Match Days

Matchday! We all know that every young player is excited to be part of match days for a number of reasons, including the chance to play with friends, compete, and have fun. Every coach and parent should recognise and identify “WHY” young players continue to choose to engage in the sport prior to any match day.

The “100 Point Exercise” is an excellent way to learn about each individual participant and their motivations for participation. I strongly suggest coaches perform the activity since we sometimes presume or think we know why the players participate without having clear answers. We’ve all seen coaches that desire self-satisfaction in terms of match results and would go to any extent to obtain it in order to satisfy their own ego.

Winning and losing are natural components of the game and a vital part of the learning process, but we must not overlook the impact that a winning at all costs mentality may have in the youth sports environment. We should never remove the aspect of winning or losing from any match day, but it should not be used to determine one’s abilities entirely based on the outcome. As players embrace and learn new aspects of the game, each player will ultimately do their best and engage as competitively as possible.

What we should not do as coaches and parents is foster a culture and environment in which the outcome is only a reflection of an individual’s or team’s abilities. Parents and coaches must reduce the comparison to elite sports and recognise that youth football players are always learning about the game and that outcomes may fluctuate, which is normal.

 Too often, we’ve seen players become extremely angry or upset after losing a game; this is where a larger emphasis is placed only on the outcome of the game. It is OK for players to give their best and be unhappy with the outcomes; but, being terribly angry and upset again is a strong sign of what the environment generated may look like. How about we discuss any game with parents and players and reflect on it?

In my ten years of coaching around the world, when I asked players why they were so upset given the outcome, the following were some of the responses:

The answers I receive are:

  • My parents wanted me to win for them
  • The coach said if we don’t win we’re not good enough
  • Parents and/or Coach said we had to win
  • Parents and/or coaches said if we win we’re better than the opposition

Is this the type of environment we want to set as a precedent for the players? Will such culture advocate for an environment where players strive to reach their full potential or become a statistic that leave our game on a regular basis?

In terms of my personal coaching, I am always striving to create a fun and player-centred environment in which each player has the ability to define success in a variety of ways, with the emphasis only on the outcome. Some of the strategies we’ve utilised include role model challenges, team goals, and individual targets, as seen below:

Team Targets

(Players may choose their targets if they so like.):

Individual Targets

All of these targets were discussed and agreed upon with the players. Individual positional targets enable players to have a small target while participating in a certain position. Players are free to play and empowered by the targets set, and they are given the time, patience, and encouragement to strive for completion in a game-specific environment free of excessive pressure.

I’ve had players tell me after a loss that they were incredibly delighted and proud of themselves because they tried new things relating to their targets.

 Individual Targets No.2

As older youth players aim to emulate the characteristics of an elite role model, this might result in more specific targets relating to different phases of the game.

Role Model Challenge

A challenge in which specific players choose three role models and identify their strengths, as well as how they might set developmental goals for themselves as players to aim for and practise within game-related experiences.

Challenge Cards

Challenge cards are an excellent method for players to learn about past and present elite players while also attempting to mimic aspects of their game in their own unique style through small manageable targets. After completing one, players can move to the next elite player.

On match days, as you can see, I try to give more than simply the outcome as a component to determine success. Coaches should focus on developing individual players within a game context without putting undue pressure solely on the outcome, especially in minor sports. We must, however, emphasise the need of being patient with individual player development and never compare players to one another or even against elite adult players. Every young player develops at a distinct rate and at different stages, which may fluctuate.

Let’s make match days enjoyable and centred on the players, where each player has fun as they seek to reach their full potential while creating memories.

Thank you

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