What is soccer for?
In many of our blogs on Goalden, we’ve talked about the lack of a system in North America to develop players that have the calibre required to play at any level in the world. When someone tells me something isn’t good, I like to ask: ‘ok, well compared to what?’ In this particular situation, I am talking about the North American soccer system compared to the European soccer system which, without a doubt, is the best in the world. But what if we’re asking the wrong question? What if we’re comparing it to the wrong system? What if we have the wrong goals? Suddenly, things change…
I am currently reading a 30,000 word manifesto written by blogger Seth Godin, Stop Stealing Dreams (what is school for?). In his manifesto, he primarily talks about our outdated schooling system and the lack of inspired students and teachers.
About halfway through his manifesto he discusses meritocracy – where a group of people tryout for limited positions. When soccer players, for example, are trying out for a team, we usually pick the best ones. This is realistic and how the world works. Almost all coaches in any sport pick a team this way because they have the end goal in mind of winning a trophy. But Godin argues coaches have it all wrong:
Of course, this isn’t his [the coaches] job, because there isn’t a shortage of trophies, there isn’t a shortage of winners. There’s a shortage of good sportsmanship, teamwork, skill development, and persistence, right?
There are sixteen kids on the squad. Eleven get to play; the others watch. One popular strategy is to play your top eleven at all times, and perhaps, just maybe, if you’re ahead by five or more goals, sub in a few of the second-string players. (Actually, this isn’t just a popular strategy—it’s essentially the way nearly every high school coach in the nation thinks.)
The lesson to the kids is obvious: early advantages now lead to bigger advantages later. Skill now is rewarded, dreams, not so much. If you’re not already great, don’t bother showing up. If the goal of the team was to win, that would make sense. But perhaps the goal is to teach kids about effort and opportunity and teamwork. Isn’t it interesting that the movies we love about sports always feature the dark horse who dreams, the underdog who comes off the bench and saves the day?
What would happen to school sports if the compensation of coaches was 100 percent based on the development of all the players and none of it was related to winning the game at all costs?
I would argue that winning is the ultimate goal of any coach at any level of soccer anywhere. Is this a bad approach? Absolutely not! There is something amazing that comes with wanting to win. You develop a drive within yourself that breeds success. But Godin’s perspective threw me off-balance. It made me re-assess my axiomatic belief that winning trumps everything.
What is more important, winning a trophy or developing a human being? When you put it that way, I would argue that developing the latter is much more important and effective. In fact, I would also add that educating a player and feeding his/her dreams will help eventually bring a trophy.
I won’t allow myself to get too carried away with Godin’s points, though. As I mentioned, we live in a world where life is a meritocracy. We can’t fall into a utopian mindset where you pick people because they deserve a chance or because they have a dream. That’s almost naive. The balancing point, I would argue, is finding players who actually want to – and have the ability to – play soccer and fuel their dreams.
As a coach, be fluid and dynamic. A coach can learn just as much from his players as the players do from the coach if he listens. Taking the time to actually care about individual players will reap benefits that I can’t even begin to explain. If coaches can engage in the complexities of continuous improvement consistent with deep values of human purpose, there’s much more than a trophy waiting.
It won’t be easy. Along the way you’ll come into situations where you crush dreams, instigate tears and feel like you’ve got it all wrong. Push through it…allow it to mean something to you. We need people who care.