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May 20, 2021

Winning vs Development - Is it really one or the other?


Team of kids celebrating with a trophy

Winning vs Development – Is it really one or the other?

We’ve all had the same question as coaches – is your focus on winning or development?

What if we take a different stance on the subject?

Are winning and development polar opposite concepts or can they work together? Is it age-dependent? When should we start developing a winning mentality within our players?

What do we mean?

A winning-focused coach will make all decisions based on affecting the outcome of the game every time.

Some examples include:

  • Picking the same team for every game
  • Players being made to play through injury
  • Not allowing other ‘weaker’ players to play very long in games
  • Will win games by large margins for their own ego.

A development-focused coach will focus on improving their players’ weaknesses through select challenges.

Some examples include:

  • Playing players out of position to work on specific areas of their game
  • Making sure to rotate all the players to ensure everyone gets to start games
  • Manipulating the game during one-sided affairs, creating challenges for their players.

So winning is bad then?

We must stress that winning is not a bad thing. Winning at all costs is what we are trying to avoid.

Winning games can boost confidence, reinforces the success of development work, gives players opportunities to practice finishing and, most importantly, provide joy to the players. Everyone loves winning.

However, we can also redefine what winning looks like. But first, let’s see if winning and development can go hand in hand.

Can they work together?

To begin, let’s think about the game we are playing. Two teams competing against each other will inevitably result in a win, loss or draw. Even at a very young age, players love playing games. They love to compete against one another and, depending on the child, love stopping, creating or scoring goals.

Let’s also consider the adult role in youth football. Why do we coach young players? Is it simply to win trophies? Or are we looking to improve the players we coach and give them lifelong memories of playing the game they love? Or is it even more simple – our child plays and they need a volunteer to run the team?

For all coaches using CoachMaker+, we hope it’s one of the latter two options.

As coaches, we should be there to inspire and support a young player’s development. This, though, makes it difficult to see who winning and development can work in tandem. Let’s think about it like this:

We should embrace a player’s passion for the game from a very young age. Every player has a desire to win games. Sometimes as coaches we remove that passion by telling them how winning and losing are not important.

This is the wrong message. Young players will make decisions based on solving the problems that we give them. The problem they face in a game is how can I be successful either as an individual or a team? Winning is important to every player that plays the game.

That’s where the decision-making around winning should end – with the player.

A coach’s role in this should merely be to pose challenges, support them with strategies and establish environments where players can learn and develop techniques that allow them to have a better chance of winning.

We run the risk of removing the enjoyment and development from the game for players as soon as the coach makes decisions for their team based on winning and losing a game.

The result at the end of the game, league tables and cup competitions provide plenty of pressure. They do not need the additional pressure from the adults that are supposed to be there to support them.

Developing a Growth Mindset

If the coach only references the end result, we risk starting to develop a fixed mindset in players. This is the opposite of what we should be developing.

A growth mindset will help players become self-sufficient in their development. They thrive off challenges and look to continually better themselves by focusing inward on the process rather than on the external outcome.

This will be important later too when players get older. We could even redefine what winning looks like in our young players. Setting challenges for players to achieve within games will enable them to “win” even if the outcome of the game is negative.

For example, counting the amount of successful 1v1 defending situations could mean a player wins even though the team loses. This is vital as part of long-term player development to maintain motivation and support the development of a growth mindset.

When does it switch to just winning?

As players get older, coaches will want to focus more and more on the outcome of the game. However, we have to remind ourselves that winning and losing is not just an outcome, but a skill. Learning the strategies, techniques and processes required to win games is a vital piece of the puzzle that goes missing when, as a coach, we focus on just the outcome.

As players get older, we must maintain their passion to win by supporting their development. This subtle shift in our coaching style will continue to support the development of a growth mindset. They need to see the outcome as a challenge and the process that creates that outcome rather than the “win at all costs” mentality. This also allows us as coaches to focus on areas to improve and maintain motivation even when success doesn’t happen. Losing is not failure.

What about the professionals …

If you look at some of the top managers in the English Premier League, like Brendan Rodgers and Pep Guardiola, they focus on the process of winning and developing their players to do the same, as opposed to focusing on the result alone. Both managers work hard to continue the development of their players, even at the highest level of the game.


In conclusion, we must shift our perception on the winning versus development argument. The two are not opposites and should be treated as vital to a player’s development. What winning looks like will shift as players get older, but a winning mentality should be maintained throughout a player’s journey.