” I’m sorry to say this Canada, but hockey is a FRINGE sport. There are maybe 8 countries in the world who care about the sport, and maybe 3 who would say it’s their #1 sport. Canada throws just over 30% of the world’s registrations at hockey as well. Football is a GLOBAL sport. The sooner we leave hockey references at the door in this discussion, the better.
– “When everyone wins, we are coddling/pussifying our kids” For the last time, THE KIDS KNOW THE SCORE! This is NOT about the kids, this is about the frothing, overzealous adults who can’t teach the game and only know the measurement of success as a win, loss or trophy.
The fact is many programs sell themselves to potential clients based on results, as our naive client base has no other way of discerning a good program from a poor one. The less we can focus on the results at young ages, hopefully the more we can start to focus on teaching and valuing the fundamental skill sets required to play the game, all while keeping more kids in the sport for longer. The Play Better program has worked extremely hard to introduce rewards for meeting other technical goals as a measurement of success in games, placing the focus on skills and learning and less on the scoreline. There’s nothing wrong with winning. It is simply the context in which it happens that we struggle so profoundly with in this country.
Now, if we could only eliminate participation medals/trophies too….but that’s a blog for another day!
Find Darren on twitter where he spends lots of time discussing these very topics at length. @Russcher
Go. Play Better.
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