…Through the virtue of training, Enlighten both body and soul — Morihei Sensei

The Game is So Much More Than a Game

natasha kai u.s. women's soccer national team celebrates after a goal on the road to the 2008 Olympics

Natasha Kai, U.S. Women's National Soccer Team

Sometimes the game is just a game.  Sometimes the game is so much more than a game.

This soccer season closed out with three ‘W’s for the weekend for our family.  My philosophy and approach is that winning is a secondary goal.  An eventual by-product of training the fundamentals.  Also, particularly in the younger age groups, a coach can win games, but not develop his players.  This has the near-term feel good payoff of bragging rights, but as the kids grow, if their skills don’t grow as well, they’ll be left behind.  The memories of those wins will fade, and they’ll fall out of the sport.

This isn’t some new-age, feel-good, self-esteem, non-competitive mumbo-jumbo.  I’m hyper-competitive.  I reel emotionally for days after a less-than stellar result (let alone a loss.)   This is a cognitive view developed from years of competition, and understanding what the real goal is.

It is critical, above most else, that the kids learn to love the sport.  This love is developed through positive reinforcement, encouragement, and a sense of mastery.  It is essential they feel that they, themselves, are actually mastering the sport or skill set.  Simply being a one-dimensional cog in a winning machine is not enough to hold them.  I’ve seen plenty of these teams dominate in early years, only to become irrelevant when the game advances.  Pick your sport, this is the case across the board.

After all the player development and fundamentals, sometimes you and your players just need a good old-fashioned Win to validate my your stance.   My girls closed the season out with that win.

It’s a pretty simple thing.  We work primarily on individual skills, we do some small-sided work.  We do very little set-play work, minimal team tactical work.  Plenty of time for heavy tactics later.  I know this approach will help the girls develop.  However, it is risky.  They are encouraged to take chances.  I play them out of their comfort zone.  There is a cost sometimes on game day.   We have wins, losses, and draws.  We improve against teams game-over-game.  My approach sometimes struggles in a world of wins and losses.

This weekend the girls started out flat, and we got behind.  I struggled to find the right adjustments and substitutions, but we were fairly far behind in the second half.  Finally something clicked.  I got the combination right.  More importantly, the girls started actually applying their fundamentals.  They started executing their 2v2 and 3v3 situations.  They started using their skills.  They made passes to the right spots.  They started scoring.  The successes encouraged them.  The opposing coaches scrambled.  They subbed.  They swapped out the whole front line.  My girls brought the score even.

The last (winning) goal was a free kick, a perfect kick.  Over the top of the wall, just under the cross-bar.  A set play.  Not a set play we practiced ad nauseam, but fundamentals we practiced ad nauseam, then executed, under pressure, at the whistle, in the last game of the season  (In this case striking fundamentals.)

In the end, the Win came from the fundamentals.  Validation.

Sometimes the game is so much more than just a game.



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