Playing Brackets and Winning
In its purest and honest form, playing brackets are a great way to have even match ups between teams. Unfortunately, playing brackets have been swept up in the youth soccer madness.
One of the advantages of having such a populous region, with multiple clubs within a close geographical area, is that playing brackets can be set up between cities in short traveling distance. The idea of these brackets is so teams of similar ability can play in competitive games. Sadly, the playing brackets have become a false indication of a player/team’s actual ability. Promotion/relegation is the adult’s world where we live by results orientated work (ironically US professional leagues bypass this, but that’s an entirely separate issue). A player’s development is not correlated to wins and losses, but how they are progressing in each of the four pillars of player development.
Firstly, there is no promotion or relegation, and brackets are decided upon by the directors and coaches of clubs. There are a lot of changes that take place not making promotion and relegation feasible, so accurate brackets rely on the integrity of the clubs, and this is where the importance of brackets starts to diminish.
Brackets are now used in two ways.
Brackets to Win
Clubs/Teams will now enter certain level brackets, so they can win, or increase their chance of winning. All too often as coaches we speak to other teams and we hear they chose to enter a ‘lower’ level bracket as they lost one game the previous season, games should be evenly matched for competition, losing a game is not a negative, it’s a chance to learn. To use winning as the barometer of success in youth sports does not correlate with a player’s level of development, this effects the decision making of clubs and teams. Not only does this need to win service the ego of the coach, but it also conflicts directly with those who are trying to develop players appropriately. Youth games should exist where coaches speak before the start of the game, and ask what they would like to work on, where the opposition then plays in a certain way for the period of the game, so coaching can take play, with both teams accommodating each other’s area of development. Ultimately, you then find these teams chasing wins get their 1st place news straight on the website, and spreading through the community, using it to recruit players.
Brackets to Recruit
The flip side is clubs and teams entering brackets to advertise and entering ‘higher’ brackets. The brackets follow the metals, just like in other sports, gold, silver, etc. Teams who rely on winning, who do not provide player development, will apply for and advertise their participation in the ‘higher’ bracket. Immediately this sets off ‘Fear of Missing Out’, and this must mean all the best players are on that team. What this does is draw in players to the program because parents are fed that their kid will get ‘more exposure’, and they need to be in these brackets. Then the importance of winning takes over with new recruited players, and development is again over looked.
We have all been involved in a game where there is a clear mismatch, whether its the whole team, or one individual that dominates a game, and quite often through their physical maturity.
The emphasis placed on winning effects a coach’s decisions on playing time, rotation of players through positions, and prevents players from taking the risks and making decisions on critical problem solving and creative thinking on the field.
Competitive is the worst word that could be used for a youth program. There is always competition when two opposites play against each other, in any activity. It is the focus on must win that derails development. All games should be competitive, but it relies on the integrity of the clubs
Some Interesting Articles
Coaching to Develop Players vs Coaching to Win
What’s wrong with winning?
Identify Success When Losing
Higher Purpose than Winning
Tony Strudwick, Biggest Mistake in Youth Soccer
Cost of winning in youth sports