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Guest Post – To post the scores or not to post the scores

Michi waiting for the adults to make up their minds about where the goals should be...

By Ryan Shiffman

A decision was made by New Zealand Football (NZF) that scores from certain junior football matches will not be publicly posted in an attempt to take the sole focus away from winning.  An article was recently published in the NZ Herald including comments from Auckland Football, and New Zealand Football on the issue.

NZF is hoping that by not publishing the results, it will allow the young footballers to play for the love of the match instead of focusing on the result of the matches.

Being involved as a Director of Coaching for Ellerslie AFC for four seasons now and dealing with these players, parents and coaches hands on, there seems to be some fundamental flaws in the approach.

The overall concept of taking the sole focus away from the result has a lot of merit.  When players, parents and coaches solely focus on winning matches, it can have some dangerous effects.  Coaches may coach their team in a way that provides better opportunity for their team to win the match, but this will come at the detriment of development opportunities for all players in the team.  Some strategies that win games at 9th and 10th grade aren’t always strategies that allow these young players to best develop and become successful players in the future.  When the focus is so heavily placed on winning, players may miss out on development opportunities and combined with the pressure from the coaches to win, they may be less creative for fear of making a mistake.

In the 9th-10th grade games, it is not uncommon to see teams play their fastest, speedy dribblers as strikers and play a lot of long balls – Commonly known as kick and chase football.  Many players at this age struggle to deal with balls in the air and quickly transitioning to defence so the attacking team will almost always have plenty of goal scoring opportunities.  Playing this style will quite probably win several games for a team, but will only bring short term success.  As players get better at certain aspects of the game and know how to better defend against speedy players, this strategy becomes less and less effective.  Teams that have developed their skills to pass the ball out from the back and build up through the thirds in a possession based passing game, will then reign supreme, leaving the long ball team scrambling to develop the skills they have missed out over the last few years.  Being coached to play strictly to win games at a young age can end up costing many players some important development in their early years, but this type of coaching will not be stopped just because results are no longer being posted in these grades.

When players win or lose, they won’t shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, they aren’t posting the score so it doesn’t matter.”  They will still care.  Coaches won’t instantly stop caring whether their team wins or loses just because the results aren’t posted.  Many will still focus solely on winning the match. Parents won’t explain to their friends how their child performed during the match and completely leave out the result of the match because the results aren’t posted.  They will still tell them the score line.  Deciding to keep the results hidden does not take the emphasis off of winning.

Many people weighed in on the debate after the article was posted in the NZ Herald, making comments about how ‘winning is important’ and not posting the results would have ‘turned them off to the game as a child’.  This opinion also has some merit.  Players want to compete and try to win.  The desire to compete is innate.  We can’t take that away from players, parents or coaches if we tried to; we are born with it.  The very important point to make is, there is a difference between competing and solely focusing on winning.  We can encourage our players to compete, do their best and try to win without solely focusing on winning and sacrificing development opportunities for our players.

Northcross v Otumoetai - AIMS Games

So where should the focus lie?  How can we still compete, try to win as players and coaches, but not let the focus fall solely on winning?  We need to focus on the performance of the players and the performance of the team.  By doing this, the team competes every match, but isn’t solely judged on the result of the match; an event that sometimes is outside of a player’s control.  A player could play the best match of their life, lose the match, and then feel bad about the match.  On the other side, a player could play poorly, win the match, and then feel great!  This is one of the dangers of putting the sole focus on winning.  It defines how we feel about the game.  If a player plays the best match of their life, they should feel good about that.  Yes, they lost the match, so jumping up and down for joy would seem out of place; but that player should feel satisfied that they played their best game and they are improving.  The coach should recognise how their team played and acknowledge them for that.

Some matches the opposition will just be too strong and no matter how well the team plays, they just won’t win.  If we solely place our feelings about the match on winning then we are going to feel bad after this match every time.  If we base our feelings about the game on the performance of the players then we still have opportunities to be successful.

Performance is where we should be steering the focus of our players, parents and coaches.  The best way to begin this process is by education of the coaches and parents.  When we start to educate them about why it is important to focus on the performance of the players, this will begin to filter through the team.  If enough teams are educated, then you can start changing the culture of football here.  It doesn’t happen over-night.  It doesn’t happen in a season.  To change the mind-set, it can take years.  While believing not posting the results would instantly change the mind-set of the players, parents and coaches is perhaps well intentioned, it is in fact a myopic, lazy, and ironically, immediate results focused approach that reveals the naivety of some of the people making decisions!

