Pete Sturgess, FA national coach for players 5-11, outlines 10 ways to help young players deal with winning and losing.
1. Help kids deal with losing
Kids enjoy the competitive element of the game and don’t need to be pushed to ‘win’. However, being so young they’re not sure how to handle the ups and down that come with competition and don’t necessarily know how to deal with either winning or losing – although dealing with winning is easier.
Adults must be consistent in the way they help children with the bumpy road that is competition and should look for opportunities to show how to deal with adversity and frustration with dignity and respect.
2. Understand that results aren’t a reflection of your ability as a coach
The worst examples of coach behaviour come when the coach feels that the result is a reflection of them – and it’s not. You are not the best coach in the world if your team wins and you are not the worst coach in the world if your team loses. I think once the adults get a grip on that concept you can begin to do some really valuable work with the players.
3. Know your own values and beliefs
If you have taken time to think about your values and beliefs – as an individual and a club – then no matter the situation, whether that is winning or losing, then you can go back to those clearly defined values and beliefs as a map for how to act.
4. Recognise that the result does matter
In the past we have had coaches say to children “the result is not important”. Well, I think that sends out the wrong message. The result is important to everybody involved – but the way the team and individuals behave during the course of the game is the most important thing. If you do lose the game, try not to lose the lesson.
5. Remember that kids imitate adults
It should mean something to you if your team loses, but your job is to be the filter for the children to help them deal with their emotions. If we wear our feelings on our sleeve, then the kids will pick up on it and imitate us. The kids simply copy what the adults do when they lose a game. I think on too many occasions it’s actually the adults that have set bad examples for the kids.
6. Define what ‘winning’ means to youWinning can mean your team reacted really well to adversity, never gave up in a really tight game, always wanted to do the right things and behaved in the right way. For me that’s as much about winning as actually winning the game 3-0. We want to instil 'winning behaviours' as these are what we go back to in any situation and come from your team philosophy and values.
7. Consider how far have you've taken the team
Something I ask coaches is: tell me where your team started and where they are now – but don’t tell me any of the results in between. It is the most important measure of development. If you can adopt that attitude you’ll find that results improve because of all the good work that is being done during the process.
8. Understand the importance of winning with dignity and respect
Winning with dignity and respect is as important as losing with dignity and respect. I think it’s part of the English psyche that we’re actually really good losers. We should want all our young players to be real competitors and warriors but to handle both winning and losing with dignity and humility.
9. Recognise that you’re not Mourinho or Conte
Mimicking the behaviours displayed by role models at the top of the game can be dangerous. You have to understand the domain that they’re working in: one bad result and they could lose their job. If you’re the coach of the local U8s side and you lose a match you’re not going to lose your job. As a coach of young children your behaviour and attitude needs to be completely different from those whose livelihood and reputation depends on the result of a football match.
10. Remember that the kids will take their lead from you
When things don’t go to plan it’s quite easy to blame somebody else or find excuses. Instead you should focus on the things you are in control of. So much of children’s behaviour mimics that of the coach. If the children see the coach arguing about decisions or moaning after the game then they will think that’s the way to deal with these kinds of situations – because that’s what the adults are doing.