Participation vs Winning

Bishops Cleeve Colts


If i was a parent, not a parent/coach, I'd want to know the philosophy around participation vs winning which my coach held. 

I’ll discuss my thought’s on the importance of participation, how success is key to improving participation and where winning fits in to the mix.

It's a touchy subject so please read through the whole article for a reasonable reflection of my perspective.


Having a squad of players who are hungry to participate, enjoy their friends through football and learn skills they can take into the future is and always will be my top priority as a coach.

Participation is something which does not come naturally to Tyler (my son) but having applied himself and learned that he can play without getting hurt or humiliated has completely changed his approach to participation in football and life.

How we foster this mind set in all of our players is a challenge but one I'm excited to take on.

Playing with Friends

The first 6-10 weeks of our 2017-18 season showed that the appeal of getting more time with friends, regardless of winning was enough to have our lads motivated to participate in season 1. We started far less experienced and got crushed all but our last matches of the season but the lads kept wanting to participate.

The Perception of Success

I hope the desire to get out and play with their mates continues to drive the lad’s participation for years to come but football has far more to offer than friendships alone.

Success motivates us to continue and as long as we can continue providing success then the lads will be more inclined to participate.  

Success is often assumed to mean winning or scoring goals, when it comes to football, but if we support them well then these boys will feel success whenever they notice:

  • their kicks getting more powerful or accurate
  • they play more like the way they were taught in practice
  • they can make more tackles and interceptions
  • they can run faster and further
  • they start scoring goals more regularly
  • they find themselves one of the stronger players at school or among non-club footballers.

There is a chance that some of the boys already associate losing with failure and since failure is the opposite of success, this is a mindset we need to change.

The Relevance of Winning

I’ve played in teams which have lost most of their games as well as teams which have won national titles. I’ve coached children at both ends of the spectrum and while I do my best not to let myself or children get down about a loss, we all prefer to win than lose.

Thing is that if I could click my fingers and have our lads win every match they played then I’d be depriving them of the vital experience that is losing.

Whether in this team or another, these boys need to accept that regardless of how good they are or how well they play they are going to lose and that’s alright.

Why We Strive to Win 

From a coach perspective, it’s very easy to provide the experience of losing but providing the experience of winning, without stacking our teams unevenly, can only be achieved if the boys are playing more football than their opposition and putting that playing time to good use.

I want our boys to be able to win matches so I’ll coach them to increase the chances of winning but at the end of the day I nor they can ever guarantee wins, even if they succeed in doing everything we teach them.

Winning vs Success

Some of you may think I’m putting too much emphasis on strategy, with talk about goal kick positioning, moving the ball up the lines and passing across the opposition goal box.

What I’m actually trying to do is provide a gauge for them to figure out whether they’re improving or not, while also increasing the chance they can win when they play well.

Without the guidance on how to move a ball up the field and put it in the back of the net I don’t feel the lads have a way to objectively gauge whether they succeeded because the only gauge they’ll have is “did I win or lose?”.

Do We Lie About A Loss?

There is a temptation to hide the fact we’ve lost a match by saying things like “it’s not important” when asked “did we win?” but as mentioned earlier, we need to learn how to lose.

I won’t hide the fact we’ve won or lost and I’ll happily provide the score if it was close but I’ll quickly direct the discussion towards reflecting on how the individual or team did in certain areas of the game. 

If the score was ridiculous (either for or against us) then I’ll tell them we stopped keeping score, which will be the truth because I don’t really care about the score after the margin gets over about five goals. I personally don’t see a point.

Dealing with Negative Discussion

It’s likely your child or someone who’s spoken to your child will say something negatively about another player’s performance.

My advice is to NEVER agree or join in with any negative talk about any player’s performance. It will only encourage them to be critical of others when they should be focusing on themselves as an individual or member of a team. 

Try deflecting statements by:

  • broadening the discussion to the team’s performance in certain aspects of the game
  • asking the child about their performance in a certain area of the game, ideally one you think they did well in
  • talking about how much you think that player has actually improved over the last few months
  • following with a question about the team’s performance in a certain area.


I hope this post didn’t get too far off topic. It’s a big one and I’ll likely go more in depth on certain sections in future posts.

Key for me is that we should do every thing we can to ensure the lads keep participating and even increase their participation if it’s in their best interest.

We’ll do this by helping them see ongoing success in their ability, confidence and fitness while fostering a friendly environment where they get to enjoy time with their mates.

Do this well and we’ll keep a great bunch of lads and parents who know what this team is about and how it behaves, win or lose.

About the Author

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Conor is the Head Coach of the Bishops Cleeve Colts U8's Rovers and United Teams. The 2018-19 season will be his second in charge and he's keen to help the boys push on from the huge improvements shown in 2017-18.

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