How Do We Measure Success in Youth Soccer?
(Pt 1 of 3)
From the US Youth Soccer Technical Department
"There are already a multitude of articles saying that winning and losing are not the correct measures of success in youth soccer; instead, we should measure the development of the players. OK, perfect. The next obvious follow-up question then is, 'How do we measure the development of a single player?' If US Youth Soccer can answer this question in a way that is helpful to committed coaches and understandable to parents with limited playing
experience (and paying the money to have their kids involved), they may be able to turn this overly organized youth soccer system of ours into a much more effective development program."
- Cary McCormick, Coach, Arlington, Va.
Indeed... how do we measure player development?
Too often in America, a professional sport model is used in measuring youth sports success. Youth soccer is not immune to this misapplied standard. For soccer, the situation is made worse by a desire of many adults to use measuring tools from other sports. In fact, it is maddening to many adults that soccer is not as black-and-white as with some sports in judging successful play. Many team sports played in our nation are statistically driven and coach-centered.
Soccer is neither of those.
Indeed, just like the Laws of the Game, our sport has many shades of grey within it. As a player-centered sport, some coaches become disillusioned as they learn that they are the 'guide on the side' and not the 'sage on the stage'. Too many soccer coaches bring a military-focused attitude to the youth sport environment. This coach-centered perspective has been handed down to us from other sports and coaching styles of past generations.
In many sports, the coach makes crucial decisions during the competition. In soccer, players make the primary decisions during the match; the coach's decisions are of secondary importance. Egocentric personalities will find coaching soccer troublesome. The other significant group of adults at a youth soccer match is parents. They too often have their view of the match colored by the professional model and by a view of "coaching" that is portrayed in
the media. Although it is changing, the majority of parents watching their kids play soccer have never played the game. In fact, the statistics show that most of today's parents never played any team sport. So their only exposure on how to measure sporting success is gleaned from the sports media. The sports media predominately report on adult teams at the college and professional levels. These adult measurements of team performance should not and
cannot be applied to youth sports.
The analogy can be made to a youngster's academic development in preparation for work in the adult business world. While the child is in primary and secondary school, the corporate world measurements of success are not applied. Those business assessments are not yet appropriate because the school-aged student does not yet have the tools to compete in the adult business environment. The knowledge and skills to be a competitor in business are still being taught
and learned. This holds true in soccer as well!
Soccer is an adult game designed by adults for adults to play. Adults enjoy the game so much that they have shared it with their children. Yet, adults make errors when we bring our adult performance and outcome-based thinking into the developing player's world.
Alright... fine, you say. So how do we measure success? How do parents know if the team coach is doing a good job of teaching soccer to the players? How does the novice coach know if the kids are growing within the game?
As a way to measure success, let's look at the facts provided a by a study by the Youth Sports Institute, on what players want from their sports experience.
TRUTHS about children and sports:
* Fun is pivotal - if it's not fun, young people won't play a sport
* Skill development is a crucial aspect of fun - it is more important than winning even among the best athletes
* The most rewarding challenges of sports are those that lead to self-knowledge
* Intrinsic rewards (self-knowledge that grows out of self-competition) are more important in creating lifetime athletes than extrinsic rewards are (victory or attention from others)1
During childhood allow the kids to have a good time playing the game while instilling the passion to love playing soccer on their own. Only a passion for the game can lead to success.
To be continued next issue...
Previously published on www.usyouthsoccer.org.
1 Ewing, M.E., & Seefeldt. V. (1990). American youth sport participation. American Footwear Association, North Palm Beach, FL. Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA).