Favicon 72 logo for star football acadmeyRicky Barton, an U11s grassroots coach, explores the topic of dealing with disappointment and offers up some key learnings from his experiences.

I think one of my favorite things in the new England DNA Foundation Phase group on Hive is the emphasis on development rather than winning.

As a parent watching on from the sideline, it was very easy to get caught up in the score-line and project my disappointment with a loss onto my son after the game, even though I was only a spectator (a symptom of English football followers in general).

This can only have been detrimental to his development.

So having learned to remove this pressure from the game for the players, only now do I understand the potential damage I could have done!

For me, I think the key to avoiding this (prevention is better than cure for me) starts at training through the week.

When I first started volunteering, the match at the end of training would always end in a squabble about the scoreline and the losing team would finish on a very low note, which is very disappointing as a coach. I want them to end the session with a big smile on their face!

I felt that this was transferring to their match on a Sunday and detracting from their experiences of the game. I took fairly drastic action to start with: the next week I gathered them all together to discuss the practices we had performed before our match at the end of the session and explained that they were with me for that hour to learn and enjoy themselves rather than to win, and we would not be keeping score for the match at the end.

I know this is somewhat contradictory to the training we now all receive with regards to making it realistic but I felt it had the desired effect.

“Once they understand that they are not under pressure to win, they play with a lot more freedom and enjoy the game much more.”    

I investigated a little further into possible solutions using Hive to look for tips.

The following week, they were allowed to keep score but for the last few minutes I put them in a scenario to finish – “Reds are losing 0-1 and have 2 minutes.” This gave each team an individual focus and removed any negative feelings on whatever the scoreline had been before. It re-motivated the players and made the last few minutes more exciting for them. They all left the session much happier.

I have developed a few ideas to counteract this when I spot it happening now.

I will mix the teams up by swapping players in the middle of the game, giving the losing team a player from the winning team to give them an overload, or just reset the score to 0-0 and let them start again.

The main thing though is to heap praise on the players for effort instead of outcome – i.e. for trying to compete rather than for winning so they understand that this is what we are looking for from them. Once they understand that they are not under pressure to win, they play with a lot more freedom and enjoy the game much more.

Another technique I use is to split the cliques at the start of a training match.

I use lots of different ways to keep them guessing but along the lines of “split yourselves into 2 teams” (this will result in the cliques gathering together), then “now number yourselves from 1 – 6” (this way they still have ownership over where they end up and accept the outcome more easily). I will then ask the number 2’s from each group to put their hands up, “now swap teams”. I will do this with 3 of the 6 in any random order. I find this removes a lot of the rivalries within the group, e.g. school v school or friends v friends, which reduces the desire to “beat” the other team.

“The main thing is to heap praise on the players for effort instead of the outcome.”   

I translate this to match day after a loss by reminding the players (having laid the groundwork during training) that we are there to develop and not to focus on the score, just the same as we are with training. I will remind them of the success they have had in their individual challenges (these are carefully selected to ensure the player can achieve some success while still being challenged – in line with the DNA) and team challenges throughout the match (which are linked to the previous training session). I then ask the players what they think they could have done better and would like to work on in the next training session, but will always end by asking them what they thought they did well so they go home with positive thoughts in the front of their minds.

I think that inevitably there are some players who are just built with the desire to win ingrained in their DNA (do you like what I did there?) and they will be disappointed with losing no matter what methods you use.

There will also be pressure from outside influences that you can’t control so accept that some kids just don’t like losing and manage it as best you can by letting them know that it is perfectly fine to have a great desire to win, but, you are interested in improvement before winning.

About the coach – Ricky Barton

Ricky is a volunteer dad at Dexters Sports Youth Football U11’s, and is also director of Bournemouth Youth Futsal Association (foundation phase).

He loves The FA’s new approach so much that he wants to continue learning. He currently holds The FA Level 2 qualification, while also being a Level 1 Futsal coach. He plans to do the UEFA B and Futsal Level 2 when possible.

This the link to the original article as I am a member of the FA Licensed Coaches’ Club