Imagine this, your son or daughter had a game you couldn’t attend. After the game, you get a call and they say “Mom/Dad, the game is over and we’re on our way home.” You probably answer, “Okay,” and more than likely you follow up with a question about the game, right? So, can you think of what that question would be? I bet it’s the first thought that comes to your mind right now! Here’s a clue, it usually has something to do with the outcome of the game…
As a coach, I have been reflecting a lot on how development really works. With all the kids that are playing soccer in this country, we’re still hugely behind the rest of the world in producing top talents to lead the next generation of U.S. Soccer stars. One truth is that development takes time, patience, and a lot of work! Development is weird; a player that was probably the best at U9 could become the worst at U11. A player that walked around picking grass at U9 and rarely played in games because he couldn’t tell his right foot from his left, could become the best at U11. Why does development work this way? Don’t ask me. But, the rest of the world understands this better than we do in the US and they give players the time they need to grow.
Back to my question, what is that first question you ask if you weren’t at the game? I have heard it and I have asked it myself, sadly, and it doesn’t have to do with how they played. It’s, DID YOU WIN or Did you guys win? And then if the answer is no, everyone gets gloomy from there. This question is not a bad question in my opinion, from U13 onward. However, asking this question for any group younger than U13 would mean we’re not focusing on development. I decided to go check on the Chelsea or Arsenal website to see if I can find the results of the academy teams. I only found the results for the U18 and the U23. I wonder why? I am sure the other age groups play matches, but why do they not have their results and rankings on the websites? Is it because they don’t like winning? Far from it! I believe it’s because they focus less on winning and more on individual development.
So, what is the first the question we should be asking after matches to help encourage a developmental culture rather than a winning culture? Instead of asking, “Did you win?” or “Did you guys win?”, we should instead ask, “How did the team play?” or “HOW DID YOU PLAY?” This question leads one to think about the process rather than just the outcome. We want our players at the youth level to develop a learners’ mentality and to always seek to improve. But I am afraid we have gone too far by only focusing on the results. Yet, I also believe, we can still change it - and we must - if we want to compete with the rest of the world in developing top talents. So, be part of the change by asking the right question!
Kokou Assigbe, Director of Coaching