Is Winning Important

By Adam Murray

Is winning important? This is a question that I believe a lot of us have varied opinions on and can open up a big can of worms. As a professional footballer for 14 years at different levels there has been one thing that has not changed, the IMPORTANCE of winning.

If you are winning you are being successful! Now hands up who enjoys being successful? I imagine most of us have our hands up.

This is my issue at the minute, coming to the tail end of my playing  career I have stepped over the other side to coaching and developing youngsters. I have been doing it a few years now and have come to realise that in centres across the country winning does not really enter or play a part in development……..rightly or wrongly?

In fact you could say it is looked upon as not necessary. What is winning? Definition = to achieve and be successful. Surely we are trying to develop our players to achieve and be successful, if not are we doing them an injustice by not giving them all the tools available.

By no means am I saying a win at all costs attitude is the way forward because I am most definitely not but I do believe we should highlight gradually that winning is a GOOD thing and the knock on effects are beneficial.

As a young boy I trained 3 times a week at Derby County and I was lucky that I had a coach in Steve Round that was light years ahead of his time and technically and tactically equipped me with a great array of tools. The greatest thing he helped me to build though was a mental state that to be successful and to win doing the right things was beneficial. As a kid if I was to train and work hard every week and then on a match day continually get beat but told “well done Muzza your trying the right things”, would I believe and want to learn what I am being told. Mentally how is this going to affect the player?

As a human we like to see results from the time and effort we have put in to something, if we do not what is the point? If you succeed you enjoy what you are doing, if you are enjoying what you are doing you work harder without consciously even realising it. If you work harder at something you automatically pay more attention to what ever it is you`re doing so therefore surely enhancing learning.

As we look to develop our future players this process is a life skill – go and achieve and be successful! Why not create a mentality that winning and being successful is good and not to be scared of it or dismiss it.

In my opinion to take a young player at u8 -u15/u16 and go down the lines of “winning does not matter” can be false.  Eventually if they are lucky enough to get into the youth team or even the first team what happens then?……..the manager and coaches turn round to the player and say “oh sorry mate forgot to tell you winning matters now” Is this not preparing our players and developing them incorrectly?

Now do not take this the wrong way I am not saying we go out to our under 8s and start yelling at them that they must win other wise they will be failures,  but can we create an atmosphere where instead of dismissing winning with quotes like “I do not care about the result” or “the result does not matter” we encourage success by doing the right things. Lets encourage our kids to see the results of their hard work.

Why should something that is going to be so important in their career be dismissed from their learning?  This has to be put across in the right manner because we are dealing with fragile minds and if it`s not done correctly it will have a negative effect, but in my opinion kids like to win.

If you watch them playing in the play ground or on their X box they do not like losing. Lets nurture this and make it a positive source of development. Along the same path it enables us to encourage our kids to be dignified in defeat and being able to channel it in the right way to enhance their learning.

Winning after winning is hard that is why there are so few champions. Brendon Rodgers said his focus was not on winning because of his back ground in development but would he of said this if Swansea were bottom of the league? Would his players, chairman, fans and the public of bought into his philosophy and thought process if they were not being successful and winning?

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25 thoughts on “Is Winning Important

  1. Agree with much in post. Winning is really important when it is your livelihood. Winning is nice when your an amateur, a time when you can bask for while in its happy afterglow. For kids, of course they want to win but most do generally forget about the result after about 10 minutes. Too many adults involved in junior football take winning much too seriously. That is the problem. If the adults could have a sense of preportion you wouldn’t need to write this article. Over-emphasis on winning stops young players experimenting, taking risks, making mistakes, learning the game & having fun. Ask the many thousands of kids who give up junior football every year what are main reasons. Then maybe more adults will understand & get the balance right. A tiny microscopic number of kids will eventually play the game professionally after all. A winning culture is a problem for professional game. Other sports cope so why can’t football.

  2. Adam, a thought provoking post but, I fear, like a lot of others, you have missed the point.

    You wrote:
    “In my opinion to take a young player at u8 -u15/u16 and go down the lines of “winning does not matter” can be false”

    This is not what ‘child centred football’ is about at all.

    The references to ‘non-competitive football’ was intended for and aimed at ADULTS not the kids.

