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Are Youth Soccer Players Afraid to Fail?

Develop Players to be Comfortable with Failure

If you look at the thriving world of Entrepreneurs in the tech industry, the Facebooks, Instagrams, What’s App…there is a common theme. Break things quickly. I was reading an article in Inc. Magazine citing this phenomenon and it got me thinking about youth soccer. Players will train and practice all week, then have a game. The game really acts like a test, and in that logic the practices are the homework and preparation. If you do well on the test, then you are a good student because you get the good marks. If you do well in a soccer game, then you must be a good soccer player and the impact of your teams win/loss column will reflect this. I don’t know that the terms success and failure with win and loss are interchangeable in youth soccer. You can win games for a period of time playing the wrong way, and you can lose games early on playing the right way. But if you commit to playing the proper way over time you have a higher probability of achieving sustainable results. In this case, creating good soccer players that are self-reliant, and have the understanding of the game to have success and build confidence on and off the field.

Training the Right Way and Having a Plan/Vision

I’ve encountered many teams in my coaching experience at high and low levels who have 2-3 very good players on the field that can change a game. The Good player in the back with the biggest foot kicks it long to the player up top who is the fastest and scores goals. But is this a sustainable development model? Of course not. As the kids get older, the physical element of the game equalizes and the technical/mental/and tactical aspects begin to take over. The key is to develop all the aspects: technical, physical, mental and tactical portions in development, in that order. The technical speaks to mastery between the player and the ball. The physical identifies the competitiveness, speed, agility, fitness, endurance and proper movements for the game. The mental is an awareness model that allows players to identify danger and opportunity as well as a vision around them and an understanding of “what’s next” in sequence of play. The tactical component is how the team sets up (formation, high press, set back, counter attack, etc.) and works together to amplify their results of the first 3 components. This sounds great on paper, but how does it translate onto the field? I currently coach an Under 9 team with some extraordinarily talented players to work with. We are currently playing up an age group in our league because I feel the boys need to test their skills against bigger, faster, and stronger opponents. This forces them to fast track the mental, technical and tactical aspects of the game to supplement our weekly development model. The results are that we often lose games by a goal or two, trying to play the right way, short passing, proper weight on the pass, supportive roles, making proper runs, developing a rhythm and timing to our play that requires time to master. However, the idea is that by playing higher levels and having elements of success when we take the field against kids our own age, then the boys are ahead of the curve. 031413_33

Getting Them Comfortable with Failure

I’m not advocating here that it is ok to fail. What I’m suggesting is that failure is part of the path to success. The rich and far wiser than me people at Facebook and the other high end tech companies identify that if they can make mistakes early on, then they can perfect and build sustainable, profitable companies long term. They have to get comfortable with Failure in their early business development stages in order to achieve the high end success at the other end of the spectrum. In taking this methodology onto the soccer field, I’m trying to get my young players comfortable with the failure aspect. That we might give up a goal or two a game and lose 3-4 games out of 10 trying to play soccer the right way (as I highlighted earlier). What happens over time as we develop the technical and physical component, the mental and tactical aspects start to take shape because these players have the right foundation (similar to taking Algebra 1 before Algebra 2). Over time, what used to be giving up 1-2 goals per game playing the proper way becomes 1-2 goals every 3-5 games…as a result where we might drop 3-4 games out of 10, this goes down to 1-3 games/10. By focusing on how we play, getting comfortable with failure early on we can begin to experiment and gain the confidence it will take to become a successful team long term, not a single season success of kick and run jungle ball.

How can Parents Help?

At the young ages the parents can help by adopting a supportive role. They can understand that if their kids are really being tested, they are winning 33%, drawing/close game 33%, and losing 33% of the time. This will tell them they are in a healthy league and playing teams that are testing and pushing their kids to their limits. Parents also have to set their egos aside and realize that how their kid performs on a Saturday morning game is no reflection on them. I know we invest a lot of energy, time and money into our children’s development but what is going on in an 7-10 year olds mind during a fast-paced, high intensity soccer game is periods of stress. And when there is a lot of yelling, outside instruction, and chaos (for lack of a better word) then that stress becomes anxiety…Stress is healthy, it’s what makes us take action with our backs against the wall. Anxiety clouds our judgement, causes undue pressure, and makes players underperform. Young players will perform better when they are comfortable with failure and have the support and tools to achieve success long term. Every great business person has a mentor or a person they look up to in their life. Imagine a young Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard trying to code the first version of Facebook with an investor leaning over his shoulder and yelling “type, code quicker, oh—why did you do that?” Imagine your kid in school trying to do a complex math problem for his 8 year old mind and the teacher leaning over his shoulder “I taught you this, you better know this…” Now imagine you are at your job trying to give your best performance and your boss and other co-workers are shouting at you on Saturday morning with a full latte in their system. Now pretend you are 8. Create good environments, be comfortable with failure as a stepping stone toward the master work of sustainable success in soccer.