• Jack Fleming

Winning or Development - Why Not Both?

Crunch or soft tacos was the argument in the famous Old El Paso advertisement, with this famous young girl who kindly suggested why don't we have both? I couldn't agree more.

The world is famous for wanting to categorise everything as an 'either or' conversation.


Pack-line or Denial?


Man or Zone?


Athlete Centred or Coach Led?


The famous one in junior basketball, winning or development?


What would be examples of a focus on development?

- A focus on the long term individual improvement of the athlete, especially their weaknesses.

- Allowing players to experience multi-positions at practice and in games.

- Allowing all players decent amount of time on the floor.

- Focus more on strategy (the long term team plan) than the tactics (short term).


What would be examples of a focus on winning?

- Spending most of your practice on game tactics such as your press for the upcoming opponent.

- Only playing your best players.

- Only focusing on a players strengths.


There is a balance to strike here, it would be far too simple to think that we can just pick one.


Success is part of development, and development is part of success. Putting people in positions to fail does not always help development.


Why don't we have both.


"Developing Winners" - training and developing through quality competition.

The following information is extracted from Canada Basketball, the world leaders in creating a national curriculum to create podium level teams.


Of course this is age and stage appropriate - I am talking about the athletes in the train to train and beginning of the train to compete stage. Approximately aged 11-16 (train to train), developing athletes who have made a strong commitment towards performance sport with direction towards specialisation at the end of that stage. At any point they may jump off and choose to be Active for Life participants in the game, which is completely fine and super important to identify also.



Please refer to the Canadian Long Term Athlete Development Model for reference below.

You Are Not What You Say, But What You Do

Here are some examples or ideas for striking the balance between development and winning. Maybe you can build on or improve them to fit your context.


Team Selection - 8+2 Method

Selecting the 8 most 'talented' players and 2 (or more) long term propositions.


Style of Play - 70:30 Concept vs Sets

Offensively or defensively spending 70% of time on concepts and 30% of time on sets, in practice and in games.


Positional Play - Build to a 'Global' Position

Guards - Wings - Forwards versus PG, SG, SF, PF, C.


Everybody needs to be able to shoot, guard their position and have a global skillset.


Playing Time - 3 Quarters Philosophy

Equity not equality - everybody gets a fair opportunity not the same opportunity.

Play everybody for the first 3/4 then if the game is in the balance substitute to win the game. If you subscribe to this make sure it's not a secret, but shared openly with the parents and players.


Club Curriculum Philosophy - Having Focus Points for Each Age/Stage

Not to say you don't spend time on others parts of the game, but this is where the priority is. Here might be an example.


U10's - Dribbling, Passing, Pivoting

U12's - Lay Ups, Transition & Individual Defence

U14's - Shooting, FC Defence & Help Defence

U16's - P&R & Pressing


Time Spent at Practice - Example Canada Basketball T2T Phase

  1. 25% Fun

  2. 30% Technical

  3. 30% Strategy

  4. 15% - Tactics


Practice to Competition Ratio - Example Canada Basketball

  1. FUNdamentals (6-9 yo) - 2 on 2 & 3 on 3, scaled equipment.

  2. Learn to Train (9-12 yo) - 70:30 practice to games, 3 on 3 & 4 on 4.

  3. Train to Train (12-16 yo) - 60:40 practice to games, 5 on 5

  4. Train to Compete (16-21) - 40:60 practice to games, 5 on 5.


Playing Up - Example The Golden Generation of Australian Soccer Players

An opportunity for juniors who are excelling, to go and be challenged at a higher level where appropriate.


"This exposure to more physically demanding, higher resistance football flowed through to the Golden Generation’s early progress into senior club football. By age 15 or 16, those players were being forged in the crucible of the men’s competitions, often among the country’s best players in the National Soccer League (NSL)50. They had to quickly adapt technically, tactically and mentally to survive and thrive at this level. This contrasted with the Current Generation players, who did not face men until they were aged 16-18, usually with the FFA CoE. This involved playing with their young peers against state level senior teams or the slightly older youth teams of the A-League clubs."


Types of Team & Individual Plans

  1. Sprint - What do you need to work on this upcoming week?

  2. 800m - What do you need to work on in the next 2 months?

  3. Marathon - What do you need to work on to get to your dream in 2-5 years?

Balancing these 3 based on Who + Why = What + How is so important in developing winners.


Competition Model Strongly Influences the Development Model

The brutality of a constant push to qualify for something can blind coaches to be constantly focused on the sprint - due to external pressure from team, parents and clubs.


"Is it possible that development for many players stalls at exactly the time they enter the most competitive environment of their lives precisely because the learning suddenly tips more steeply to short-term goals?" - Doug Lemov, The Coaches Guide to Teaching

It's not to say that quality competition is not important, but for instance the U14 competition in Victoria having to qualify for their grade, then the top 10, then U14 Nationals then finals can create a year of stress, burnout, and angst among players, parents and coaches. It is a whole year of short term goals, with very little room for a broader view.


Final Thought

These are all just ideas to stimulate thought, but I do have a strong belief in getting away from the 'development or winning' dogma.


Striking a balance, knowing who you are coaching and why they are playing will hopefully determine a beneficial method.







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