Playing to win today or developing your players?

You might have seen my recent post about an experienced coach telling my daughter’s U13 team some risk-averse nonsense. Well, let’s see what Neymar’s dad would have thought about that:

According to his dad a key moment in Neymar’s life was when he terribly mishit a shot with his left foot and his coach then told him to always use his right foot in the future. But Neymar’s dad, with respect, disagreed:

“Son, you should kick with the foot next to the ball, whichever it is. Don’t be afraid to use your weak foot. Use it once, twice, three times, until the weak foot is not weak anymore. Until you feel it’s strong.”

Thereafter, he spoke to his coach Betinho who understood and started doing the same with his other youngsters.

“I would make him practice all the time with his left foot. I would show him that if an opponent comes at you from one side it is much easier if you are comfortable on the other side. He would always ask me how he could be better and I would tell him to use his left foot.”

The use of his left foot helped Neymar improve exponentially. In the short term the improvements are seemingly small, yet in the long term fundamental ones.

(Click here for source).

Author: James

Lifelong player and student of the beautiful game in Germany, England, and USA. Volunteer futsal coach and USSF referee.

4 thoughts on “Playing to win today or developing your players?”

  1. I recently wrote about the need to focus on both as a coach. Winning each game is important to the kids so you should be doing everything in your coaching power to put them in the best position to win each game. Yet, overall won-loss records are irrelevant at the younger ages where player development trumps winning every time.

    As a baseball coach, I am always happy to see a young player try to execute the right play even if they fail because it means I am putting them in the best position to win and wins will follow for sure.

    As a soccer dad, my proudest moments this season were the goals my son (9U) scored with his left foot (his off-foot) not so much because he scored but because he recognized the need to use his left foot in those situations. The goals were gravy.


    1. Appreciate your comment! I distinguish between ‘competing’ and ‘winning’.

      Coaches and players should put all their efforts into competing as best they can during every game, within the context of development and learning. ‘Competing’ aligns with ‘development’ (and mostly also enjoyment).

      If the focus is on ‘winning’ then different decisions have to be made during the game and practices probably have to reflect that too. ‘Playing to win’ a game is not aligned with development and learning, at least in the way I define the word.

      There are times during a season when a focus on ‘winning’ can probably be justified. For example, the team might want to maximize their chance of winning a key tournament at the end of a 20-game season. So everyone goes into that tournament with an adjusted mindset. And this ‘winning’ mindset won’t materially impact player development because the vast majority of games played that season focused on ‘competing’. And the practices were used to ‘teach’, not to win the next game.

      I suspect we are saying the same thing, just using different words.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We are though I still prefer the word winning.

        To your point, it has to be done within the unwritten rules of your sport and your age group. If you are willing to sit a kid most of the year or resort to bus league plays even if they are legal in order to win you’ve missed the boat as coach. Hence the word competing as you write.

        The reason I prefer winning is the kids to see the benefits of a moral victory.

        In the end, we are in violent agreement other than over symantics.


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