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Winning is part and parcel of playing football – it’s there, it exists and no-one can deny that. But it must also be put in perspective, particularly when striving to help young players improve (and also when trying to actually develop a winning team!!) In this article Josh Brown (@gaffer_brown) talks to us about the epiphany he’s had within his relationship with winning.
The longer I’ve coached, the more reflective I’ve become. I’ve coached soccer for almost 20 years, and I’ve had the privilege of coaching high school soccer for 13 of those years – at just one high school. Six months ago I changed high schools, so I’ve been embarking on a new journey. And as the new season approaches, I’ve spent the last few weeks reflecting over the previous 13 seasons at my former school. Specifically, I’ve tried to note where my focus was for each upcoming season. During my reflection, I found this to be a pertinent phrase: winning can’t be the focus.
I realize that may sound crazy to some of you, but I don’t believe I’m crazy. When I took the head coaching job at my former school 10 years ago, the school had never experienced a winning season. When I left, my teams had accumulated more wins in 10 years than the entire program had in the previous 14. We had great success and several of my players (as well as myself) won several accolades. So how did we do this?
During my first season as head coach, our focus was on just getting better. We were starting 4 freshmen on varsity, so I knew at the time that it would be a bumpy road. We won only two games that season, but in our last loss, I remember being ecstatic at the improvement I saw on the field compared to what I’d seen at the start of the season. The next season, we won our first eight games, including one against the #4 team in the state. We experienced the first winning season in school history – but our focus wasn’t on winning at all. It was on improving and working hard. We never thought about winning, we just worked to get better.
“Our focus wasn’t on winning – just on improving and working hard”
In looking back at the seasons when we had the most success, the focus of our season was on improving every single game. I remember early in that season we won a game 6-0 against a weak opponent, and one of the captains, who was the center-back, was irate because the defense played lazily at times. We had a good chat about staying positive, but I knew then that this teams’ drive to get better every day was going to produce the results we weren’t actually focused on (or even trying to attain).
It’s not a coincidence that the team I describe above posted the best record in the history of the school, only losing four games and conceding nine goals.
‘When I reflect back on the season that weren’t so successful I find myself thinking whether i could have been better at directing the players’ focus onto the process of performance. If I was to be honest with myself, at times our focus shifted towards striving to win too often. This allowed fear to creep in – it distorted our minds and our play.
At my new school, winning is the expectation, and I’m taking over from a coach who mentally beat the players down like a drill sergeant would break in a recruit. A positive word from him was a rarity, and the players played in constant fear of losing (which they did frequently last season). This team has incredible talent, a great work ethic, and a high soccer IQ, but their soccer mental health was on life support. My goal this year, and honestly for the rest of my career, is to never mention winning to the players. John Wooden never mentioned winning once to any of his teams, and he is the gold standard for basketball coaching. This season, we are going to focus on three things: getting better every day, being our best in the present moment, and controlling the controllables (attitude, effort, body language, process, communication, etc.). From my past experiences and studying great leaders and coaches in all realms, I firmly believe that if we forget winning, focus on these three tenets and hold true to them, everything else will take care of itself.
Josh Brown lives in Indiana and is the head boys’ varsity soccer coach at Brownsburg High School and the senior team boys’ director of coaching at St. Francis Soccer Club. Twitter handle: gaffer_brown