What is success in youth development? UEFA A licensed academy coach & PDP contributor, Dan Wright discusses his philosophy of what success looks like when a coach takes a long term view to their approach.
We know the process of learning is complex and each individual’s journey is unique and non-linear. For young people, the process of learning to play football should be very similar to most learning experiences. In my eyes this would mean having a go, failing, reflecting, maybe taking some input from others and trying again. Sounds simple, but it can be very difficult and arduous process.
During this journey, we also know that some players can have more talent*, potential and a genetic advantage for certain sports.
As adults we may believe we have more experience and knowledge than the young people we coach, and that we can improve the rate at which players perform and ultimately get better.
Let’s presume all of the above is agreed. The detail within this process is where coaches can get lost, frustrated and even disillusioned. I have coached in environments where teams have “lost” because of lack of understanding, physicality, maturation or even adhering to a playing style. Most coaches are competitive, almost all feel the urge to win, this can mean they tend to play their strongest team or ditch the playing style to avoid the loss. However, coaches must park their egos and embrace this itch, and let it burn if they are going to produce players. The outcome of losing or conceding is not the priority, the process and detail are.
The process is where the magic is.
How do you help the player get from where they are, to where they could be if you don’t embrace the process? How can you encourage risk takers, creativity and bravery when you park your philosophy as soon as it gets difficult. Coaches can be guilty of building and fostering a great environment in training, one that encourages risks and bravery but then ditching this support and patience in tough games. When we revert to direct, win at all costs, physical football dominated by early maturated players we lose the mavericks and technicians.
Parents and coaches often view youth football through an adult lens. Whilst winning is important, it’s often lower down the priority list for kids. Development football is not the same as the Premier League, there are no financially implications if you lose 3 games in a row, no TV deal, no sponsors to keep happy and nobodies mortgage is on the line. We shouldn’t imply it’s ok to surrender possession or throw away our style just because of the score. If we are able to reframe “winning” we can enjoy the process and watch individuals improve in specific areas of the game.
It’s not about today, it’s about the big picture. Winning is about developing individuals.