Old Soccer Guy posted an interesting article back in July as he was just ramping up his U13 Girls team. I had hoped to write about it before now, but never got a chance with my own team getting started.

He was torn between the need to develop all your players, possibly at the e­xpense of winning, and how promotion/relegation might require that he coach to win so his team could advance to the Premier division, something that would help all of his players in the form of better competition:

here’s the thing — we are in a killer division. With the exception of two 2-0 wins and a 2-0 loss, all of our spring matches were one goal games or ties. At U13 here, teams are promoted and relegated at the end of the fall season and then again at the end of the spring season. Next fall, a Premier Division will be formed from the 10 best teams in the state. My team, which is kind of the flagship team from our small club, has a chance to be a Premier team.

To do that, we need to not­ finish in the top seven in the fall to avoid relegation, then finish in the top five in our division in the spring.

Reaching Premier at U14 was one of the stated goals of this team when I took over the team before the spring season. If I am to win, it will have to be at the expense of the best player development situation for some of the girls on my team. There are some that just can’t be in a close game if the team is expected to win.

This situation is a lot more common than you think and the answer isn’t as clear as some may think.

Sure – it’s easy to say that coaches should always focus on development with kids, even if it means not winning. But the point here is that overall for OSG’s players, being in Premiere would be VERY beneficial to their development due to the tougher competition they would face. But to get there might require some tough decisions and sitting certain players when they normally would go in.

My viewpoint with my team can be summed up by something another coach always tells his parents (as do I). “Leagues are for learning, tournaments are for trophies” It sounds like a cliche, and I can see why. But it speaks volumes. During the regular season, my girls play all sorts of positions and they get a lot of playing time (though in their eyes it is never enough). We want the girls to understand what it means to play in positions they normally wouldn’t be in so they can better understand what they face in an opponent and to better understand the game. Nothing new there. We lost more than we won this season, but the girls, all of them, made huge improvements. But I want the girls to understand that when we go to tournaments, we ARE playing to win. That may sound wrong, but I want them to understand that tournaments are intense affairs and they need to leave it all on the field and be able to handle pressure when they score is tied and advancement rests on a goal being scored (or denied). So in a tournament where you need points to advance, sometimes you may see less playing time, or may spend more time in your strong position, depending on the opponent and the match so the team as a whole may advance to the next round to likely face a tougher opponent.

Is this a bad thing? I don’t think so if you keep it in perspective. We’re there, above all else, to have fun. But the girls are very competitive – they want to succeed. And it should be noted this is an exception, not a rule. But in a close match that may decide if we advance or not – you better believe we’ll have the best lineup in, made up of players we feel will do the best against that specific opponent. That last part is very important, lest some of the girls feel that they aren’t ‘good enough’. We make it VERY clear that we put in the players who we feel at that very moment, are going to have the most success. And it surely won’t always be the same players. Proof of that point came in our mid-season tournament’s 2nd match. We put in a completely mixed up lineup, with many players in positions they didn’t normally play, primarily because of what had happened in match #1 and based on watching our opponent play some. It worked like a charm and muted the many questions of ‘WHY are we playing with lineups like this?”

I guess my overall point is that coaching is never so easy that everything is black and white. Its easy to say ‘development above all else’ but that’s shortsighted in some situations. A team advancing to the next round of a tournament or making a higher level division will gain a huge boost of confidence, even if it meant that occasionally you had to place winning a match above the development of every player. What we shouldn’t lose sight of is that player is gaining a LOT of development throughout the season, and as long as we ensure that, an occasional tactical substitution, regardless of playing time, may be alright. I’m not advocating a win at all costs attitude. But we as coaches do need to be flexible in our outlook sometimes. At the end of a season, my measure of success is how much the girls developed overall, not how much they won. But sometimes you need to win in certain situations to get them into some intense development situations like a top class division or a tournament final against a really tough opponent. I’m not sure that’s as bad as some would say based on a knee jerk reaction to the word ‘win’. What do you think? ­