There’s a war being waged in the youth sports world – especially in the soccer one. That war is between development and winning. Over the course of time, we have been prioritizing and overly focused on winning in youth sports. It has been discovered that this is harmful to the development of children and youth athletes. Thus, the winning vs. development war broke out.
Those on the development side are determined to educate the misinformed on the winning side to help them realize the harm of prioritizing winning in youth sports. It is a noble cause and one that will forever benefit society if it wins.
But there’s a problem with this side of the war. It’s the word “development.” What does that mean? It simply means the evolution over time of a person. There can be good development and bad development. Both are “development.” How are we striving to develop?
Secondly, if we are trying to convert people from a winning mentality, we need to appeal to them and spark their interest. The word “development” does not do this. But the word “excellence” does. People focus on winning because they want the best for their children and want them to be successful (as do the people on the development side). They think winning equals excellence. Therefore, using the word “excellence,” especially in opposition to winning, will ignite the interest of people who want to be excellent. When making a case for a cause, the words we choose are crucial.
To be clear: the real war should be between excellence and winning. In terms of youth soccer, these are a direct conflict. Down the road, winning is a byproduct of excellence. But it does not create excellence, and it does not define excellence. In fact, focusing on winning at the youth level prevents the development of excellence and leads to losing in the long run.
When the most successful people of any field speak about why and how they have accomplished so much, they speak about striving for excellence. They do not speak about striving to win. Simply being better than other people is not good enough. The most successful people strive to be the best they can be. Even if they are the best in the world at what they do, they strive to be even better. The relentless pursuit of personal excellence is what drives them and results in their success.
How do we help foster excellence in our youth? Below is a chart that outlines the differences between approaching youth soccer from an excellence standpoint and a winning standpoint. It also explains the results of each approach.
If we can begin to approach youth soccer from an excellence point of view, we will drastically improve the level of soccer, as well as improve the success of our youth in life.