It’s how you play the game — to win

Eleven-year-old soccer players should play to win, writes Barry Rubin on Pajamas Media. Under a coach who tells kids that winning doesn’t matter, his son’s team has lost every game.

He never criticizes a player or suggests how a player could do better. My son, bless him, once remarked to me: “How are you going to play better if nobody tells you what you’re doing wrong?” The coach just tells them how well they are playing. Even after an 8-0 defeat, he told them they’d played a great game.

And of course, the league gives trophies to everyone, whether their team finishes in first or last place.

“Sports should prepare children for life, competition, the desire to win, and an understanding that not every individual has the same level of skills,” Rubin believes.

Asked to coach for a day, he put the best players in at forward and goal and kept them in, giving weaker players the chance to play for at least half the game as defenders. He gave the team a pre-game pep talk:

Every week you’ve been told that the important thing is just to have a good time. Well, this week it’s going to be different. The number one goal is to win; the number two goal is to have a good time. But I assure you: if you win, you will have a much better time!

The team took a 1-0 lead.  Told that defense was critical, the weaker plays “performed heroically, holding off repeated attacks on their goal.”

One shouted from the sidelines something I thought showed real character: “Don’t let the good players do all the work!” Instinctively, he recognized that some players are better, but he wanted to bring everyone’s level up rather than down. I’m tempted to say he was going against what he was being taught in school.

They played hard and they won. They were thrilled.

If you don’t care about winning, you’re merely handing triumph to the other side. In a soccer league that might not matter, yet in personal life, your level of achievement and satisfaction is going to depend on giving your best effort.

That works for Western civilization too, Rubin writes.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. David Menefee-Libey says:

    I’ve taught for 20+ years and coached soccer for 12+ years. I’d urge Barry Rubin to give it some time and try coaching before he starts drawing conclusions.

    Your goal is to win? Okay, tell me: which game are you talking about? Let’s assume the game that matters to you is soccer, instead of the metaphorical game of life. And let’s be generous and assume that you care about winning not for you but for your player on the field.

    Are you saying you want to win the game in front of you this week, or the one you want your 11-year-old to be playing when he’s 17 and playing in high school because he developed good skills and still loves the game? Or when he’s 40 and plays in a pickup league because he hasn’t broken down and still loves the game?

    If you have some time, go read Jim Thompson’s classic “Positive Coaching” book.

    Teaching and coaching: not so different. Parents of students and players: not so different. Simplistic approaches to both games don’t offer real answers.

  2. The first rule of sportsmanship is always play to win. If you aren’t playing to win you are depriving your team-mates and opponents of a good game. Playing fair? Second rule.

  3. The idea that kids can’t handle competition

  4. My daughter had a Czech former pro player as a coach when she was about 8 or 9. He coached those little girls as if they were on the way to the World Cup. They didn’t win any AYSO championships but the lessons he taught them are still with her. He took the games seriously, the players seriously, and the girls learned to take themselves and their efforts seriously. If you don’t, no one else will.

  5. There’s a difference between positively encouraging and developing all players despite varying skill levels and blindly asserting that the results don’t matter.

    I have plenty of self-indulgent students who feel that they should only put effort into lessons that they enjoy just as the one coach preached that the only goal was to have fun.

    Instead, we should teach students and players that while one should try to enjoy the game, its a heck of a lot more fun to succeed and win.

  6. I agree with this approach for older players (U10 & up). What I have a problem with is the emphasis on winning some parents have when it comes to the U8 crowd. These little kids are just learning the game and the focus should be on developing skills rather than keeping score.

  7. Mark Roulo says:

    Are you saying you want to win the game in front of you this week, or the one you want your 11-year-old to be playing when he’s 17 and playing in high school because he developed good skills and still loves the game?

    I only have a nine year old, so I’ve only been watching the sports thing play out for a few years now. I have the impression that being on teams that lose pretty much every game they play eventually gets to be no fun. And I’m also under the impression that kids eventually stop doing things that aren’t fun (assuming they have any choice in the matter). Have you personally seen many 17 year olds playing sports in high school where their age 8-14 experience was pretty much losing every game (or, say, 90% of the games played)? I’d expect this to be pretty discouraging …

    -Mark Roulo

  8. David Menefee-Libey says:

    “Have you personally seen many 17 year olds playing sports in high school where their age 8-14 experience was pretty much losing every game (or, say, 90% of the games played)? I’d expect this to be pretty discouraging …”

    I have seen more than one 17-year-old playing high school soccer when I know they had at least one year on a constantly losing team, sure. It _is_ very tough on kids to lose all the time, and some teams are just filled with low-talent players. But a lot depends on how the coach and the parents talk about those losses: did you play your best? did we play for each other as a team? did you honor the game? did you learn anything? Losing a game isn’t everything, just like winning a game isn’t everything.

    I would never say winning isn’t important. I tried to help my players win every game they ever played. I would just say that you have to put winning in context with your other goals. I don’t think Barry Rubin did that very well.

    I also always always always try to keep sports separate from politics. For a lot of people the field of play is one place where they can escape the culture wars, and to be on a team with people from all backgrounds, pulling in the same direction. Part of my beef with the Barry Rubin piece was that he was using the youth soccer example to make points in the culture wars. Yuck.

  9. Mark Roulo says:

    David,

    Thanks for the reply.

    I’d actually make a stronger statement: I think being on a team that gets smoked a lot can be quite valuable as a maturing experience. Also, being one of the worser (sic!) players on a team can be quite valuable as a maturing experience. Just not every year.

  10. but, the kids in the story were not learning anything from losing, it seems. they were just out there for a good time – no feedback, no learning from mistakes, or learning from the other team. nothing. so, david’s defense of the article is a bit misplaced.

  11. Mark Roulo says:

    …but, the kids in the story were not learning anything from losing…

    Sometimes what you learn is that you can get crunched and still keep going.

    -Mark Roulo

  12. I just don’t know, I think the best way to learn is through real life experiences and the sooner the better. I have two children, their birthays are exaclty 18 months apart. So, during the year their birthdays are 6 monts apart. When one of them celebrates their birthday, the other gets a “gift” too because my in-laws don’t want them left out. I think it is not a real life example. And, in sports, I firmly believe that if everyone gets a “trophy” even if you lose, you (the kid) will wake up to a harsh reality one day and curse their parents ….

  13. And, in sports, I firmly believe that if everyone gets a “trophy” even if you lose, you (the kid) will wake up to a harsh reality one day and curse their parents ….

    My daughter played soccer for a few years, starting around age 9, and every year at trophy day the girls – all of them – mocked the “Most Valuable Player” inscription that was on every trophy. Her first year, they tried to get the coach to tell them who was the MVP, and he wouldn’t. So they discussed it among themselves and made their own awards. The coach and some of the parents protested but the girls were right. Their choices for MVP, best kicker, etc. were right on the money. My kid, the only one who hadn’t been playing since she was six, was awarded most improved player.

    The kids know, whether the adults want to admit it or not.