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|  Daniel Nister & Leon Laudi

play AND learn TO win

Photo by Pietro Pugliese

Higher, faster, further. The motto of professional football is obvious, it is about victories, prestige and especially trophies. The clubs and associations are under great pressure to succeed and perform, which is reinforced by the media, fans and sponsors.

The performance of a coach is largely assessed by the result of his team on the match day.

However, for the various people involved in football, it is no longer just the result that counts, this should also be achieved with the most attractive possible style of play.

Balancing these two factors is an extremely challenging task even for the best football coaches.

In this context we can’t ignore the fact that sport is still a game, and it is not just about economic gain and loss, but also about winning and losing through play on the pitch.

Furthermore, the coaches are also heavily dependent on the players who are available to them.

The spectators come to the stadiums to see creative, game-intelligent and technically high-class footballers who seem to be able to easily overcome their opponents.

In Germany there are for the moment only a handful of players who achieve a world class 1-on-1 level. With Leroy Sane, Serge Gnabry and Kai Havertz there are currently only three players who stand out and can be added to this category.

According to, there are only two German players among the most valuable U21 players worldwide, Kai Havertz and Florian Wirtz; in comparison: 22 British and 23 French players.

Dilemma between the pressure to succeed and individualization

Before well-trained players and winners can be used in the professional field, children and young people need adequate training. In this process the coaches play a crucial role.

On the one hand, there are the trainers in the academies who want to develop themselves and be successful.

Often the only chance for them is to draw attention to themselves about their victories and a good place in the table. They hope that their work is perceived as good and they get a better paid job in the club.

The coaches in the lower youth teams in particular are not paid enough, although the training of the players is of a high importance in these age ranges, keyword “golden age of learning”.

This partly extreme sense of success is at the charge of talents and the focus on the individual player and his football training.

Even in the lower youth teams there are a lot of tactical guidelines, so that the players hardly have any opportunity to develop freely.

In addition to that, this way of thinking puts a lot of pressure on the children and young people, who already have an immense workload to cope with, which can lead to them losing the enjoyment of football and ultimately, they stop playing.

On the other hand is the problem of player development. The primary aim of the youth academies should be to prepare young talents for the professionals.

The toolbox of the players should be filled with various possible solutions so that they can always choose the best possible alternative.

In order to achieve this, it is important to give the young players some space to develop themselves. This also includes admitting mistakes to the players, from which they can gain their experience and learn.

This conflict between short-term success and individual development leads football with a major obstacle:


What is the optimal way to prepare young talents as best as possible for professional football?

Does it make sense to take away an elementary basis of the sport from youth football with the elimination of tables and results?

This fundamental problem within the training creates a need, especially for discussions on a mental level.

Should youth players be taught the unconditional will to win or should they be acquainted to professional football carefully and without pressure?

“Basically, I am convinced that the importance of youth coaches in Germany is too low [...].

If the payment is not really high and you get a low appreciation, as a youth coach you start looking for opportunities for quick advancement [...].

Accordingly, the talents that need to be developed are no longer in the foreground, but rather the results of the trainers. Because only if they draw attention to themselves through results and titles do, they recommend themselves for higher tasks.“
- Norbert Elgert

Photo by Pietro Pugliese

Holistic development

In the concepts of most youth academies, the holistic development of the players is in the foreground.

In addition to technique, tactics and fitness, the psyche is one of the fundamental factors in football. In contrast to the three other areas, however, the psyche receives little attention in training work.

When it comes to the development of the players and the preparation of them for professional football, all performance requirements must be developed, including the mentality, a sub-point of the psyche.

Sport is defined in a broader and in a narrower sense by the fact that individuals or teams try to generate an unequal result under the same conditions (Krüger et al.).

If you break football down to its simplest foundation, then it's primarily about scoring goals and not conceding goals.

This implies that sport is always about winning. Important in this context is what stands in the foreground.

Is it the personal realization of the coach or is it the individual development of the players?

In addition to dealing with pressure, resilience and emotions, football is also about how a player acts in a team and how common goals can be achieved. How does the individual player have to act in order to have the greatest possible success with his team? However, this is a thin line, in which the focus on the player and his development gets lost fast and adjusts on the pure pressure to succeed.

The desire to win should always be greater than the fear of defeat. If a coach focuses on his own development and the associated pressure to win, this can lead to the fact that the players are more afraid of losing and making mistakes, because they fear a corresponding reaction from their coach. As a result, the young talents act cautiously on the pitch and want to adhere to the coach's instructions as closely as possible.

“[Among the] top 100 players, physically there is not much difference … It’s a mental ability to handle the pressure, to play well at the right moments.“
- Novak Djoković

(Excerpt from: Afremow, Jim; The Champion's Mind.)

Develop mentality

In order to provide holistic training, value should be placed on promoting and challenging the mental and cognitive characteristics of the players in addition to the physical attributes.

The coaching of the trainer in particular is a decisive factor in the extent to which the young talents can live out and develop their creativity and game intelligence.

If too much is pretend or corrected by the trainer during training and play, the mental abilities of the players suffer as a result, since their own solution approaches cannot be found and tried out.

This has another, not to be neglected, side effect:

The players learn neither to take responsibility for themselves nor to take responsibility for the collective. It is therefore difficult for the young talents to focus on the essentials and to overcome resistance.

The former US national player Mia Hamm describes impressively here that it is also precisely about learning this at a young age and gaining experience.

Ultimately, it is the players themselves and especially the coaches in professional football who benefit from this, as they can fall back on players who are mentally strong on the one hand and who can make their own decisions on the other.

