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I'm coaching a team in a U8 recreational soccer league.

Some of the parents and assistant coaches are way more focused on the team's win-loss record than they are on the kids having fun.

The real challenge is with the assistant coaches. I need their help in running practices and games, but their focus on winning is putting some of the kids off. The message the kids get is that it can't be fun if they don't win the game.

At this stage and level of (non-)competitive play, I see my job as inspiring the kids with passion for the game and to enjoy playing on a team. I would like for them to win some games, but I'm more concerned with making sure they enjoy playing first.

How can I convince my assistant coaches to change their behavior / what they're saying to the kids?


To address some questions:

1) I have already talked with the ass't coaches and pointed out what's going on. But they're type-A driven individuals and while they say they agree with my points, they haven't shifted their focus.

2) The team didn't win any games last season. And no, I wasn't involved with the team at that point but the assistant coaches were.

3) I can't replace the assistant coaches as I don't have anyone to replace them with. And it's a rec league. And these are their kids, too.

4) And yes, winning is fun, but you can have fun without always winning too.

5) Honestly, I don't know how much latent talent is on the team. But my first guess is not much at this stage. And I'll counter that by noting Michael Jordan was cut from his HS basketball team, and I've heard that Pele was just average at this age. I see those examples as more reasons I want the kids having fun and a passion for the sport before worrying about win-loss.

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    Not a complete answer, but did you ever try organizing a team-event not related to soccer (e.g. bowling, movie night, barbecue). This helps for emphasizing the having fun part (in contrast with suppressing the winning part)
    – Bernhard
    Commented Mar 17, 2013 at 20:13
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    Not sure Herman Edwards would approve, but if kids (or anyone) are having fun, you'll most likely get the most from them.
    – user527
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 15:55
  • @edmastermind29 - We're certainly not playing futbal at the level Herman coaches football, so I'll happily let him have his opinions regarding winning.
    – user1122
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 16:35

3 Answers 3

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Try developing a goal setting program to use with your players and coaching staff. It's important to set goals related to performance (e.g., # received passes, shots, etc.) not outcomes (e.g., wins-losses). You can begin by setting one or two performance goals for each practice and game and go from there.

For your assistant coaches, they should be able to understand that if you take care of your performance (what you can control), the desired outcome will follow (a byproduct of good performance that you don't have control over). This way of focusing helps maintain motivation since you can still achieve your goals (success!) despite losing a game.

When you're setting up your goals they should meet the SMART criteria. That is each goal should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

You can find some more detail here.

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    This still sounds like overkill for an U8 competition! Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 22:12
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Maybe you can try focusing more on detail - parts of a game. I never played soccer seriously, but I imagine it is more than just 2x10 people running after a ball and trying to kick it in the direction of their favored goal.

I don't know how receptive a U8 team is, but maybe you can put the focus on actually being aware of team dynamics, and showing how certain behavior is better than others, depending on the situtation. (Say, better to pass to an open player than try to kick through a wall). Your praise/chiding would be aimed at these aspects then.

  • Praise them when they see the big-picture(a team mate running to an open spot, realizing there's 3 opponents coming to your position) - and focus on realizing these things quickly.
  • Chide them for not watching the field, playing solo.

Maybe you can film the games from a higher point of view(top of the rafters?) and cut out two minutes from each game to show what went good and what didn't. (The high viewpoint might be a cool comparison to professional football coverage : P)

Anecdote: my highschool had subject-profiled classes, and the class soccer tournament was always won by the math/informatics class. I watched the final between them and the econ/business class in one year, and it was even a bit chilling how the scrawnier team endlessly outplayed the 1 year more senior team and beat them 11-2 in a 30 min match.

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In the UK, the Lawn Tennis Association, has various coaching learning sites and one of the concepts they discuss is the difference between outcome and process.

Outcome is something that you can easily measure, you get a result, such as your first serve percentage or your win/loss ratio, or as simple as did you win or lose.

Tennis is an outcome based sport of course. But particularly when players are starting out, they are not going to immediately win all their matches. And losing can be de-motivating, particularly if parents or coaches keep emphasising results. If the first question after your match from your parents is "Did you win?" then that can be very demotivating if you didn't. Why did'nt they ask "How did you get on?" Or "How did you get on using your new killer forehand?"

Parents and coaches can change the narrative and focus more on the process to build confidence in players. Process is about how you do something. Players achieve a feeling of success by engaging in the new techniques they are working on. For example, did they hit the ground stroke from low to high to give topspin to get the ball over the net.

To get to win you need to follow the process of learning to get the great forehand, better anticipation, improved footwork etc. Winning is more the longer term goal. To get there, players need to keep learning. They have to be patient and of course if they are enjoying practice sessions they will stick at it.

Have you read the book Mindset by Carol Dweck. She distinguishes between a growth and a fixed mindset which is related. Players with a growth mindset are more likely to stick with the learning and improve so they get to the stage where they start winning.

You are going to have to educate your assistant coaches and parents.

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