All too often parents and coaches equate success with winning.  It is appropriate for many high level programs to emphasize winning. However, the better coaches in most youth soccer programs emphasize personal improvement and skill development with an emphasis on having fun. Winning is always a desirable result, but it is not the primary concern of these coaches.

The primary purpose of youth sports is for the children to have fun.  “Not having fun” is the primary reason why 50-75% of youngsters drop sports by the age of fifteen.

It is important for youngsters to develop goals for themselves and strive to achieve them. Even if they sometimes fall a little short, they will still improve, become stronger and realize that they can be successful without winning.

I have been coaching soccer goalkeepers since I retired from a long business career ten years ago. Initially, I was a volunteer high school coach.

This past year I started Just4Keepers of Western MA, a goalkeeper training academy in Berkshire County, MA. I was attracted to J4K because their coaching philosophy perfectly matched mine; technical and tactical training, personal development and confidence building, and most importantly—having fun.

At J4K, I impress upon my goalkeepers that personal development, in addition to skill and tactics, is an important component to their training.  We discuss their improvement at the end of each training session. This helps them to develop self-confidence.

Rather than being a negative, my students take pride in showing what they learned from their mistakes.  As they progress, they develop the ability to “self-coach”, which is really self-analysis.

It is very rewarding for a coach when their students develop a sense of achievement along with increased motivation.  Their success, as measured by both by them and their coach, is based upon personal achievement. This leads to a positive attitude and a sense of accomplishment.

I ask my young goalkeepers before training session, “how was your week?” It does not take long before they discuss what they accomplished and not whether they won or lost.

That is when I feel that I’ve been successful.

I’ve chosen a few “success stories” to illustrate that winning is not the primary measure of success.

Taconic High School 2015 Girls’ soccer team‘s 2-14-2 record

After I started J4K of Western MA, I decided not to continue as a volunteer high school soccer goalkeeper coach. I wanted to concentrate on building my J4K goalkeeper training academy, but I was also disappointed with the way high school coaches’ integrated goalkeeper training into the daily practice sessions.

I changed my mind after meeting with Jenna Giardina, the new head coach of Taconic’s girls’ soccer team. It would be her first season as a head coach and she did not have any goalkeeper training experience.  Also, their only goalkeeper would not be eligible and new ones needed to be developed.

Jenna’s youthful enthusiasm was refreshing and I welcomed the challenge of helping develop goalkeepers essentially from scratch.

I was able to work with four goalkeepers (2 sophomores, a junior and a senior), but there was only ten days until Taconic’s first game.  Normally, high school goalkeepers have had earlier training in youth leagues and clubs so there is a base of experience to build upon, but this was not the case.

Although all four of the goalkeepers showed significant progress in the ten practice sessions prior to the season start, they were still very inexperienced.  It was agreed that since there were a limited number of practices once league play began, we would consider the games as “on the job training”.  The goalkeepers realized that learning from their mistakes was normal for any training program. Each evaluated their own progress based upon improvement, not how good they were.

The approach was also used for the entire team.

One goalkeeper was needed as a field player for most of the season due to injuries.

Jenna continually focused upon skill improvement, physical cinditioning and staying positive. Although Taconic lost most of their games by large margins, the team continued to make progress. They began lose by closer scores as the season progressed.  Their final game was a 2-1 loss to one of the top teams in the league.  Taconic played them even and almost salvaged a tie.

Through all this, team members seemed to enjoy themselves.  I told the goalkeepers and coach Jenna that the 2-14-2 record was not the true measure of the team’s success. Their progress and attitude was.

Many teams are in for a surprise next season.

A Horrible 8-year Little League Team

I had some free time my first summer semester in graduate school. I had also attended Lehigh University as an undergraduate and knew many people in Bethlehem, PA.

When I asked if any help was needed with in their Little League league, I was assigned to a horrible team of eight year olds. They were losing every game by ten runs or more and rarely scoring any runs.

Both coaches had sons on the team. They were the typical parent coaches concerned about winning and always frustrated with the losing.

After helping out for a few weeks, I suggested that they focus on teaching proper skills and not worrying about winning. If a player threw the ball over the second baseman’s head, he would be praised if it was the correct base. If it was not, the proper play would be discussed.

The catcher was big for his age with a strong arm and always threw the ball back over the pitcher’s head.  Also, he was afraid of being behind the plate. He was thrilled to be moved to the outfield where he was proud of his long throws.

They continued to lose, even blowing a ten run lead with two outs in the last inning. But they were having fun and learning.

Even the two fathers began to relax and enjoy the games.

Always Being Lapped in the Mile Run

I was sprinter on my high school track team and liked the idea that win or lose the race was over is a matter of seconds.

My sophomore year I became friendly with a senior miler.  He had been running for three years, but was always lapped, both in practice and in school meets.  Also, he did not have a runner’s body.

Early in the season I asked Mel why he ran if he always did so poorly. He replied with a big smile, “I love to run and being part of a team”. After further discussion, I suggested that he set some goals to help keep it interesting.  At first his goal was to shave a few seconds off his time. Later, he increased it to minutes.

His times steadily improved, but he was still lapped.  Finally, in the last meet of his high school track career, he just barely avoided being lapped. You would have thought he won Olympic Gold.

Once the team learned about Mel’s goals, they cheered him on in every practice and meet. Teaneck High School’s rule was that three points were necessary to receive a letter for track. The team informed the coach that none of us would accept our track letters at the school award assembly unless Mel received his. The coach agreed.

It was a very satisfying moment when Mel received a standing ovation from the entire student body.

That was better than any win.

These were only three of many more examples from my background of how winning was not the criteria for success.

It is important that the youngsters have a sense of accomplishment.