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