Q & A with the soccer moms

“Should 6-year olds be worried about winning or losing?”

Let me be clear – competition can be a good-thing. After all, competition is a central element in a player’s development. At the youth level, however, a competitive environment shouldn’t be a Final Score-oriented environment. In other words – the score of the game shouldn’t be the sole determinant of a team’s success. The differences must be clear. A competitive environment at the youth level encourages decisions from player and coach alike that focus on performance rather than outcome. With beginning players, coaches should favor skill and creativity on-the-ball as the means to find success within the rules and spirit of the game. The score at the end of the game is just one indicator of performance and at this age, not the most important one.

“The kids keep score – shouldn’t the adults?”

Competition among kids playing games will always exist, whether adults are present or not. Making soccer “fun” at the younger ages does not mean that competition (or even keeping score) is removed. Competition can be positive and healthy. Scoring goals and winning the game are fundamental parts of soccer. Allow the children to enjoy this aspect without making it the focus. Set up other skill-based objectives (such as trapping, dribbling, and eventually passing) as the focal point. At the same time, recognize that children will find competition in anything you set up. Let them compete and have fun with the competitive process. In youth soccer, the emphasis of the coach (and who are we kidding, the parents as well) will often determine if the competitive environment is healthy or not.

“But aren’t the games supposed to be important!?”

At the youth level, games are important as a means to player development (enjoyment, ball skill, insight, and fitness), not as the aim. These competitive situations are a series of tests for kids. Whether it’s learning to dribble the ball into space or getting back on one’s feet after getting knocked down – the  usefulness of the game can occur in many different forms. Parents and coaches should focus on the process and performance rather than the outcome.  It’s important to be prepared for the possibility that your team may lose some games in the short term with this approach. Keep in mind that it is actually easier to win games at this age group with teams that are “organized” but lack skill. Placing the more physically mature players down the middle of the field and just asking players to “kick it down the middle” or only allowing players to specialize at one position may lead to more victories. However, this approach doesn’t effectively teach the players the game and prepare them to continue on in soccer.

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