Coaching to Win or Develop?

Discussing "winning vs. development" is a common conversation topic with parents and coaches around the soccer field.  Arguments abound over when winning becomes important, what true player development looks like, and when are priorities totally mixed up.

FC Wisconsin Director of Coaching Christian Lavers was interviewed by Soccer Nation regarding his thoughts on the topic.

Christian Lavers’ thoughts are provided below (excerpted from Soccer Nation):


How do you balance player development and winning?


"The answer depends on whether you are looking short-term or long-term. In the long-term, the two match up very well – if you do a good job coaching and developing players (inspiring, teaching, and challenging them), your teams and the individual players will generally be successful.

The problem is in the short-term.

Teaching players to solve problems creatively and with skill, to have confidence with the ball and to try and play possession-oriented soccer, usually doesn’t result in competitive success at young ages (or at any age when the players don’t have a high enough skill level yet). In the short-term, you need to have confidence in your ability to teach.

You need to educate players and parents about why your methods are best for the individual players in the long-term, and you need to be consistent in what you are teaching and saying. Then you actually have to deliver on the expertise you are talking about.

All of these things are a lot easier when you have a great staff of teachers and when you have educated your club members about the process. Overall, the guiding philosophy of a youth club has to be about individual player development – with the understanding that success comes as a long-term by-product of this process."


How important is winning, and why do you feel this way?


"Competing to win in everything is incredibly important.

Players need to learn how to compete against themselves, how to compete against their teammates and how to compete against opponents. Learning to compete against themselves motivates players to train harder and to train on their own. Learning to compete against their teammates ensures that the daily training environment constantly pushes players out of their comfort zone and is as game-realistic as possible.

Learning how to compete against opponents is the easy part – and that comes as the players get older in terms of situational understanding, etc.

When players understand that competition has physical, technical, tactical, and psychological components, and that those components exist in every session and in every game, then they will start to win as they continue to develop. Again, I would fall back on a developmental concept: individual player development includes learning how to compete – and learning how to compete is a step in learning how to win."


Do you believe a club’s reputation is impacted by their teams’ winning records?


"Of course – but especially if that is the main way the club defines success. Unfortunately, too many youth clubs trap themselves in this mentality. They sell winning to their parents and players as the Holy Grail and forget to sell the most important part of great youth clubs – individual player development. Or they win in the short-term in spite of a lack of development.

When player development is not just in the mission statement of the club, but is also internalized and embraced by the actions and philosophies of the staff, then it becomes far easier to build a club reputation on things more important than winning. At that point you can build a reputation on the opportunities that the club’s players have earned through their development (whether collegiate, national team, or other), and on being a club that helps players maximize their potential. At that point, your teams will also have found plenty of success – because the players are better."


When do you coach to win?


"I think every competitor always wants to win – whether they are a player or a coach. The important thing is to manage the desire to win and put it into the right perspective.

Winning by playing bad soccer, by joy-sticking players and sacrificing long-term development, is a problem with youth – you are cheating the players in the long-term.

Of course, as players get older, learning how to win games becomes a part of their development. At what point a club starts to increase focus on results really depends on where the players are in their development (their skill, maturity and understanding) and on personal philosophy.

Of course, when players are 15 to 18, there are some games that have more “at stake” than others in terms of qualification for play-offs, championships, and so on. At that point, if you have done your job over time, you may vary your style or game-plan a bit – but you shouldn’t have to abandon the principles the club stands for in terms of the right way to play and coach."


If your players did not pay to play, would you coach differently?


"No. I would question whether anyone who answered differently was coaching the right way for long-term development."


Do you have any other thoughts about winning and development?



"It is easy to be a coach when your teams win; problems are hidden, complaints usually are muzzled, and generally players and parents are happier. Losing, however, is not only unavoidable but it is an important part of development. If I see a youth team that has an unbelievable record, or a ridiculous numbers of goals scored in their competitions, then there are probably players on that team that should be playing at older age groups or at higher levels.

Keeping those players at a level where the game is easy allows a team to win at their current level, but it kills the long-term development of those top players. As youth development professionals, it is our job to put players in environments that challenge and stretch them – and if they are in those environments, they certainly are going to have bumps in the road." 


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