Everybody loves winning. If you don’t, you my friend, are lying to yourself. It’s okay. You don’t even need to hide it. Come right out and admit it.
I love to win. It’s the best.
Personally, I am extremely happy when my teams win. Our players walk off happy and our fans [read: parents] mostly leave me alone, content that I am doing my job correctly. A win is the obvious proof.
Winning man, it’s the good stuff. Exactly what the professional sport is built on. Winning matters a the highest levels and that is what we watch. Ask any pro manager and they will tell you that winning is their most important objective.
How do you develop it? Can you develop it?
Today’s society has an irritating habit of making things polarizing. If you don’t believe in black then it must be white. Arguments persist on media platforms fueled by the extremists of every single “debate”. Winning vs Development is one that continues to rear itself, with parties banging on about their point incessantly. Winning is development. Development doesn’t need to include winning. If you care about one you are the enemy to the other group. Round and round until they convince themselves they’ve won the day. Winning 😉
But is winning really separate from development? Is it something that can be developed in a player or is it born? Is it even to do with a player or merely a culture of the club and the people in it gathered towards a common goal? When you really dig down, understanding winning can be quite challenging and for some it has been a subject they have studied for years without an exact answer.
For what it’s worth I believe winning is not in your control. While important, as a player or coach you cannot guarantee a result. This is why it is incredibly important to focus on developing a process that includes training, developing and bringing out a winning mentality in your players. You can enhance a winning mentality. You cannot simply deliver winning. The first supports the latter.
So what is a winning mentality and how does a coach or club go about developing it?
What made teams like France and Spain for many years struggle to conquer the world and then suddenly be unstoppable?
Why do American youth teams never surrender, no matter the score?
How do certain teams always surrender the late minute goals?
Why do some players have a feeling around them that they will not be stopped where others fall apart?
And at what point does any of this matter in developing a player that can play at the highest levels?
These are questions that obsess the most highly paid coaches and managers on the planet. How can they get the most out of each player. This is the mentality I believe you need to be a top coach. What is it you can do to support getting the absolute most from each player and person in your club. I think you can support a player, and thus a team, develop a stronger compete level. Building the right culture on your team can demand more desire to win. Used properly this mentality can be harnessed to support your players develop into much better players, technically, tactically and psychologically. Somewhat conversely, I’m not convinced it has anything to do with positive results during the weekend match. And depending on maturity [read: also age] of your players, how pressurized your environment can often be the decider on whether they are learning or simply managing the stress. Managing this is considered the art of coaching…
Developing a winning mentality starts very early. In truth I think it starts with a dream and adults nurturing that vision along. From an early age many kids want to become professional sports stars. Often it is for very obvious reasons like fame and those athletes being revered. But that is where it starts. The posters on bedroom walls and the thought they could be those very same stars one day. As a coach and parent it should be part of our job to support those dreams and help turn them into something concrete. Those dreams need actions. What can we help young kids see about the journey towards being a professional? Did these athletes win their whole lives? Did they play outside a lot? Was it work? How did it look? There are an incredible amount of amazing stories to lean on and many of them have common threads you pick out.
A young player’s version of the work needed to become a top player might be simply going outside with the ball and playing all the time. The spirit of winning in the school yard will come and go, and on some of those days our participant will literally pick up their ball and go home crying. You can learn a lot playing in the street.
As they mature they might introduce timed and focused practice sessions. Juggling. Patterns. Shots. A winner doesn’t go home until they finish their work. A winner goes outside in all conditions. A winner learns that maybe somebody is getting ahead of them if they miss a day. No scoreboards needed because that’s a winning mentality. Sometimes that is inside a player already. Deeply motivated and understood. Other times that can be pushed and cajoled out of players with careful and planned inspiration. Much like a very good teacher will help fuel a fire believing that each child has something to offer to the world. They aren’t all born like Messi. Coaches are here to inspire learning.
A winning mentality creates winning teams. A winning mentality doesn’t show up as the most vocal player or the angriest after a loss. It shows up in many different ways and like players who are easily spotted because they are bigger, faster and stronger, you will lose some winners if you can’t support everyone find their inner drive. It’s not your job to think you know who the winners are. It is your job to try and unlock the drive in your players. It’s their job to capitalize on it and own their lives. Often we mistake just how much we can do for a player. If they don’t have the drive, or you don’t believe they ever will, then they will never deliver to their potential. Simple.
