Good person, good citizen, good player

This was the slogan we as the Soccer Development Department of the Turkish FA had generated in 2008 for the Developmental Academy leagues that started the same year. The fields that the games were played on were branded with this slogan. In the DOC/Academy Directors courses the slogan was explained to the participants and how it could help their academy programs. Individual clubs were encouraged to come up with a set of values for their clubs to reflect the goals of the slogan.

Did we succeed in creating a different culture in those clubs? The answer is a clear NO. After I left the Federation in 2010, the slogan died out and was forgotten. Because I with a small group of employees of in the Federation tried to mandate a cultural change. Most of the employees, even a majority of the Board, did not believe in the message that the slogan tried to convey. We could not internalize the message of the slogan in the Turkish soccer landscape. 

So today we see players who were academy players in those years who try to mislead the referee when they feel a small contact on their face and pretend as if they were being shot to get a card for their opponent or try to simulate a foul to get a penalty kick. The list goes on. They are not good persons even though they might be good players. Very few of them are involved in any social responsibility projects even though they make a fortune through soccer. So, they are not good citizens, but they are good players. They grew up with the culture of winning at all costs. 

This is not anything peculiar to any country. You can see similar scenes in our soccer landscape. In other countries, the pressure to win at all costs usually comes from the coaches and/or clubs, unfortunately in our landscape it also comes from the parents.

Yes, there are exceptions that seem to reflect what the slogan wants to convey. Altinordu FC, a major youth academy from Izmir, Turkey, and a First Division professional club later adopted the slogan. Altinordu FC has developed players like Caglar Soyuncu (Leicester City), Cengiz Under (Marseille) and Burak Ince (Arminia Bielefeld). You can see the slogan on all their facilities, and the owner Seyit Mehmet Ozkan gives an ultimate importance to the message it conveys which can be seen in the players’ actions and deeds on and off the field. That is a club culture enforced on to the players by the owner of the club. 

Another example: The Turkish media was shocked when pictures were distributed of the players of Kobenhavn FC cleaning up the dressing room in Trabzon after their playoff game in the Champions League. It is clear that the players were trying to be good citizens as well as good players. It was in their club culture. Japanese MNT players did the same thing after their last game in World Cup 2018. This time I - who had spent some time in Japan – can say that it is engraved in their national culture.

These are some examples from the professional game. The slogan is appropriate for the grassroots youth game also. One can even say it is more appropriate in our soccer youth landscape than anywhere else. 

What could a parent or a coach expect from a recreational player? To play for the competitive team, to play for ODP, to play for the travel team, to play for one of the top-level youth leagues in the country, to get a college scholarship, to play for one of the age group national teams, to sign a professional contract.  Going up this ladder is very difficult and the chances of reaching the last steps of the ladder are very slim, less than 2%. For players, playing soccer is fun and is a medium for socialization, but for parents and coaches there should be another goal other than trying to develop “good players” since most of them will never be “good players” that the system expects and defines.

The parents and coaches should use soccer – or any other sport – to develop the characters of the players so that they can be “good persons” and “good citizens.” The parents should insist that clubs have the appropriate culture to develop the character of their kids along with an appropriate player development curriculum. For parents, developing their kid’s characters should be as important as their kids getting good playing time; then their investments will be worthwhile. 

There are many good examples of a positive club culture in our soccer landscape. One of them is Urban Leadership Soccer Academy in San Antonio, which focusses on the underprivileged group of kids. Its founder, the ex-mayor of San Antonio Ed Garza, summarizes the mission of the academy with the following words: "Our push, our desire -- if we had a magic wand -- would be to influence the youth soccer landscape, even at a national level, to pick up not only the lessons learned to approach and be accessible to underserved communities, but to also provide the added value of enrichment and education programs that will transform their lives even if they don't make it at soccer as a professional player or play at the collegiate level." 

I was never a “good player,” but I believe I was always a “good person” and a “good citizen”. I attended some of the best educational institutions in Turkey and the USA. I attribute whatever success I had in life to the values that I borrowed from my parents and what I learned through sports more than what I learned in various schools. 

My advice to parents is that the chances of your children to be “good persons” and “good citizens” is far bigger than them becoming “good players” if you choose a club that values character development as well as player development. 

Ahmet Guvener ( is a Partner with The Game Planners, LLC and the former Secretary General and Chief Soccer Officer of the Turkish FA. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish FA. He served as a Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a soccer consultant in Georgetown, TX.


8 comments about "Good person, good citizen, good player".
  1. Alan Blackledge, September 5, 2022 at 10:26 a.m.

