Is the Game the Greatest Teacher?

I asked this question to thousands of coaches, trainers, and parents in our Youth Soccer Coach Facebook group.  The conversations were lively and insightful – with a range of opinions.



Below are a few of the best responses. Comment below or in the Facebook group to share your opinion.


Russell Costa: Yes, but good coaches find the small moments in-game situations to teach. Too many young coaches use this as an excuse to say very little.
Alan Milic: I can play guitar. But if a teacher teaches me the scales then I will be better and definitely learn more quicker.
Michael Arie Kane: I can drill until I’m blue in the face, but cones and poles don’t react back…in the game, you notice the spacing, you are forced to notice tendencies and develop that individual confidence.


My Thoughts

I believe the answer lies somewhere in the middle and to a certain extent depends on the player’s age, competitive level, and how we choose to define the game.

In essence, there are lessons that can only be learned during games, but players acquire the necessary skills during practice and individual training.

As well as having fun, it’s extremely important that youth players become proficient in basic skills.  The more skillful the player becomes the more they will enjoy the game, and the more likely they are to learn.



Unfortunately, the converse is also true. Players who lack basic skills, tend to get less from the games than others.


Acquiring more skill helps players enjoy the games more.  I discussed this point in the blog post on when to transition from recreational to competitive soccer.


In that article, I explained that technical players have more possession of the ball and enjoy more confidence.  This creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of greater enjoyment and more willingness to train that lasts the entire time the player plays soccer.


Game-Like – Not Game

Many parents and even coaches incorrectly lump the act of “play” with the technique utilized by a coach who creates game-like conditions in order to promote certain decision-making among players.

In other words, the game is only the best teacher if it is structured is to do so. Otherwise, the kids are running around like chickens with their heads cut off!

That doesn’t mean, that playing unstructured games doesn’t have intrinsic value – because it does. The mere fact that kids are having fun is often enough.



However, I think we should make a distinction between playing a game (as it’s commonly understood when playing outside competition) and using game-like conditions to promote decision-making and problem-solving. The latter is where coaches add the most value. What do you think?


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