Coaches Corner-August 2023

Redefining Success in Youth Soccer: More than Wins and Trophies

(An editorial by CASC Technical Director Kurtis Millan)

Emphasis on Development…Development…Development

Youth soccer coaching is all about developing players, both physically and psychologically. No matter which angle we look at it from or whom we ask – coaches, parents, directors, or players – everyone emphasizes the word “development” at some stage in their explanation. “Development, Development, Development” – it has become a term used so frequently (and rightly so) that it almost feels like a “buzz word” now, something we expect and have become immune to.

If a large part (though not all) of youth soccer is about development, then how can we measure if we are successfully achieving our goals? (pun intended).

A couple of years ago, while going through the TOVO Coaching Methodology Course (a fantastic coaching program for all coaches who are passionate about what they do), Todd Beane, Founder & CEO, introduced me to a quote I often come back to:

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there” – Lewis Carroll.

  • So, where are we trying to go?
  • What are we trying to create or develop?
  • How do we measure success?

The first two questions are for individual clubs and coaches to answer, and how they measure that success is entirely up to them.

For example, if a club aggressively promotes its “pathway” to college or “elite level soccer,” it’s pretty easy to measure their success – we can look at how many of their former players (%) are now playing at the collegiate or elite level. That’s easy to find out and assess.

What the Numbers Say…

However, let’s consider the majority of participants in the USA and incorporate some figures:

Annually, approximately 6.8 Million Youth Soccer Players in the USA.
Female: 3.5 million, Males: 3.3 million.

High School Players:
Female – 391,000, Male – 457,000

College Players:
Female – 41,000, Male – 36,000

NCAA D1 Players:
Female – 9,400, Male – 4,200

% College soccer players who sign into USA professional leagues (NCAA, 2022):
Female – 0.8%, Male – 0.4%

Let’s say we round the numbers up, and 150 female and male players end up playing professional soccer somewhere around the world after college — a liberal estimation — that would indicate about .03% of high school female and male participants go pro; or 1 in 3,333.

Is There More to it Than Trophies & Wins?

Success in youth soccer can be a subjective concept, and its definition may vary depending on who you ask. Some may measure success based on trophies, championships, and wins. Others may focus on individual player development and personal growth. But perhaps the true measure of success lies in finding a balance between these different aspects and understanding the unique nature of youth soccer.

When we delve into the statistics and numbers surrounding youth soccer participation, it becomes evident that the path to professional soccer is a narrow one. Only a minute fraction of players will go on to play at the highest levels of the sport. This realization highlights the need to shift our focus from purely outcome-oriented success to a more holistic and process-driven approach.

Soccer’s Heart = Relationships

When we think of soccer and sports, we often envision thrilling matches, breathtaking goals, and exceptional athleticism. However, beneath the surface of “the beautiful game” lies a fundamental truth: soccer is all about relationships! These connections not only fuel the love for the game but also serve as the building blocks of character development and personal growth.

Recently, during a candid conversation with an Academy Director of a prominent European Football Club, known for its regular participation in the Champions League, an eye-opening revelation emerged.

“We do not coach footballers; we coach people who play football,” – the Academy Director

This seemingly simple statement carries a profound meaning that lies at the heart of the soccer world.

The Academy Director’s sentiment reflects a shift in perspective that recognizes the holistic development of players as individuals. While tactical prowess, skills, and physical fitness are undoubtedly crucial aspects of the game, nurturing players’ characters, instilling discipline, teaching teamwork, and fostering emotional intelligence play equally significant roles. Soccer becomes the canvas upon which young athletes paint their personalities, aspirations, and dreams.

Within a team, players build relationships that go beyond mere camaraderie. They learn to trust and rely on one another, forging a strong bond that transcends the field. The ups and downs experienced during training and matches create a shared emotional journey that cements the team’s unity. This sense of unity becomes the cornerstone of the team’s success, where players grow to support each other not only as athletes but also as individuals.

Moreover, soccer is an international sport, bringing together people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. This multicultural nature fosters understanding, empathy, and respect among players, promoting global harmony. Relationships formed with teammates from different countries broaden players’ perspectives, encouraging them to embrace diversity, accept differences, and develop a global outlook.

Beyond player-player relationships, the coach-athlete dynamic plays a pivotal role in the development of soccer players. Coaches act as mentors, guiding players not just in the sport but also in life. A great coach can inspire, challenge, and nurture players to reach their full potential. By recognizing players as individuals with unique personalities and aspirations, coaches can tailor their approach to best suit each athlete’s needs, helping them grow both as soccer players and as human beings.

Measuring Success at CASC

At CASC, we measure success based on the following three questions:

  1. Does the player get better? Our primary focus is on nurturing individual growth and development, both as a player and as a person. We aim to equip each player with the technical skills and tactical knowledge to continuously improve their performance on the field. But success extends beyond that; we also strive to instill valuable life skills, such as discipline, resilience, and leadership, empowering them to excel both as athletes and as individuals.
  2. Do they want to keep coming back? Success is also about creating an environment where young players feel inspired and motivated to continue their soccer journey. By fostering a positive and enjoyable atmosphere, we aim to ignite and sustain their passion for the game. When players eagerly return to the field, it signifies that we are making a lasting impact on their soccer experience.
  3. Do they feel valued by their coaches and teammates? We believe in the power of a supportive and inclusive soccer community. Success is evident when players feel a sense of belonging and respect. It is through fostering a culture of mutual appreciation and sportsmanship that we create an environment where every player feels valued and encouraged.

A Journey of Continuous Improvement

It’s crucial for clubs, parents, and players to collectively define their own metrics of success. Rather than solely focusing on external markers such as championships and accolades, success should be evaluated based on the positive impact made on young players’ lives and their overall development as individuals.

So, as we embark on another season of youth soccer, let’s reframe our understanding of success. Let’s prioritize the growth and well-being of our young athletes, nurturing their love for the game while imparting valuable life lessons along the way. By doing so, we can create an environment where success is not solely determined by wins and losses but by the positive and lasting impact we have on the next generation of soccer players.

“The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game. True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress.” – James Clear, Atomic Habits.

And in Summary…

In the world of youth soccer, the term “development” is often used, highlighting the importance of nurturing players both physically and psychologically. But what does success truly mean in this context? While some may measure it solely based on trophies and victories, the real measure lies in a more holistic approach.

With staggering statistics showing that only a tiny fraction of youth players will ever go on to play professionally, it becomes clear that the focus needs to shift from outcome-oriented success to a more profound and process-driven perspective. Soccer is more than just a game; it’s a platform for building relationships, character, and personal growth.

At the core of success in youth soccer is the positive impact made on young players’ lives and their overall growth, both on and off the field. The focus should be on continuous improvement, fostering a love for the game, and empowering players with essential life skills.

In the end, success should be defined collectively by clubs, parents, and players, beyond the traditional markers of victory. By redefining success and prioritizing the well-being of young athletes, we can create an environment where soccer becomes a journey of endless refinement and lasting connections.

The words of the Academy Director, “we do not coach footballers, we coach people who play football,” should serve as a reminder that beyond the fame and glory, soccer is a journey of self-discovery and building lifelong connections.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Brie

    I love this. There is so much to gain from being on a team, at all ages and all levels of skill. It’s nice to read a blog that talks about all the other things that matter, not just the wins/losses.

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