Justkickin’ it Podcast: I’m curious to know between this dichotomy between development and winning. How can coaches sort of navigate themselves to know which one is right and wrong?
Ben Bartlett: I guess this is probably the interesting angle, which is almost like it has to be; we have a plan to win or we plan for development as opposed to placing development alongside winning. Identify the things that are fundamentally important to you and what your purpose is,” so if you’re there to win and you say “we’re going to win at all costs”, some people would suggest that’s not right. I think if you’re clear about the fact you’re going to win it all costs then you’ve got a question what it is that you will sacrifice to win. Will you break the rules? Will you not play certain players or you play a particular strategy or tactics in the way that you approach the game that enables you to win…or can you actually do both and perhaps see in the development program.
Competition and winning have almost become dirty words in this country, nobody plays for development purposes. My personal view for what it’s worth is that as soon as you put two different groups of players in different coloured shirts and a goal on either end, they’re playing to win. I think often it’s the behaviour of the adults that can sometimes problematic and I have two examples in my coaching life when I was on the side of the pitch. The first example there was nothing on the game, it was organized as a friendly. I had done some work a popular fizzy drinks company, working with a group of players at one street ball competition in the Middle East. They came over to England, I coached them for four weeks and through those four weeks they played a collection of different fixtures. The final week culminating by playing against a well-respected Premier League Academy club. We were 4-1 up after about 20 minutes against this Academy and one of their recruitment officers from the club came across and asked us to take off particular players because they felt they weren’t getting out of the game what they wanted to. We took the players off and I think the game ended up being much closer than it was at that particular point in time, but that kind of sent a clear message to me that the status that Club felt they held and the way in which that game was going didn’t necessarily think that they thought the games program should do. There was nothing on the game whatsoever, no one was winning the league, no one was going to win a car, and there was no progression to the next round. It was pretty much just a game for the sake of playing. That was kind of ‘everybody wants to win’ but there’s nothing specifically on that game, yet it still led towards the adults behaving in a particular way which probably sent a fairly negative message to others around.
The second example was an under 18s game and it was a league deciding game, I’m going back quite a few years now. We needed to win the game, the opponents only needed to draw the game to win the league. We were one-nil down at halftime but got back to one-one early in the second half. Early in the second half, one of their players who we targeted was perhaps being a bit temperamental. We’d been fairly lively with her, kicked out off the ball and referee didn’t see it. It would have been a sending off but the referee doesn’t see it. Their coach, on their principles, takes the player off because the coach had seen what happened to the player. I probably would have done the same but what I would’ve done is taken that player for a placement with another one, I’d have made a substitution. This coach took the player off and played with ten for the rest of the game. We won the game 2-1, we won the league and at the end I was intrigued and went up to the coach and said “incredibly impressed by you doing that. What made you do that?” and the coach said “well that player is going to play in our first team. When that player plays in our first team, they need to understand is that if they make that sort of decision on the pitch, the referee is likely to see it and they will be sent off and their team will play the rest of the game with ten men. So, they need to learn that”. This coach is willing to sacrifice a player winning the Development League potentially to teach them a lesson or get them to understand what’s important when they move into the senior team. That balance between a coach whose status was far more important to them than it was about the learning experience for the players, versus a coach who recognized that a learning experience for the players was far more important than winning an under 18s league. Both of those two sent messages to me, when I was relatively young in my coaching career, about the type of coach that you wanted to be, the standard you wanted to uphold in the way that you would hope to behave.