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At What Age Should Sports Results Matter?

By Sean Jensen, 08/04/17, 1:30PM CDT

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The sporting landscape has dramatically changed in a single generation. Athletes are specializing at younger ages, colleges are offering scholarships earlier and competitive clubs and programs are becoming multi-million dollar businesses.


Steve Cavalier, back left, generally works with players 10 and under and never focuses on the final score.

Steve Cavalier, the director of youth development for the Delaware Rush, primarily works with players ages 10 and under.

Cavalier loves developing young players, instilling in them foundational skills and fostering a passion for the sport.

But there’s one conflicting thing he doesn’t care about that many of his players’ parents do.


Steve Cavalier

“Everyone is concerned about score,” Cavalier says, “but the reality is, it’s not what I’m concerned about. Winning isn’t everything. Cavalier’s comment ended there. Meanwhile, one of the country’s most revered coaches used those same three words and coyly added a contrarian twist.

“Winning isn’t everything,” Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi said, “it’s the only thing.”

The sporting landscape has dramatically changed in a single generation. Athletes are specializing at younger ages, colleges are offering scholarships earlier and competitive clubs and programs are becoming multi-million dollar businesses.

John Curtis has done it all as a soccer player: He has more youth caps than any other male in England’s illustrious history, captaining teams at U-15, U-16, U-18 and U-20; he made 300 professional appearances, including with Manchester United; and he’s a successful coach, serving as the technical director for the New York Club Soccer League and the player development director of the New England Premiership.



John Curtis

“The results should never matter in youth soccer,” Curtis says. “There’s no such thing as a ‘Big Game’ in youth soccer. People who say that are just wrong.”

But there’s a fine line, Curtis says.

“Of course, results matter to the kids, and that is something that we should never, ever train out,” he says. “So we, as coaches, should never say, ‘It doesn’t matter whether we win or lose.’ That’s tricky: We have to nurture and foster that will to win, in an environment where our focus as a coach is not about that.”

That’s where coaches and parents come in.

It’s about priorities, and wins are secondary to the development of players. For instance, if a team has a substitution process, do not alter it late in a close game.

“If you win in the process, brilliant,” Curtis says. “But you shouldn’t sacrifice the goal of making the players better for anything.”

As players learn and mature, coaches are able to focus less on technique and development and more on the tactical elements of the game.

So if an opponent has a particularly skilled striker, the coach may employ a defensive strategy to neutralize that player.

“As kids get older,” Curtis says, “you emphasize using those tactics to win games.”

So at what age do the results matter?

Cavalier says 12 or 13.

“When there’s something on the line rather than just winning a league game,” he says. “It is a part of the development of players.”

Curtis says results matter when players start to play 11 versus 11, usually at the age of 13.

“I don’t want to say it doesn’t matter, but it does matter,” Curtis says. “Fun is being successful. You want to create an environment and understand where your team falls in that.”

About Sean Jensen

Sean Jensen was born in South Korea, but he was raised in California, Massachusetts and Virginia, mostly on or near military bases. Given his unique background, he's always been drawn to storytelling, a skill he developed at Northwestern University and crafted for the last 16 years, almost exclusively covering the NFL. Sean lives in a Minneapolis suburb with his wife, two children and dog. Read more

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