Proper player development leads to good match performance, which often leads to wins.
But there are shortcuts to winning, particularly with players younger than high-school age. Just get the biggest, fastest kids around -- then outrun and outmuscle the opposition.
Play run-n-gun and high-pressure defense against young players who are still learning the game and that amount of pressure can win games. Mind you, it doesn't help those kids learn how to play soccer in any sophisticated manner.
It is certainly the stance of US Youth Soccer to focus more on match performance than outcome; yet this is not to say that players should not strive to win. There's nothing wrong with winning!
But remember, the outcome of the game is not necessarily a measure of whether the coach is doing a good job developing players. Players and coaches should diligently work to improve their performance. This is the drive for excellence as opposed to superficial success.
All right, fine you say. So how do we measure success?
How do parents know if the team coach is doing a good job of teaching soccer to the players? How does the novice coach know if the kids are growing within the game?
These are the goals in measuring success for youth soccer:
FUN ... do the players smile and laugh? Do the players look forward to playing? The first question from the player's family should be, "Did you have fun today?"
Fair Play ... does a player demonstrate by words and actions a sense of sportsmanship?
Rules of the Game ... do the players know and follow the rules of soccer?
Health and Fitness ... are the players physically fit enough to meet the fitness demands of the game? Are they developing good nutrition and hydration habits befitting an athlete?
Friendships ... are the players creating new friends within the team and with players from other teams?
Skills ... are the players demonstrating a growing number of ball skills and are they gradually becoming more proficient in those skills?
Commitment ... how do the players answer when asked at the end of a game, "Did you try your best?"
Roles in the Team ... more important than learning a position, are the players learning about positioning? Knowing where the center forward spot is on the field is important, yet learning how to move tactically within the game is far more important. Do all of the players get exposed to playing all of the positions?
Leadership ... are players being given the opportunity to take on leader roles and responsibilities? Are the coaches and team managers teaching leadership?
Tactics ... are the players experimenting with new tactics in matches? The coaches must teach new tactics to the players in training sessions and then allow them to try out the tactics in a match, regardless of how that might affect the outcome!
Retention ... do the players come back year after year? Retention is recognized as also a short-term measure of success in youth soccer and developing well adjusted citizens is another long-term measure of success in youth sports.
We know that is takes many years to develop into a quality soccer player. Indeed, that continued development can be seen even in young professional players.
Soccer is a long-term development/late specialization sport.
Research by Dr. Istvan Balyi and others provides us this model:
LATE SPECIALIZATION MODEL
1. FUNdamental Stage - ages 6-9
2. Learning to Train - ages 8-12
3. Training to Train - ages 11-16
4. Training to Compete - ages 15-18
5. Training to Win - ages 17 and older
6. Retirement/Retainment - ages: post playing career
Striving to improve individual, group and team performance is more important at the youth level than the scoreline. Simultaneously, players should play to win.
Coaches should teach and develop the players as they learn how to win. Parents should support the players and coaches. Intrinsic success is by its nature more difficult to measure than extrinsic success.
A trophy is more tangible to an adult than the exhilaration a child feels while playing soccer. The final measure of success for parents and coaches of the children's soccer experience will require a good deal of patience from the adults. That measurement is the free choice of the child to stay in the game!
The full document on this topic, titled Vision, is available from US Youth Soccer. Simply E-mail your request to Sam Snow at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Sam Snow is US Youth Soccer's Director of Coaching Education.)