Development vs winning – how to use video game design on match day

How do we link long-term player development with winning?
The goal of football (or any type of game) is to win via a process of outfoxing the opponent. But when dealing with young players, how do we balance winning with development?

Coaching for long-term development of individual players can be challenging, and more so on a match day where there is a score line to identify the winning and losing team.
As coaches, we understand that winning games does not necessarily equal development, and that losing games does not necessarily equal a lack of development.
We might have heard of the term “comfort zone” and the idea that people learn best when they are just outside of their comfort zone. This might be when the challenge is hard, but achievable.

So, if individual players find the challenge on match day to be too difficult or too easy, they might not be in the best place to learn and develop.
This is evident when we see score lines of 10-0. Likewise we might see a score line of 3-2, but this does not mean that every individual player was finding the challenge “hard but achievable” where they were just outside of their comfort zone. For example, we all have that dominant player(s) in our team who is very effective, versus that player who is less effective and therefore striving to keep up with others of the same age.

However, amongst all of this challenge setting, has the art of winning been lost?
The player mentioned above was persistent with his challenge, but his actions might not have been in consideration of the most effective decision, tactics or strategy to win the game. For example, what if there is a chance to play in early behind the opposition to create a goal scoring opportunity? This would be a decision that might be very effective in “outfoxing the opponent” and ultimately a decision that will help the team to win.

So how do we as coaches consider the notion of “winning” whilst also helping players to be appropriately challenged?

The video game industry consistently gets people to feel like the challenge is “hard but achievable” and this is one of the reasons that people get better at playing and get better at winning.

In video games, winning is not disconnected from self-improvement. James Paul Gee who is a professor at Arizona State University explains that playing video games gets you to feel “pleasantly frustrated” due to the way in which the game is designed, therefore meaning that you will always feel motivated to persist in finding success in the game. As mentioned earlier, success in games is inherently linked to winning.

I have looked into video game design in some detail, and I have found that providing opportunities on match days for players to earn a “super power” has helped with balancing winning with development for individual players.

Super powers provide opportunities for someone to have a different “effect” on the game, for a short period of time. The key is that players get to “earn” a power – it’s not just given to a player by the coach! The process of earning a power encourages strategic thinking, which is driven by the process of finding a way to “win”.

Possible super powers for players to earn and use on match days
• Create a goal for your team mate, and for the next 5 minutes you can become “invisible” by playing in any position on the pitch
Agree with opposing team before kick off, for each team to have one super power. For example:
• Player holding the bib is the “super scorer” where if you score whilst holding the bib, it’s worth double.
• Player holding the bib is earns a “stop clock” where if you make an assist whilst holding the bib, you gain an extra 2 minutes of match time.
• Player holding the bib is “invincible” where if you receive the ball whilst holding the bib, you can’t be tackled for 6 seconds.
• Player holding the bib is the “ghost player” where you can’t be marked by an opposition player
With all of these super powers, the key is to support players with understanding how and when to transfer the “bib” to a teammate.

Very young players will find this difficult, however as players get a better understanding of “how to win” and “strategy” they will hopefully consider appropriate opportunities to give the power to somebody else. For example, in order to win the game, the striker might be most effective in having the “super scorer” power.

So for the player who is forging ahead (finding the match easy), or for the player who is striving to keep up (finding the match difficult), a super power might help them to find and experience new ways of having an effect on the score line, whilst also providing an appropriate challenge to support with individual player development.

After all, as coaches we strive to develop players within 4 Areas technical/tactical, physical, social and psychological; though ultimately we are here to help our players to get better at “learning”, and specifically learning how to be effective at playing the game, or winning! Super powers on match day might be one idea to join up player development, and winning.

Author: Owen Southgate