Perspective, Bias and LTPD

Perspective, perhaps bias, along with education is becoming the single largest challenge to full implementation of Long Term Player Development for soccer in Canada. This came into focus for me today through the positioning of two articles which came to my attention this morning.

In both cases the articles were used to support arguments against LTPD while from my perspective (and bias) each made overwhelmingly supportive arguments of the principles of LTPD and the need for implementation.

The first from the Rutgers Youth Sports Research Council entitled “The Role of Winning in Youth Sports” was brought to my attention by the parent of the young man that led to this article on LTPD last week.

The article was posted to underline his position that standings, leagues and trophies are vitally important to his son and LTPD was doing away with all these things and thereby driving his child away from the sport he loves. His argument underlined by this quote:

(Clearly, there can be too much emphasis on winning; however,) “those who advocate the position that winning is not important often miss the point that without an attempt to win the contest, the activity is no longer sport. The essence of sport is striving to win; without that attempt, the activity is of a different nature.  While admirable, teaching is not sport.”

The section in brackets about over-emphasis on winning was left out in support of his argument – but the essence of what I believe he, as a parent, was concerned about was underlined by his selective quotation and within his rights to support his argument.

From my point of view his argument is – It is important to me that that my child wins, the methodology to achieve that is of secondary concern and I’m not too worried about what my child learns along the way skill wise.

Is that a fair summation, perhaps not, but having dealt with hundreds of “win oriented” parents along the way in my 20 plus years of coaching I willing to think I’ve captured the essence of it.

Which us brings us to the second article brought to my attention – an editorial from a few days back from the St. Catherines Standard – “Sports Helps Kids Learn to Deal with Failure”.

The key point of the editorial by Bernie Puchalski –

“Winning and losing are invaluable in teaching life lessons. Children discover how to deal with disappointment, how to support one another in success and failure and, most important, how to become good winners and losers.”

Puchalski then briefly outlines the aims of LTPD

“The new guidelines include not having league win and loss standings for under-12 teams and not moving teams to a higher or lower league based on performance. The moves are to ensure the focus of clubs and coaches “will no longer be on wins and losses, but rather on enjoyment and actual individual player development.”

It sounds like a noble premise, but it forgets that how to deal with failure is crucial for the development of the player as both an athlete and a person.”

Yet another in the long list of articles pointed out the wickedness of LTPD mostly again due to the fact that the elimination of standings along with promotion and relegation will do irreparable harm to our child in their formative years by not preparing them for “real life”.

The interesting thing to me was that from my perspective as a coach and I hope teacher both articles gave far more reasons and arguments for LTPD then they did against.

From Mr. Puchalski’s editorial:

“To anyone who has worked for any time around minor sports, it is clear that it’s rarely the child who is hung up on winning or losing the game. More often, it’s the parents and coaches who are the most affected by the outcome of the games. Win or lose, most children have forgotten about the end result moments after the buzzer sounds, while parents and coaches spend hours and sometimes days dissecting what went wrong or right on that particular field of play to produce the final result.”

and

“Few who are involved with minor sports at the house league or travel level would disagree with the premise that too many coaches and parents pay too much attention to winning.”

So, in essence, yes we have a problem but let’s not bother to fix it is what he’s saying.

Most of the Rutgers article, from my perspective, is a great supporting document for the principles of LTPD bur the one that struck home for me in this argument about winning vs losing and keeping standings was this one.

“Won-Loss records prior to the age of puberty have little effect on the respect and regard that kids have for their youth sport coaches. Prior to the age of 12 years, research clearly shows that 75% of the youngsters would prefer to play for a losing team than sit on the bench of a winning team.”

The article then continues to say that winning becomes more and more important to players as they grow older – one of the underlining principles of LTPD.

So perspective and bias are important considerations to take into account when dealing with both sides of the LTPD argument – the parental / child side of “we like things as they are why change them?” and then the coach / teacher side of “we think this can be done in a better more beneficial way to all involved.”

But and it’s a big one –  no matter your perspective I’m afraid at this point, the “soccer people” have reason to be concerned that their message no matter how well intentioned or reasoned is not getting through.

Check out the poll at the bottom of the editorial.

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