Results Vs. Development in Youth Football
About two weeks ago one of my player and also close friend asked me if he can write something for the blog.
So here we go.. Enjoy it and don’t forget to comment 😉
Every fully fledged development and youth coach, every youth player and every optimistic parent would have been effected in some way by the perplex approach of results based football versus development based football.
As a young and upcoming footballer, early development is key in the pursuit for excellence and furthering their careers and pathways, as they grow older and mature. The foundations we set in young footballers at an early age, significantly impacts their future within the game and their possible future at turning into professionals. This is not to say that players that start playing football later on cannot become professionals, but it is of course easier learning a craft from a young age and perfecting it over time as there is much more time to improve. This is due to incredible skill acquisition and ability to learn and absorb at a young age. Most coaches and parents are unaware of this, but young children often pick up things quite quickly. For example, think about it from this perspective; a young child going to a foreign country with their parents. As time goes on, the young child is more likely to speak and remember the foreign language fluently compared his parents due to these scientifically proven reasons and their abilities to perfect aspects over time and latch onto information and knowledge. They learn at remarkable speeds, and football is no different. Hence, the more time, the larger the window for growth. This is where; early development and the early influence by coaches play a monumental role for the future of players and their future careers within the game.
As football is a team sport, this task becomes increasingly more difficult to influence. Football is not like tennis or golf or any other individual sport for that matter, training is rarely individualized or personalized. At an early age, there is rarely a coach working closely with a particular player to improve his shooting or passing technique for example whereas in individual sports, that’s all their doing. This in turn creates enormous gaps in player’s abilities, skill levels and overall quality. Consequently, problems arise. As players have to train in teams and work cohesively with their teammates and within their designated roles, the perceived perception of coaches is that there is no room or no way to bridge this gap. Players with superior quality are like that by chance and there is no plausible way for others to catch up when this is not the case. Some players may be naturally more talented, yes, but talent is nothing without being shaped, guided and improved upon. Instead of coaches looking to bring everyone onto the same level, they leave the huge gaps in quality and try and produce a style of football or enforce their philosophy when in truth, they don’t have the players to, or they are not ready yet. This is where damaging and career setbacks can be established even as a minor. The potential risk to halt or hinder a player’s development at a young age is at an all time high as they know no other way and will do what their told because they don’t know otherwise. They develop bad habits these habits are never eradicated. This, in turn, produces a poorer level of footballer as they grow up. This is how big of an impact youth development coaches and coaches in general have when developing up and coming young footballers. A weak coach will more than likely produce a weak footballer. Now that we have established how crucial the early stages of young development are, lets look into the original point of focus, results based football vs. development based football. In simpler terms, this is the objective of a coach when developing young players.
Do they play to win? Or do they play to develop, no matter the score line?
This may seem easy to answer given my above points on the importance of development, but there are also other aspects and myths we have to take into consideration. The answer to this question and the preferred route one should take is easy, of course, development must come first and this is correct, HOWEVER, we must not think of them as separate facets, rather, one bond. Let me dive a little deeper.
Is it ok to teach footballers that if you dominate a game and play better than the opposition it is acceptable to lose? Is it ok to teach footballers that playing well individually is more important than winning a game collectively? Are team goals more important than individual ones? The answer to these questions may be simple for you, they may prove more difficult to answer but one thing they will do, is give you a different perspective on what each of these avenues mean. Results are not more important than development when young, however, it is still critically important. It is still extremely vital in one’s development. This may have nothing to do with skills or abilities, but rather, in mind and approach. You see, it is all interrelated. If we teach players it is ok to dominant a game but still lose, we are breeding and producing players that are not winners, that accept mediocrity, that are possibly weak mentally. If we develop players that think its ok to win 1-0 when you can win 3-0 comfortably we are not developing a killer instinct or ability to finish off teams, to stay hungry even when on top. This may seem pointless for a young footballer, but it is these habits and aspects we are ignoring when they are young, that is hurting their careers going forward as they grow up. We sometimes fall into a trap that skill development is just enough, instead of working on other aspects or thinking outside of the box by not taking a holistic approach. Mentally players need as much work as physically; after all, it is a thinking and intelligence game as you progress up the stages of competitive football. The mind becomes a weapon, not something that is reactive, but proactive. These are some aspects when developing young players that we have to be aware of, because playing good football but losing 6-0 every week may be damaging to young footballers in the long run without us even realizing. No one enjoys losing, no one goes out to lose, its something we must all be aware of and address in the correct way. It’s about finding that balance and keeping players happy as well as developing them at a high octane. This brings me to my next point. For some bizarre reason, as we grow older, and the game become more competitive, and the stage becomes bigger, we completely turn away from development and solely focus on results. Teams are completely and utterly focused on winning rather than anything else. This can be a result of many things including; money, job security, club survival, promotion, regulation etc. I find this very interesting and confusing because if coaches continued to develop senior players (with much more experience and knowledge of the game than a youth) wouldn’t that help their cause and they would reap the rewards and results? Wouldn’t individualizing training aid their objectives? This is something that has astounded me for a long time. Coaches are so results driven that they turn away from deficiencies their individual player’s have that is hurting the collective unit. If you think about it, it’s actually counter productive. Players like Andrea Pirlo, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes are just some that reinvented themselves as they aged because they were allowed to adapt their games, work on their weakness and identify the areas that would allow them to still be productive. This was due to intelligent coaches and managers understanding they still had a lot to give, they just had to allow them to develop the correct way to do so. Additionally, this ties into the next point when approaching how to develop young footballers and the effectiveness of it all. The argument we have all heard before will inevitably come up; “Is playing pretty football more important than winning?” The truth is, this shouldn’t even be a question that is brought up because PRETTY FOOTBALL IS EFFECTIVE FOOTBALL. Can you name one team in the modern era that has been successful without playing pretty football or dominating possession? I cant either. This, my friends, is a myth. There is no such thing as pretty football versus effective football because they truly go hand in hand. The greatest football teams in the world at this very moment play some of the best football we’ve ever witnessed, the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Keeping the ball and dominating games and oppositions has been taken to a level that we haven’t witnessed before and due to this “pretty” football, they have been able to be successful season after season, year after year. This is the same for youth development. Teaching young footballers to play beautiful football is the right thing to do, to enjoy the game, to enjoy the ball and to win games this way. Beautiful football is effective football. The game is played on your terms, at your tempo, completely influenced by no one else but you and your teammates. All in all, coaches must not look at results and development as two separate entities, but rather, tie them together effectively in unison. They must not separate these two aspects because both hold importance. Development more so, however, results can be an effective weapon when incorporated correctly and in the right manner. The key to one’s development as a youth football is heavily held in the hands of their coaches and the influences around them. We must develop good habits early and fix the mistakes just as quickly. We must produce technical based footballers that are highly intelligent and truly love the game for all the right reasons. The early stages of a footballer’s career are massively important, don’t waste them.