Wednesday, January 31, 2007

JT's Blog - Winning Isn't Everything - Jan. 31

JT's Blog will be a weekly addition to the US Youth Soccer Blog. John Thomas "JT" is the Assistant Director of Coaching Education for US Youth Soccer.

Winning is Great, but it’s Not the Goal!

It always seems when coaches get together, the topic of winning always comes up. Coaches always boast about their team winning 10 of 12 games or about beating some well-known team by one goal. It seems it’s always about winning. If we don’t win then the parents will take their children to another club that believes winning is the right thing to do. There’s a wide differences between loving to win and having to win, between competing to be our best and competing to be the best.

Is it almost un-American to say winning is not the goal. In fact, many would say we compete in a “win-at-all-costs” environment. How does this help or hurt our player’s performances and how does it assist with their developing into to productive citizens? Yes, we all want to win, but please understand the distinction: winning is a byproduct, not a goal.

Winning odds increase when you place your focus on how you get there rather than on winning as the goal– the learning and development, the continual movement toward mastery. During competition this means having a moment-to-moment, concentrated focus on executing skills and maintaining a positive attitude.

John Naber, a four-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming, exemplifies this vital concept. He shares, “My goal was never to win a race. My goal was to be the best I could be that day.” Disturbing news stories and studies show a focus on winning can produce unsportsmanlike behavior, outright dishonesty and unethical use of dangerous drugs.

I have known many great youth teams that were undefeated during their regular season and lost their first postseason match when they played a team that on paper they should have easily have defeated. Perhaps their focus is on the outcome rather than on the moment and the process. Focusing on winning can lead the performer away from the power of the present moment and creates performance-lowering tension by putting attention on something not under a player’s direct control.

Parents have a part in this process; they can help the player stay focused. How? Be interested in what the child is learning about him or herself and what skills they are developing. Ask the child what they like about playing soccer. You certainly don’t have direct control over how well your child will play in the game, but you do have control over how calm you are during and after your child’s games or training sessions, what you say and how encouraging you are very important in the process of winning or losing. Sometimes losing is better then winning in preparing a player for the future.

There will be times when you find yourself getting frustrated or annoyed at your player or child’s performance, ask yourself, what am I trying to control that I don’t have control over? Then zero in on what you do control. And remind yourself the focus should be on the learning and the fun!

1 comment:

Richard said...

There is a trap that many coaches fall into. I myself have fallen to it as well. Often before we have tasted the success of a "state Championship" or "tournament Winner" we as coaches focus on helping the player to improve; "How can I make the team and the player better?" Helping them to learn from the losses, "It's ok, next time we will work to overcome" , "Let's use this as a learning tool and motivation". Then we get succes and all the accolades that come along with it, suddenly winning or being the best is the only measure. We forget about the things that it took to become a winner, or forget to appreciate the "uniqueness" or "speciality" of winning a championship and the only measure is, we did not win and we have to, because we have been there before.

I was fortunate to coach a high school team that won multiple championships. I was blessed with an abundance of talent that I had to work with, including players that went on to recieve college scholarships and play for the U20 Men's National team. In five years we won two state championships, finished runner up, lost in the semis and were knocked out in the 2nd round the last year.

The ironic thing is when I took over the program the year after the school had one it's first title I was told, : Don't worry about winnining. You have lost 10 starters from the team and the team is not as talanted. We know you have no goalkeeper, nobody expects you to win." That year the team played through a season that saw us go into the playoff 3 games below .500. We finished 1 game over .500 and won the state championship. The following year it was repeated with eight 8th graders. By the third year I had an experienced and young team that had more talent than any team we had had in the past (including a present U20 National team player), but even though we were better than previous teams, more talented than the competition, and the expected winner, the team fell short of the mark on 3 consecutive occasions.

It was the teams that were not supposed to win that got it done, and the expected winners who failed. This made me appreciate the feeling of when it all come together and creates that magical moment.

It is those times that I won with kids who were not supposed to, that means more to me than championships won with talent abundant. I often reflect back as to why that happened; You see once I had won I became focused on winning it all and stopped doing some of the things that helped my teams to win in the 1st place. I believed in all the hype!!!!!