I’m proud to present another piece by Coach Aitor Fuentes.
After exploring the idea of football and its universality, in this well thought out and measured blog, Aitor digs into another big concept that affects all those involved in the game, particularly at youth level.
Your Strongest Opponent
In football, as in any other sport, there are several goals everyone tries to achieve. Regardless of your skill level, your age, your position, your game mindset, we always play to win. You can ask any athlete in the world, “do you like to lose?”, the answer will be widely “No”. And as a matter of fact, losing is not fun. Even in the animal kingdom, the strongest, smarter animals are the ones who have a better life. We have it encoded in our genes.
Having worked with young football players for over two years now has given me a very broad perspective on how players -and parents and other coaches- approach competition. I have been lucky enough to work with the very young players, some as young as three years-old, all the way to kids aged eighteen. Evidently, when you get to some point in your sports career, you play to compete. You are supposed to have acquired a skill set, technical and tactical knowledge, and everything you need to be successful on a pitch.
But when do you need to start focusing on the competition, rather than on the player’s growth?
The worst part is, probably, that not only we want to win, but we want to win now. If the coach does not keep track of the score, either the players or the parents will. In Canada, for instance, standings are not existent until age 12. But ask parents what position in the ranking they are at and they will know for sure. I do not agree nor disagree with this. I do enjoy winning, and not only from a coach perspective, but also to see how happy the kids are when they do. Losing, though, teaches you more, or that is what coaches believe. Players will hear from the coach that they prefer to lose a game in which you have played well than to win a game where you did not do things the right way.
Success, as many other things in life, does not happen overnight. Pep Guardiola was strongly criticized during last season because he was trying to have his team playing a style of football no one ever tried to implement in the Premier League. He indeed did not win the league title, nor the cup, nor the Champions League. Was he fired? No. He is, today, on top of the Premier League table, tied with Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United. All he needed was a bit of time and patience, alongside with some faith from the fans.
And these two items -time and patience- are everyone’s strongest opponent. It is very hard to see that a long term investment is better than a short-term success. It is hard to see that kicking the ball and chasing it will win games this weekend, but it will be no good for the development of the younger players down the road. Why don’t we give the players a set of tools so they have enough options to chose from? What if we teach them every single way of playing, and then let the situations in the game make the kids think about what’s best to do then and there? Players should know about team concepts such as keeping possession and offside traps, as well as their individual techniques too, from dribbling to striking.
But for these athletes it may take years to learn it all, and not only until then winning will be the most important matter in a game.
Now think of a young player who knows about all these different ways of playing. Does that guarantee that he or she will be successful on the pitch? Absolutely not. Time, patience, and repetition come into place again. Only by giving the players plenty of chances to identify and deal with all the situations a game may present will they learn what do and have a better decision making.
Players, coaches, parents, enjoy the time being, and study what happens every day, every minute, every second, and think of ways you can learn from it and become better at doing what you love doing.
You can follow Aitor on Instagram @aitorfuentes23