Is ’winning’ in youth football a sprint or a marathon?
Peter Glynn, FA Skills Coach
In an attempt to answer a coach's question on how his grassroots club could become truly 'developmental' in their approach, I found myself, strangely enough, reading and subsequently pondering over the story of the Tortoise and the Hare.
Like David drawing Goliath away in The FA Cup Third Round, here they were, the most unlikely of competitors - the Arsenal and the Aldershot of the animal kingdom - pitted together in a test of speed, stamina and determination.
The contest seemingly had only one winner. On the start line, the smug looking hare mocked the beleaguered tortoise, assuring himself, "How could that thing ever beat me?"
Fuelled by his own hype, the hare starts the race at great speed. Accelerating around the bends and stretching out his elastic legs on the straights, he runs faster than any hare before him, going all out for victory in the quickest time.
Somewhere in the dust of the hare's frantic charge, the tortoise, taking each step one at a time, progressed slowly but surely.
HT: Tortoise 0 - 1 Hare
With a significant lead and without sight or sound of the tortoise, the hare was drawn to the inviting shade under a tree by the roadside. Little did he know that the comforting grass and pleasant summer's breeze would lull him from a short rest into a deep sleep. As the hare lay resting by the road, the tortoise continued valiantly on his path. [Tortoise 1-1 Hare, Hare O.G]
Building on the foundation of energy he had stored from earlier in the race, the tortoise clawed his way back into the contest. With momentum in his favour, tortoise eventually overtakes the complacent hare and completes the race.
On his awakening the hare was left startled that he had overslept and the race was over. Against all odds the perseverance of the tortoise had proved triumphant.
FT: Tortoise 2 - 1 Hare
In junior football you can recognise the 'hare' in every league. Fixated on the prize of silverware, achievement is defined by the weekend's result and the fullness of the trophy cabinet.
Like the hare, winning performance is desired instantly with little appreciation of the investment of time and patience necessary to build long-term success.
In worse case scenarios this incessant focus on the result becomes a self-accepted disguise for moral implosion. Abuse and swearing is masked as 'enthusiasm' or 'passion'. Dressing downs for the children, dressed up as 'character building' or 'toughening up'.
Choosing to be a 'tortoise' club can be much harder. Sacrificing victories and newspaper cut outs in the formative seasons can divide opinionated parents, frustrate your 'assistant'and leave you mocked in the same way the hare mocked the tortoise.
But for those who wish to be considered a true 'development' club the most important dilemma of all still remains: What is it that you are trying to win in the long-term and how do you wish to win it?
The philosopher Albert Camus once said: "All that I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football."
And maybe it is this that is the measure of true victory; the tortoise's victory.
If you can define what winning means to you and your club and begin to take the slow and steady steps towards achieving it, then who knows, in many years to come you might just pass all the others taking a nap in the shade.
Do you want your club to be 'hare' today and gone tomorrow or, like the tortoise, stay in the mind of others for a little longer?
What do you think should be the most important factor at junior football clubs?
Have your say below!