Development versus winning

Children, youths, and adults play rugby to play games. Games, or competition, can have different emphasis. For an International team playing in the Rugby World Cup, the most important element in every match is winning, but what about at the other extreme? W hat should an eight-year-old player focus on? At this age, children have limited attention span and have limited ability to process complex situations. This is the optimum time to develop skills.

This indicates that for this age, the focus of competition and therefore coaching and parental support should be on developing the player rather than focusing on competitive outcomes (winning the game).

Many people confuse the message of not emphasising the result with not developing a ‘winning mentality’.

The key message is that if we develop better players who are committed, who play and train with intensity, who can set their own goals and evaluate their own performance, then the winning mentality will be nurtured.

An environment that praises effort (developing commitment and problem solving) over ability (when one way of doing something is reinforced) and which encourages ‘critical’ (evidence-based) evaluation of performance, with players assuming responsibility for their actions, will develop players who want to win. Children are competitive by nature. Coaches and parents should harness this desire to improve performance by encouraging, supporting, and praising individual improvement. By doing this we will support players’ development for the long term.