    Kids will (nearly) always try to win – at whatever “it” is – tiddlywinks, football, monopoly, even a race with a mate or sibling to the corner shop (if they still exist).

    The lack of emphasis on winning was so that we could try to stop deranged parents and coaches who, being unable to see the difference between a grassroots U11 team and their favourite local pro side, hollering and screaming and trying to stop kids ‘making mistakes’ on game day. The emphasis never was about making the kids value winning less, it was about making adults concentrate on development.

    As I tell parenst and fellow coaches, get the development right and results will take care of themselves – eventually. And if results take care of themselves then so will, ultimately, leaguie positions.

    So, don’t be fooled by ‘non-competitive football’ (the most appropriate phrase is actually “Child centred competition”) – it’s to stop adults over emphasising results as the only yard stick (and lowest common denominator) of development and progress.

    I don’t think I have yet seen a kid in any game not try to win. However, trying to learn the game and trying to improve every day is (“winning” against oneself, perhaps).

    If the adults can see more varied ways of recognising ‘development’ maybe they will not be so hung up on the result.

    As Vince Lombardi said “Winning isn’t everything….but WANTING to, is.”

    • Steve i dont feel “i have missed the point” as you put it ,but i respect your views as as i would any other as we are in a game of opinions.As i stated above i am not at all saying we promote a win at all costs attitude far from it. This country had a major issue from grass roots all the way through to international level with the win at all costs attitude.In my OPINION, now alot of coaches have gone in the total opposite direction and are encouraging a enviroment where winning is looked upon as a negative.Surely helping to create a winning mentality and educating our kids to win by enjoying what there doing with the freedom to no its ok to lose is part of there development.You state your self kids want to win,so why not nurture and channel this in a manner they can learn from .In all walks of life we learn lessons from winning and losing .Its argued our greatest lessons are taken from our biggest mistakes.If we as coaches cant portray that winning is a good thing with out making it a must ,then are we doing our job ?I think the main point of this is balance .We have to find that happy medium .Nice talking to you , take care.

    • Really good conversation here. Thank you very much.
      I’d like to add that our emphasis should not be on teaching our youth how to win (yes they do this well enough). Let’s teach them how to lose.

  3. I think this is a really interesting and very relevant article. A lot of people highlight the win at all costs mentality that is rife in the youth grass roots game as one of the biggest problems we have in this country. Results obsessed managers and coaches will nearly always revert back to kick and rush football – get the big kids at the back to kick it as far as possible and let the fastest kid run after it and try and score. As we all know this doesn’t produce technical or skillfull players for the future. But as mentioned above kids are competitive.

    I’m a firm believer that success should be celebrated but for the right reasons

    I know an ametuer coach who wasn’t results obsessed but would always give his players tasks or goals to achieve during games, whether that be the wingers have to try and dribble past the opposition full backs at least 4 times during each half, or the goalkeeper had to try and throw/roll the ball out at all times rather than kick it long. What this lead to was the other team members having to work hard to help their fellow team mates reach these targets. Praise would always be given if they met their targets no matter if they won or lost. It also created a strong bond amongst the squad.

    Unfortunately winning is hugely important in the professional game due to the large sums of cash that can be generated, especially at club level. However at international level this is less so.

    Now for the controversial point! (and it’s only theoretical)

    Would you forefeit success (or even qualifying) at the next 2-3 major international tournaments to allow a complete re-structure of our national game? i.e. remove the likes of Lampard, Gerrrard, Terry and so on and replace them with youth, in order to allow these youngsters to bond, develop and improve as a team. This would also include removing the manager and coaching staff. These would be replaced by a Brendan Rogers type character who will stick to his total footballing beliefs and style of play no matter what.

    I think we all know this will never happen but I’d be interested to hear peoples thoughts on it?

  4. I believe kids dont need to be taught about winning. Its a complete non issue. The desire to win is inbuilt but the actual winning doesnt matter that much to most of them.

    I have coached my sons team from U7 through to U11 and never once asked them to try and win a game. They are as competitive as any team they have ever played. They never give up and frequently come from behind in matches to draw or win. They take loads of risks and thats because they arent afraid of loosing.

