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Fundamental Soccer Blog


Are we creating a nation of kids who can win but cannot play the game? Let’s take a look…

  Here we go again. As soccer coaches and educators, it seems that we must teach each new generation of youth coaches about the overemphasis on winning in this country. One need not look further than the U.S. Men’s National Team.  We are having trouble filling spots as the “old guard” leaves.

     The national pool is too small for a country the size of the United States. In fact, most soccer-playing countries much smaller than the U.S. have larger pools of better players. The reason is simple – we continue to eliminate youth players from our soccer culture, making the potential national team pool smaller.

     Winning is important. The lessons learned by winning and losing in sports last a lifetime. However, the goal of every youth coach should be to help young soccer players understand and enjoy the process of participation and to teach the skill necessary to succeed. When the pressure to win begins too early, the passion and the love for the game can be lost.

     Perhaps former U.S. Men’s National Team captain Claudio Reyna says it best: “It’s possible at any time during a player’s career to get into top physical shape or to try to win every game! But you can’t teach skills to an old player. Youth coaches should keep in mind that individual skills need to be nurtured at an early age. Players who haven’t mastered the fundamental skills become frustrated because the game gets too difficult for them as they move into higher levels.”

     The very nature of our soccer culture (and youth sports in general) produces more losers than winners. Emphasizing winning tournaments or leagues or being ranked first in the country sends a clear message: the rewards of playing soccer are extrinsic, not intrinsic. The players on the “losing teams” can suffer a loss of self-esteem. At the very least, the game no longer is fun. Youth soccer coaches must understand that the process is more important than the outcome and that the best outcome is not a Top 10 ranking at age 11.

     A participation study by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers of America shows that between ages 11 and 12, more than 2.5 million youth players quit playing soccer. An even larger exodus occurs between ages 17 and 18, when more than 4.5 million young people stop playing soccer. Certainly, there will be natural attrition. As boys and girls grow older, there are more activities to choose from and more distractions, but the loss of that many youth players suggests problems for the growth of soccer in this country:

The Elimination of Youth Players will be covered in  (Part 2) Solutions

Forgive me, Jay and Karl … and other coaches. But Claudio Reyna is flat wrong. Maybe you can’t teach skills to “old” players, but you can teach skills to “older” players. Instead, we write kids off at 12-18 — precisely when a real teacher and technician can enhance their skill sets as their bodies grow and their understanding of the game increases. This occurs all the time in other sports, where “minor” and “developmental” leagues allow prospects to work on technical weaknesses well into their 20s. Here, some trophy-seeking “coach” rewards big kids with PT, while smaller “late bloomers” languish and eventually quit. Several points here:

1) “Soccer people” need to incorporate lessons learned from player development in other sports, as opposed to dissing those sports as “not soccer.”

2) The quality of our country’s club, academy, high school, and college coaching simply isn’t good enough. This must change.

3) We must be willing to challenge outdated and disproved thinking, even when espoused by “legends,” such as Claudio Reyna. Those same legends got us where we are. Time to move on.

Rich Jablonski  

We need to develop kids, help all the kids, but concentrate on the ones that want to stay with the game of Futbol/Soccer. No more babysitting, agreed?

 This is what Spain is doing and the rest of the world; I never agreed to play everyone if they don’t work hard or pay attention to the Game. Maybe agree if is 3D or 4D, but everything first division or development has to be very Competitive, no Babysitting?

Thank you. I have seen a lot of that in my 40 years of Coaching in California, that’s why I’m ingoing Futbol In Spain a lot. The Captains know what to do and start on time, warming up the team; they work hard the team respects their Captain the coaches point them out because they always look for leadership.

Frank Paco Vidal

Win what? We are creating complacent players! 

Fca Fca

In a word – no. They can win at the youth level when competing against other players with similar aspirations (I.e., to win). Still, it’s pretty simple when they get older and play internationally: we play hero ball and suck.          

Christopher Lowry

Just figuring this out. Really! 

Paul Scherer

When we can stop charging monthly fees in our academies, then we may be able to get better players to participate. 

Richard Mendoza

I think this is a very interesting topic and believe that there is nothing wrong with teaching kids at all stages of development how to COMPETE. I don’t think winning or losing is important at 12 and under. However, in our culture, if you aren’t winning, you are a loser. We need to focus on the competition and desire to succeed more than the result. I have been trying to get my club coaches to focus on teaching and guiding our players to ball mastery and individual skill development. However, if we aren’t winning, parents get concerned that we are not doing a good job.

If we start to train our parents that we are looking to teach our kids how to compete, maybe they won’t care about the results…..maybe? 

John Paul Barata  

Dr. Jay Martin

Editor: United Soccer Coaches, “Soccer Journal” Author: Recently published his first book, “Lessons from a Great Coach: Develop a Winning Team Culture That Lasts!” Head Coach: Ohio Wesleyan is the winningest coach in NCAA men's soccer history with 749 wins, making him the first men's soccer coach to reach 700 wins. Heading into the 2023 season, he boasts a 749-158-80 record and a career winning percentage of .799, ranking 14th all-time in the NCAA. Under his guidance, the 2022 Bishops were NCAC tournament champions, and the staff was named NCAC Coaching Staff of the Year for the 10th time. In 45 seasons, Martin's teams have a 297-30-24 conference play record, winning 26 conference crowns. Martin led Ohio Wesleyan to NCAA Division III national championships in 1998 and 2011 and has reached the NCAA Division III semifinals nine times. His teams hold records for playoff appearances (43) and victories (65). Awards: 16-time NCAA Regional Coach of the Year. Inducted into the United Soccer Coaches Hall of Fame in 2020. Beyond soccer: A successful lacrosse coaching career and has turned out 61 All-America and 214 all-region or All-Midwest players in both sports. He served as president of the NSCAA and spent six years on the NCAA Division III selection committee. Martin, a professor and former athletics director at Ohio Wesleyan, has also been a color analyst for the MLS's Columbus Crew for nine seasons. Learn more about Dr. Jay Martin at Super Soccer Camp at Ohio Wesleyan University.