One of the greatest travesties of grassroots football is watching a coach jumping and yelling along the touchline as s/he sucks the joy out of the game for the kids out on the pitch. I recently caught an Under-12 game where a school coach cursed and heckled his own player for misplacing a pass! It was disgraceful.
When I think back to why coaches behave like that in training or at a game, there are a few reasons that come to mind:
- They are pushing the kids to do what they never did – attempting to live through them
- They are trying to show everyone who the boss is
- They want to win the game at all costs
- They feel like the match is about them rather than the kids – an ego play
In my book, the one big mistake that coaches make in grassroots football, where children between the ages of 6 and 12 years play, is to prioritise winning over the development of players. Laureano Ruiz, the man who founded FC Barcelona‘s distinctive playing style way back in the 1970’s had this to say:
“Let us say that you and I coach two teams with kids that are 10, 11 and 12 years old and all are about equally good. You try to teach them to play good football, a passing game and with tactical basics while I tell mine to only play long balls and try to shoot. I can assure you that [at first] I will always win against you by using your mistakes – break a bad pass and goal. If we, however, continue with the same training methods during a three-year period, you will most likely win every game against us. Your players will have learned how to play while mine haven’t. That’s how easy it is.”
If the man who established Barcelona‘s style of football says so, that’s validation enough. What coaches often forget is that grassroots football is about having fun and, for the kids, football is a medium to enjoy themselves. The real test of a good coach is to ensure that children learn basic football techniques while they are having a blast on the pitch.
Fostering a winning mentality is essential for a player’s development and there are few things sweeter than the taste of victory, but grassroots coaches need to put the players’ interest ahead of their own. It is true that winning boosts confidence, self-belief and self-esteem, but it simply cannot be at the cost of player development.
As a grassroots leader, when a team is done with a game, the first question you ask isn’t ‘What was the score?’, it is ‘How did the team play?’ Yes, the game may have been lost, but did your team combine well? Did the kids make good passes? Did they create quality chances? Did they uphold the spirit of the game? Did you feel proud of the lads? Did the children enjoy themselves? If the answer to all or most of these questions is yes, that’s a massive achievement in itself as a coach. For parents, it is important to choose a club/academy for your child that emphasizes this approach. Because in grassroots football performance matters more than results.