    They compete with the best of them and are frequently praised by opposition managers.
    I have seen them walk off the pitch after being knocked out on penalties and not a tear in sight. I have seen other teams in floods of tears even before the end of a match because the manager/parent has put so much importance on winning.

    I once asked an U10’s coach why he thought he had to shout so much at his players during a match and why he told them off every time they did something that didnt work. He said ‘I dont know about yours but our parents expect them to win’ . Its such a fine line between win at all costs and ‘playing to win’

  5. Matt, when you wrote :
    “Now for the controversial point! (and it’s only theoretical)

    Would you forefeit success (or even qualifying) at the next 2-3 major international tournaments to allow a complete re-structure of our national game? i.e. remove the likes of Lampard, Gerrrard, Terry and so on and replace them with youth, in order to allow these youngsters to bond, develop and improve as a team”

    …can you clarify what ‘Success’ Lampard, Gerard and Terry have had at international level ? ; – )
    Honestly, I would be quite happy to give up the “success” of our national team over the last 40 years and have a coach come in who can give younger players belief and freedom to play and express themselves.

    Aside from about 4 performances, I’m not sure I could take any joy from watching England play over that time and, even if we kept getting knocked out at the quarter final stage, I’d be happy if we had a go at countries and went down actually trying to play football with some craft (not GRAFT) and style.

    For 40 years, with only a few exceptions, “we” have been terrified to death, have played a cautious game and STILL been well beaten, most of the time.

    We did nothing as a nation before ’66 and have had a semi in ’90 and another in ’96. I posted somewhere else on t’internet a while back that they were merely blips on our record (I got slaughtered for that observation).

    Interestingly, I have read Jonathan Wilson’s excellent books “Inverting the Pyramid” and “Anatomy of England” where he examines the detail of 10 specific games in England’s history. Constant reference to “belief”, “effort”, “fight” and “passion” are constants across the decades and we are STILL trying to justify our lack of progress to those key elements. Only occasionally have journalists and writers suggested that it is lack of guile, intelligence, understanding and creative invention that may REALLY be at the heart of our lack of success.

    So for me, I would be right behind a new start. Still, judging by today’s news, we may see a change sooner than we thought (though I’m still not convinced “we’ll” ditch the players that have already been there, seen it and not done it).

  6. Winning is important . You either win or lose. But what’s more important is when the impetus of results is emphasized. It is vitally important when in the development stage that winning is the objective. All children want to win you do not have to teach them this. What is more important are the skills they have aquired up until around U17. The academic research has been done that tells us the concentration should be on child centric learning not adult agenda! It is an absolute nightmare in grassroots football my children have felt the effects and I see it going on nearly every Sunday. I hear speeches by managers every week who believe that ” the kids didn’t want it enough”. ” ” put your head on it” ” get stuck in” all language that belongs in the men’s/ women’s adult game . As is usual for us as brits renowned for our fighting spirit. The emphasize is on grit ,graft and hard work. We need to be talking about skill acquisition, flair, tactical nous.
    I,m sure we have not lacked for will to win since 1966 from our professionals. But we have beloved that its enough!
    Well watch an England team Chase a ball around as they endlessly give it away because they don’t have enough skill, game understaning, technique to keep it.
    As we shout there not trying hard enough, they don’t show enough Passion.
    Understand how kids learn and develop system
    That has there development as the most important aspect.

    • I think the Capello resignation could be a huge positive.

      If as is widely predicted Redknapp gets the job, we will have what all the whinging England fans have wanted for years. Nobody will be able to say the manager didnt have enough passion and that he wasnt English so he didnt care or understand our players.

      And when the Euros come around, and we watch as the England team constantly give the ball away, or run down blind alleys, or start hoofing it from the back when under pressure. And we watch as the Spains, Germany’s etc get all the way to he final with their intelligent, technical, possession based football…

      …Maybe, just maybe, the penny will drop (or the media will turn on Harry!)