As a coach your practice environment, one that you are 100% responsible for, is a place where you can have a say in how compete and mentality are built. You’ll see those that fold and you’ll see others shine. Will you do one vs one competitions? What about fun matches at the end of every practice where your group is broken into Brazil vs Argentina and they vie for the World Cup? Can you add stressors to certain players to continue their development while you wait for others to wake up to the next level? Do you cut players to support them stay in the sport for life rather than get spit out by a more performance oriented level they don’t want to play at? Are you doing them a service or did you just want to win the next match? These are all questions you need to answer if you want to begin tackling the much bigger coaching realm of developing winners vs simply winning.
Relationship building is another area you are ultimately in control of. You build a rapport with each player and if you are doing your job well, you can demand from them because they trust you. With trust you can add more pressure and show them what it takes to reach the next level. Neither player, nor coach, can completely control if the next level is achieved but it is our job to show the pathway and the characteristics of the best. In these winning environments players look and act a certain way. This is the top top level, where very few ever make it. Many players and coaches learn from aspiring to the highest of levels and that stands them in good stead for the rest of their lives, no matter what profession they move on to. But make no mistake, the top arena and climbing that ladder is not easy. How do you get your players to taste that air and want more of it?
As a coach and based on my own research of players from all sports, like Steve Nash working on his shot until sundown, or Frank Lampard putting spikes on to work on his speed, I try to encourage and motivate kids to practice. Finding ways to put down the video games and eliminate the excuses to go outside and simply play with the ball. For some it is about wanting them to fall in love with the ball and motivating them to play with friends. For others it is about beating records so they can comprehend they are getting better. For others it is mastering skill moves they can use in a game and for still other groups, it may be entering them in creative ways to work on techniques, like a game of Foot Golf or a cross bar challenge. On my teams we do regular challenges outside of practice. Some of these are meant to stress certain players and others are meant to take that very same player and know they will gain satisfaction from guaranteed success. In each version we discuss with players and parents about the merits of training and being outside practicing your craft. For many the motivation to start is much like an adult beginning a diet. Tough to start and after an initial burst, tough to sustain. But players that see themselves getting better stick with it. From a coaching perspective it gives us a great opportunity to have real conversations one on one with our players. We have now taken the player out of the team dynamic and are focused on their development as a player and person. What’s bothering you? Why did you miss your practice time? Is that an excuse? What could you do better? What do you need to work on to be better? Now the player can own these answers, good or bad. The player can see for themselves others around them improving. They can see what it might take. Slowly but surely we work to inspire a winning mentality, in comparison to themselves [an important item]. How will I get better and how can that help my team?
I always think, how can I motivate a player to get better. How can I inspire them to own their own development? What measures can I take to build character in this young person and have them maximize their potential, so that when they leave our team they are better prepared to take on the world. One way is to attempt to leave them thinking about the world in a different way and to have them realize how in control of their own destiny they are.
Individual practice does that. Repetition of that practice does that. Choosing a cause to represent adds a needed element that supports players understand personal sacrifice at a different level.
At Play Better we think external motivators like combatting cancer, supporting the lost dog shelter, being engaged with the massive environmental issues and helping other serious causes can, and do, light a fire under players that makes them think twice about getting outside, sacrificing their time to support their mission, and being focused on doing their work. In the real examples of our Play Better teams and players, this work is related to getting better as a player and earning rewards to take care of their community, friends in need, or family. We see external motivation slowly turn to belief and belief turns to internal motivation that continues to fuel our players long term.
These players earn their rewards. They earn the next level. Their earn their place on the team. They stick with it because rather than only themselves benefitting, at times they lean on making sure they support others. At times it takes more than only desire.
They make a difference.
To us this is what a winning mentality can look like.
Their team wins.
Their cause wins.
Their community wins.
Play Better can support your team and players learn to fight to become better players and people. Ask us how.
Editor’s note: If you want to see some examples of groups that know how to technical train and can educate you on what you might challenge your players to get involved in, check out our friends at Year Zero Soccer for some ideas. Specifically Jon Townsend’s 10,000 touches a day challenge, and also the BeastMode crew, who live and breath this specific aspect of football training with great success.
We think if you combine Play Better with these programs, you will be helping build some awesome players and even better people.
Go. Play Better