We all say it doesn't matter but when it comes down to it what do we really think
"It doesn't matter, its not the winning that is important, you did your best that is all that matters."
A massive lie told with good intentions and often to try to mask over the fury that little Johnny is too busy picking daisies to bother marking their star striker for a last minute winner. Losing to one goal or being pulverised why your team roll around on the floor oblivious to the embarrassment that you feel. Followed by having to shake hands with the opposition manger false smile plastered on like you have had the time of your life when all you want to do is scream.
Don't get me wrong I'm not the type of manager to scream or shout at my players but I truly hate losing. This can be papered over with good performances and 'moral victories'. The type I often have to claim as 'we were by far the better team' or 'so unlucky'. I always push performance over result but to say it is not important is deluded.
To most parents it is all that matters which is why some parents put up with their kids being sat on the bench for 3/4 of the game for the better players when it is quite tight. 'I couldn't risk changing it', risk what what a non-competitive league game where results aren't recorded and there is no league table. It is why players from the age of 6 are told to clear the ball, hoof it out, don't mess around with it at the back, goalies to hoof it out of their hands towards no one in particular as the risk of losing this non-competitive game is too much to bear. There is too much riding on this game with absolutely nothing riding on it. I understand not everyone plays in a non competitive league but surely the future development of your players as people and players is more important than a game.
This is something I cannot bear. I hate losing but I would rather lose than watch that type of pathetic gamesmanship in youth football because to be honest that isn't football, not the game I know and love anyway. There is a way to win and to me only that way is acceptable. You play hard, fair, trying to play out of every situation with superior skill, ability and will. Every time the ball is hoofed aimlessly forward it is the players giving up and saying they are not good enough. Even if they currently aren't surely we want to teach our players to persevere and keep trying, or find another way. Otherwise how can progress be made and what lesson does that teach the youth of today as they go forward into other challenges in life. 'Sorry mum I wasn't sure of that answer to a question so I just threw my maths test towards the front of the room. I wasn't sure if it was the right thing to do but I stopped thinking and just got rid just like you told me to do in the game Saturday'. There are different ways to play that I won't get into in this blog entry but all surely must be done with belief in your team.
You cannot say you have watched your team play awfully, watched them get battered and left happy. No one wants to lose so it must be important because a big part of your enjoyment is based around it. It is really hard to detach yourself from the need to win, to view it from an outside perspective as we are bred as competitive animals. The fight to survive and conquer being built into our sub conscious. Our basic human instincts being tested every game. But it is something we need to control as we need to remember what the game is about. Seeing the face drop on one of your players who is trying their best and turns to see you curse, shake your fist in frustration or even worse let out an insult ('how did you let that in', 'that was awful') that is overheard by the child. To then see their face drop is heart breaking and really none of this is worth that. You need to be authentic as you cannot say everything is great, you lose credibility and the kids need constructive criticism to improve but it is not OK to take your frustration out on them. All I ask is that they try their best and give the maximum of their ability. If they do that then you always win; maybe not in the result but in terms of performance, improvement and satisfaction which as a coach is what you need to be striving for.
Lastly the kids when they win are much happier, they celebrate and congratulate each other. The joy radiates off their parents, coaches and team mates and they love it. Isn't that what we are always told that it isn't the winning that is important, its that you enjoy it. Well show me an example of a child who is happier losing the game than winning it, show me someone who would rather concede a goal than score it. Success is directly linked to happiness, with the celebration of goals, and trophies being my case in point. You don't see a team taking a lap of honour after a 12 v 0 drubbing, or celebrating with their team after the opposition player strolled past them as they were too busy discussing their Pokemon cards with their fellow defender (this has happened to me). Is that wrong as when there are winners there are always losers. They are happy the other team are sad a balance present in all aspects of their life. Make sure that they respect the other team in winning. Showing and developing their humility and empathy, important life skills that will also help them deal with losing as well by understanding the what it feels like on both sides.
In conclusion winning is vital to help the players, parents and coaches enjoy the game. You shouldn't pretend it isn't or act like it isn't. The will to win can teach the players a good lesson, that through hard work they can achieve what they want. It should be tempered though that really the most important thing is that they enjoy the game, so take the pressure off winning and they can play in a much more fun relaxed environment. When they win they savour the moment and when they lose they constructively take the lessons forward to the next game and still leave with a smile. The good thing about playing in non competitive league is that each game can be taken in isolation as it doesn't relate to any league success. Meaning that there shouldn't be as much pressure in games and therefore disappointment when you lose. It is tricky to manage when you are playing for something but my advice is to create different victories. My winning is when we play better football than the other team, or when we make more passes than we have before, when we play out of the back effectively. Make targets before the game and change the nature of winning to not be solely defined by the result. Opening up the players to be more reflective which will help them develop in to better players in the future. Winning is very important but try to remember there are different ways of winning for different prizes. Surely the prize of fun, laughter whatever the result aligned with the development of resilience, determination, empathy and self reflection is more important that another medal to toss onto your windowsill. Photo by Adrià Crehuet Cano on Unsplash