Opinions on whether or not a team – especially one comprised of pre-teens – should be focused on winning games can be a sensitive, impassioned matter. As a soccer coach of a rec team for several years, I tried to strike a balance between developing skills, having fun, and yes, winning games. Oftentimes, coaches and parents can send mixed messages to their children. This occurs when the adults tell the children that winning is not the focus and is not important, yet the actions of those same adults convey that winning does matter. Or at least it matters to them.
Headlines were made recently when the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) coach Jurgen Klinsmann made comments reflecting his opinion that it is “not realistic” for the USMNT to win the World Cup. This wasn’t the first time he expressed that viewpoint. Last December, Klinsmann told New York Times Magazine, “we cannot win this World Cup, because we are not at that level yet.”
Klinsmann may be right. He knows better than most people how well (or not) the USMNT is prepared to play on the world stage. And it’s not an uncommon belief that it may be a long shot for the USMNT to win the title. One has to wonder, though, if the USMNT does fall short, would it have been because they truly were not able to play at the same competitive level as other teams, or was their psyche when going in to those games contributing as a primary defeating factor. Problem is, the words have been said out loud by Klinsmann (more than once) and we will never know exactly how that will impact their game.
No one will dispute that the level of play needed to win the World Cup is great. But what possible benefit does a team have going into any competition knowing their leader has essentially told everyone they can’t win?
When it comes to my past experiences coaching youth rec soccer (and now with select soccer), I know that any team I work with may have limitations. Or that “my” team is simply not as advanced as another team. But that doesn’t matter. Should players be made aware of areas where work or improvement is needed? Absolutely. That’s called coaching. But I personally would not be able to tell players that they cannot win, or don’t expect to win, or it’s not realistic for them to win.
Soccer, like any sport, is just as much mental as it is physical (maybe even moreso). So if a team has already been told to not expect to win, how can that not affect their game? Obviously, coaches can have different opinions on this, but I’m not going to be the one to tell players to not expect to win. I’m not going to be the one to potentially set a loss into motion before the first kickoff.
I understand that wins are not ever what is most important at younger ages. However, I know that players of any age like it when they win (and so do their parents). And if the wins don’t come, that is always fine. I just believe players should have a winning mindset at the start. If you play to win and end up losing, that’s fine because you’ve given your all. Those who believe they can win will be winners in the end despite the final score.
~ E.S.Brown is an aspiring author whose debut novel is due in 2014. He divides his time between his day job, his family, his writing, and being a soccer parent.