  7. Hello Steve the Seagull – ha ha yes, agree that Terry, Lampard, Gerrard have had little (if any) success at international level, but you understand where I’m coming from 🙂

    I think Dan Barton has hit the nail on the head above when he stated ‘They take loads of risks and thats because they arent afraid of loosing’. For me making sure that kids aren’t afraid of losing is key. There’s a big difference between not caring if you lose and not being afraid to lose. Not caring creates complacency, whereas not being afraid creates fearlesness. Fearlesness means players will try to do things on the pitch that is currently being coached out of them by win at all costs managers and coaches.

    Lets hope more and more grass roots coaches adopt Dan’s approach!!

  8. The emphasis on winning in grassroots football causes damage on regular basis ( not just to children but also to the clubs they play for). Not enough junior clubs measure their success based on the amount of players who are capable of joining a professional club, after years of following a gradually progressed training program.

    Instead of focusing on winning the game, coaches should concentrate on teaching their kids how to play the game properly and thus become winners in the long term. We need to start realising that in football their are no quick fixes and to create winning football takes time.

    The result of focusing on winning encourages coaches to only look at the physical side of the game and not the skillful side, as its the quickest and easiest to develop. Having physique and speed does help, but failing to recognize other attributes like perception skills, decision making, creativity and recognizing space & time will only create half the player and not the complete player (Wein,2007).

  9. Thank you all, once again. Agree with most of the comments – there must be a balance between underlying strategy and playing success. Teams can’t be obsessed with technicality and artifice but on the other hand they will not provide joy and fulfilment if they are pre-occupied with brute force and athleticism. The “bulldog” spirit still pervades throughout our football DNA. In and of itself that ‘never say die’ attitude is not a bad or ‘inferior’ trait. It just always needs to be tempered by more guile and sophistication.
    To upset a few of you erudite commentators ‘Terry, Lampard and Gerrard’ et al are not and were not really the ’cause of’ England’s “failure” to win big matches. They and their predecessors are symptoms of a much greater cultural deficiency. We all highlight the recent deficiencies because of the hysterical media hype that has surrounded the Premier League in the last decade
    We should remember that Spain had a problem for many years of being far too effete and lacking that killer touch. They have found a great balance; so in the future(with sensible education and coaching) England Football teams may find their own…..

  10. here is oz we have un recorded results for outfield footy , but ffa futsal still allows medals for results, during a recent rep tourny some of the u9 would just do the legendary big kick in hope of lucky defelection for a goal , keepers just threw the ball from end to the other .
    so winning where results matter affects the style of play, also add the parents were more trouble about playing time etc when result matter

  11. The ‘will to win’ and ‘never say die’ attitude has always been a British characteristic and foreign coaches, players and supporters have always admired it and will continue to do so. It is important that this quality remains in our national psyche and expressed in our football.
    Where we must improve is in the quality of the player, i.e. in the individual, as outlined in a previous blog. Because we have an inborn competitive nature, children will always express this when they play games and ‘the will’ and ‘the desire’ to win will always be apparent in their match play. Parents cheering and exhorting ever greater effort from their children is not necessary and is often counter-productive. That is why they need to have a clear understanding of the coach’s work in terms of development and game understanding so that their observations, given at the right time to the coach, have a constructive and valuable input for the technical work which is being done.
    Because we teach young players how to win before, (or instead of), teaching them how to play, we have suffered an alarming drop in quality. It was not always the case, because forty years ago you could find talent in all four divisions and even below that. I recall John Bond putting together a very talented team at AFC Bournemouth, of the old Fourth Division, in the early seventies made up of fringe players who had not quite made it at the club which he had played for, West Ham United, such as Bobby Howe, Tony Scott and Keith Miller, and blended them with players who had played most of their careers in the lower divisions, like Mickey Cave, Tommy Mitchinson, Phil Boyer and Ted MacDougall, but who Bond recognised had talent. They won promotion to the Third Division, always playing good football,and when Bond got the manager’s job at First Division Norwich City he took half the team with him and they comfortably made the transition into top tier football.
    There was still quality about at those lower levels of football in those days and they responded to John Bond showing his belief in them and encouraging them to play. It is so much harder to find that talent in the lower leagues these days. But credit must be given to Brendan Rodgers at Swansea City, and the managers who preceded him, for spotting the talent in previously under-achieving players and nurturing it.
    So playing to win will always be a national trait, but this must always go hand in hand with being taught how to play.