Instead of spending time debating which age groups the results will be shown for and which they won’t, this time should be spent educating the parents and coaches about why they don’t want them to focus on the result of the match.  Without educating them and just deciding to do something isn’t the way to begin to change the mind-set of those people involved in the game.  In fact, often times, it hardens their original stance on caring about the result even more because they have not been educated as to why this may risk some development opportunities for the players.

If enough people are educated about the dangers of solely focusing on the result of the match and instead begin to shift their focus to the performance of the players; it will not matter if the results are posted for these age groups.  The results can be posted and anyone can view them if they choose to do so.

We are all trying to develop the players in the best way we can.  In order to provide a “player centred” environment for the players, we must take the sole focus off winning and allow them to play creatively throughout the match, but we also must ensure we are encouraging them to compete as this is something innate to being human.  Just because we are not solely focused on winning does not mean there is no drive, determination or desire to win the match.  It just means when the match finishes, we do not hang our entire feelings about whether the team played well or poorly on how the score line looks.  When we educate those involved in the game about the importance of focusing on the performance of the players, we can begin to provide a better developmental environment for our players; a necessary step in growing the number of players involved in the game and keeping them involved.  A goal we would all like to work towards no matter which side of the debate we sit on.

[Ryan Shiffman is the Director of Youth Football at Ellerslie AFC.]

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.

4 replies

  1. I agree with this article. As a junior footballer in Nelson in the 1970’s, our scores were never published but the players and their families knew anyway and it’s not important that others do.
    Winning is a happier experience for players and is always going to be the aim.
    So we don’t want to take all competitiveness out of sport.
    But we’ve all seen those crazy parents who go too far on the sideline and say things thay wouldn’t dare say at a top-level senior match for fear of being ejected from the ground.
    I remember one such dad whose son was in my junior team who eventually was aked to stop coming to games because of the nasty abuse he showered on players in his son’s own team (his own son could do no wrong of course).
    It may amaze some people, but the less winning-focused approach is in line with what they do at Barcelona FC, the most successful European club of the last decade. I was surprised to read an interview with one of their star players, Iniesta, a few years ago where he said that Barcelona youth teams don’t place much emphasis on winning. In fact they often even lose at youth level to modest local rivals Espanyol. They are more focused on developing technical skills and style of play for the long-term benefit of players, even if it means losing games at youth level in the short term. They will even take junior players sometimes with physical defects if they display ability. Lionel Messi suffered from Growth Hormone Difficiency and required drugs costing $US 900 per month which his family struggled to afford. Argentinian club River Plate weren’t willing to pay for the 12 year-old Messi’s treatment but Barcelona were alerted to the 12 year-old’s ability, agreed to pay for his treatment and signed him to their junior team. The rest is history.

    1. Agreed – nice article Mr Shiffman.
      As a player, a parent and a coach involved in club and school football for 40 odd years I echo your sentiments.

      We have recently returned from a club in the Netherlands where the development of the player and the focus on technical ability is paramount. Consequently they produce superb youth talent.

      If clubs around NZ could change their culture as described in this article – focus on players rather than results, skills and technique rather than size and strength, then we might do better on the world football stage.

      We might also see less of the crazy sideline parent – probably the biggest blot on the sports landscape in this country across all codes.

  2. Well considered, intelligent and experienced opinion. So proud to have Ryan as our head of youth coaching. Ellerslie players will go far- beyond football even. Great life lessons

  3. Funnily enough, way back in the ’70’s I played for a very poor primary school team. We were routinely thumped but as a defender, my performance was often mentioned in the local paper. At the same time, my rep team easily won all of our games but rarely had much of a write-up. This paper focussed on kids performance, not the score (luckily for my club team). It may have been just a small local rag – but it did right by us kids

    I always found that winning or losing was extremely important while on the field but a scoreline report after the fact was never a big deal.

    Sadly I can’t see this new strategy making any difference to the big mouths on the sideline. Full credit to all those that coach or ref at junior levels, other parents can be less than helpful

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