    Excellent! Agree wholeheartedly!

  2. humble 1, September 5, 2022 at 5:32 p.m.

    Winning is important this cannot be underemphasized.  This is the point of the game.  When winning is not balance with development, this when you have issues.  Nowhere will you find the balance perfect.  I was in Uruguay this year, a club coach of U16 team in the AUF A Academy league was under pressure to win, the pressure spread to the team, two of the boys in the team got in a suffle.  Winning in the right context is one measure of your development progress.  In Uruguay A league, all players are on scholarship, the only way an academy make money is if the team produces professionals and the transfer payments come, so there is necessary pressure to develop and one of the ways they measure development is by winning.  It is very difficult in the U.S. to find clubs that do more than mouth character development.  You find a page on the website that tells their philosophy, but after a while you learn, these are just words.  Early on we decided it was something we required, so guess what, we found a club, and we we fortunate, as clubs that speak and act on character development are hard to find, and moved the kid.  No looking back.  With the pay-play-system, it is very difficult for clubs to look beyond the dollar value of the player.  20 players on a team, at say, $1K per player is 20K.  10 teams, and you are at $200k.  10 teams is a min size for most clubs as USSF, and USC don't let you in their leagues with fewer.  For club coaches, loosing players can be career limiting move, a single player lost from a family that does 'extra' giving, or one from a multi-player family can be enough to get one in trouble.  I have seen this first hand.  For a coach and club to enforce character development, you have to demand behaviors and set standards, and they must be enforced equally.  This does not compute in dollars.  Have an unrully kid, admonish him/her, bench them, send them home from practice, she goes to parents, parents threaten club, etc, all of us parents have seen this.  We've come a long way, we have a long way to go.  Still the key in this mess is knowing how to develop players, give our context, and here we have come a long way, but we are still far from where we need to be to say our system is working.  Thanks! 

  3. Philip Carragher, September 6, 2022 at 11:34 a.m.

    Well said and to the point. Thanks Ahmet. I'm with you Humble, finding a good club is difficult. We had to compromise at times in order for my kids to have a good environment to grow and learn in. Often I provided that as the old, crabby-appearing coach that noone dare question. The parent meeting was always a key event. I'd require at least one parent to be present and have that be the day uniforms were handed out. Usually the moms made sure they were there since they often were the most concerned with their kid's outfit. Much of the message I'd deliver was stolen from the Positive Coaching Alliance, an organization that breeds healthy athletic experiences for youth. But this was recreational youth sports. When they made the jump to pay-for-play travel sports, that's when things got difficult. I didn't coach them and managing their experience became a full time endevor for me. To try keeping the experience healthy while developing athletic skills is tricky especially when surrounded by the insanely competitive. Sometimes backing away and playing for a lower level team works wonders. For the coaches who handle teams where tuition is involved: travel teams, private schools, I feel for you if you care about good player development of both skills and attitudes. Even the best of us can get beat up trying to do what's best for the kids. Our northshore Chicago saying: no good deed goes unpunished.

  4. Gary Fresen, September 6, 2022 at 4:18 p.m.

    It is interesting that your thoughts are given a Real World example by Head Coach of Cincinnati FC Pat Noonan in another Soccer America Confidential article in this edition.

    Pat Noonan says:

    "I could go all the way back to college and what I learned not just as a soccer player, but as a person, from Coach Yeagley, in doing things the right way and being a good teammate and being a good leader and having expectations of success and greatness and everything that you do every time you step on the field."

    See Soccer America Confidential 9/5/22
    "Pat Noonan on FC Cincinnati's rise, his coaching mentors, lessons from his playing career, and St. Louis roots"
    by Scott French  

    And I'm confident that Umit Kesim would agree agree since he also played under Indiana University Soccer Coach Jerry Yeagley.

  5. Ahmet Guvener replied, September 7, 2022 at 9:49 a.m.

    Umit Kesim is a very good friend of mine and he reads these articles also....

  6. Bill Dooley, September 6, 2022 at 7:31 p.m.

    In the words of Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) founder Jim Thompson, the fundamental purpose of youth sports is to develop better kids:

    “stronger, more responsible and confident individuals who will be successful in life.”

          It's hard to go wrong as a youth coach if you keep that in mind.

  7. James Madison, September 7, 2022 at 12:06 a.m.

    Good column!  Good iconcept!  Good priority sequence.

  8. Mike Lynch, September 9, 2022 at 12:11 a.m.

    Thanks for sharing Ahmet! The power of both-and versus the tyranny of the either-or (Joe Erhrmann). Regardless of the level, it should always be about winning and character, not winning or character.  

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