  12. Of course wiining is important. However, the most important thing is –winning with style.
    Winning ‘ ugly’ is short termed. Learning how to win –with style — is where coaching matters. We have forced unnecessary and misguided levels of competion into development progression and have added winning to make a toxic ‘brew’ for our game. The whole development structure should be overhauled to provide a real and authentic learning process for our players to experience. The problems within our game have festered over many decades, to destroy them will take, not just time, but a true desire to do the job properly — not piece-meal intiatives that are simply sound-bites for the media!

  13. Hi Steve. Yes your Dutch friend is correct . Our natural genes provide the ‘bulldog’ spirit that has seen us through two World Wars as well as football matches. It is the prized possession that makes us difficult to defeat — but that’s all weve got. The easier part to develop, the ability to play the game of football, seems to be beyond us. Is our football to continue resembling the ‘journeyman, low order pugilist, who has lots of spirit but little else— and gets knocked out after another brave show? If we are to become admired performers on the World football stage we have to rethink a way forward and stop tinkering with historically failed development and playing methods. Getting knocked out in the ring can cause serious damage to the brain, perhaps this is what has occured with our football, the defeats have made us brain-dead!

  14. Winning should be seen as the reward for hard work and good technique rather than the #1 objective. As a coach who has seen both sides of the “winning scale” in terms of perceived “success”, it is definately easier to keep a happy ship of players (and parents) when the team is winning. It is also a determining factor when players make the decision whether to stay another year or look to move to a “better” team. Again “better” is very often simply equated as a team that wins games. In essence, development properly undertaken will lead to success.

  15. In grass roots football, or any level of football come to that, nobody likes to lose. In the junior ages you can make it quite clear from the outset that your prority is individual player development and you are perfectly happy to see improvement, regardless of results.
    My own experience in adult football, though, is that results now take on a more critical importance. Even in park football, if you are losing week after week you can get big problems because the chances are that players will start to drift away and you get a situation where you find it difficult to field a full team. This has severe financial implications because League fines for fielding a short team, inabilty to fulful a fixture due to shortage of players and, worst of all, withdrawal of a team during the season due to lack of players, can lead to quite horrendous debts. Anyone who has ever been in this situation will know exactly what I mean. What may have started out as a group of friends getting together to provide themselves with some much-needed exercise can turn into a nightmare.
    What I have learnt over the years is that when dealing with older age groups and adults you have to convince the players from the start that, although there is no magic wand, if they take note of what you say then performances will improve and, consequently, so will results. By adopting a constructive approach from the start you get the players to think in a constructive way and avoid the self-defeating bickering and arguments which blight many losing teams. That’s what I have found anyway.
    It’s really about connecting with your players in the way that will get the response which you want. I recently read a book about the 1944 D Day Landings at Normandy . Prior to the event on the 6th June in that year,in the last few weeks prior to the allied forces setting sail from England, Montgomery went round to every battalion stationed over here in readiness for the event, British and American, and personally spoke to every soldier,sailor and airman who was waiting for the order to go. He spoke in some cases individually, in other cases in groups, and in others to a large gathering. But he spoke in some way or other to everyone poised to go. An astonishing accomplishment involving hundreds of thousands of servicemen. But Montgomery explained what was required, what was expected and how it could be achieved.
    I was struck how closely this relates to the job of a football manager/coach and is consistent with what John Cartwright has written on his blogs with regard to the close relationship between football and military tactics and procedures.

  16. Hi Steve. I told you that the book ‘The Memoirs of Field Marshal Montgomery ‘ was the best ‘Coaching book’ i’ve ever read. The chapter entitled ‘My Doctrine of Command’ is simply a fantastic read for any person involved in leading others — soldiers or footballers !!

  17. Liked your article Adam. Winning is an important part of our game, and that importance must be portrayed correctly to children during their development. I used to play against you in Solihull when we were kids, and if I’m not mistaken your Derby debut was at Highbury, and you nutmegged Patrick Viera with your first touch!!

  18. Come back to me when you have coached a team that has never won a game and tell me you still believe this. Though I agree in the essence of what your saying Adam in a team sport such as football, a better focus would be individual performance then the team winning and ofcourse the age of the kids is an important factor.

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