„When eleven players want to knock you down, when you’re tired or injured, when the referees are against you, you can’t let any of it affect your focus. How do you do that? You have to learn how!” 
- Mia Hamm

(Excerpt from: Dweck, Carol; Mindset - The new Psychology of Success)

Development of the game idea

The game idea of the club and / or coach is an important compass for development of different types of players.

However, it is certainly counterproductive for the development of children and young people in the long term if the trainer wants to win at all costs.

In this context, a destructive style of play is often chosen, in which particularly accelerated players are preferred.

It is not uncommon for high and long balls to be used in order to avoid conceding a goal, while hoping for luck to score a goal and win the game.

With this type of play, the joy and fun of the players is certainly limited. But both of these are important factors for intrinsic motivation and can give a real boost to development and learning.

The joy of playing and passion are important basic elements that should first and foremost be exemplified by the coaching team. It is not about achieving short-term goals through special tactics and constellations and winning at any price. 


Even as a small boy on the football field, in the gym or in the playground:

No matter where, it was always about winning. Whether for a drink, for a candy or simple the winner can stay on the pitch! Whether against the elderly or children from the neighboring town, the desire to win was lived.

In addition to resilience, the winning mentality and creativity, it was also trained at the same time how to lose properly and leave the place for other children to compete again tomorrow and do better. True to the motto:

“Communicating a game idea must be linked with the desire to win under competitive conditions.” 

- Karsten Schumann

(Excerpt from: Fussballtrainer-Magazin(11); Zur Persönlichkeit von Fußballtrainern)

“Full of commitment and full preparation,
plus trying to get better every day”
- John Wooden

Photo by Ayelt van Veen on Unsplash

The coach's coaching

In preparing for a performance and in player development, the coach plays an important, if not the most significant, role.

In order to develop the young talents as best as possible, age- and development-appropriate forms of play and exercise are essential.

It is necessary to create framework conditions in which the potential of all players can develop. The coaches in youth academies therefore work in a development-oriented manner.

In addition, the coach is a reference person for the players, especially in the younger years, and accordingly also takes on a role model function. This allows him to steer his players actions in a certain direction, consciously or unconsciously.

An appreciative attitude, honest and constructive feedback are important elements for the personal development of the players. Also and especially in terms of developing a winning mentality.

At best, he can take on various roles and functions.

As already explained, too much coaching of the trainer can be counterproductive.

Michael Micic presents holistic leadership in his contribution. It is about three options for actions by the trainer. Motivating, coaching and guiding. It is about the optimal use of these possibilities in order to act appropriately to the situation.

Motivation is about “suggestions, support and motivation - both as a whole and individually for each team member”. Pursue a common goal while living and observing common values.


According to Micic, coaching means, among other things, offering help and support. These help the players and the team so that they can activate their potential and develop independent solutions.

Finally, there is also guiding, in which the trainer gives short, concise and precise instructions and / or feedback to the players.

© Privatarchiv

The winning talent: 

In order to develop top players, the focus must certainly be on the individual player. Because the player and his individual development is the most important thing!

They must receive extensive training in all areas so that they are best prepared for professional football. Only a very small percentage of children and adolescents can make it to paid football.

Those who make it need not only the football skills but also the mentality. We need well-trained winners and for this it is also important to lay the foundations at a young age and to develop them as much as possible.

Every single youth coach contributes significantly to this. Therefore, they should be shown more appreciation and an opportunity should be created to work in these areas over the long term and to specialize in them.

This also includes an appropriate payment for the coaches, to enable them advanced training and to incorporate their experiences and ideas into the training.

It is not without reason that Alex Ferguson at Manchester United placed a lot of value on a certain winning mentality with all talent:

„His talent strategy was focused on the recruitment and development of world-class young players who understood that the winning mindset was an essential part of being at Manchester United.“
- Alex Ferguson

(Excerpt from: Afremow, J; Winners)


  • Afremow, J. (2013). The Champion's Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive. Rodale Books, iBooks. 
  • Campbell, A. (2013). Winners. Pegasus Books, London.
  • Dweck, C. (2016). Mindset - The new Psychology of Success. Ballantine Books; New York
  • Elgert, N. (2019). Gib alles - nur nie auf!: Die Erfolgsstrategien vom Trainer der Weltstars. Ariston Verlag, München. 
  • Krüger, M., Emrich, E., Meier, H. & Daumann, F. (2013). Bewegung, Spiel und Sport in Kultur und Gesellschaft - Sozialwissenschaften des Sports. In Güllich, A. & Krüger, M. (Hrsg.) Sport. Springer Verlag, Berlin. 
  • Micic, M. (2020). Ganzheitliches Leadership - Motivating, Coaching, Guiding. BDFL-Journal. (60), S.72-73. 
  • Nister, D. (2018). Potenziale schlummern überall. Fussballtraining. 36 (03), S. 14 - 21. Philippka Verlag, Münster. 
  • Nister, D. & VfL Wolfsburg-Fußball GmbH (2018). Trainingsbuch - Ideen für die professionelle Trainingsgestaltung im Nachwuchsfussball. MediaWorld GmbH, Braunschweig. 
  • Nister, D. & Leposavić, N. (2020). Auf den Spuren von Luka Jović und Co. - So werden die Nachwuchstalente in Serbien entdeckt und gefördert. Fussballtraining. 38 (8), S. 6 - 13. Philippka Verlag, Münster. 
  • Schumann, K. (2019). Exkurs: Top Performer im Spitzensport erkennen am Beispiel des FC Bayern München. In: Prieß, A. Die besten Gewinnen. Haufe, Freiburg.
  • Schumann, K. (2020). Zur Persönlichkeit von Fußballtrainern. Fußballtrainer-Magazin. (11). Aachen: Meyer & Meyer Verlag

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