The Little Team

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Once upon a time, there was a soccer team. They were very small, and very young, and not very skilled. All the other teams were bigger and faster, and scored more goals.

A lot more goals.

Two hundred and seventy-one goals in one season, to be precise.

But here’s the mysterious and wonderful thing: the little team still had fun. They loved playing. They loved the game, and each other.

Meet the kids and coaches of Margatania FC, the team from Spain that provides us a recipe for healthy youth sports:

  • 1) mellow, quiet, no-pressure parents
  • 2) nurturing coaches
  • 3) fun-focused culture
  • 4) long-term perspective

As one player jubilantly says, “We’ll score goals when we grow old!”

Related fact: Spain also produces some of the world’s greatest soccer talent. Do you think that’s a coincidence?

(Big thanks to the great John Kessel for sharing the link.)


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11 Responses to “The Little Team”

  1. Mike says:

    This is a cool story but its not a recipe on how to fix youth sports. It’s more complicated than that. In my opinion, the right way to fix youth sports is to have kids play at the proper competition level. It’s not good to have a dominating team play down to lower competition and its not good to have a less skilled team get beat every weekend. These kids have a great attitude and it’s important to have a long term perspective. But having them get blanked for a couple more seasons, and these kids will find other things to do. Wasn’t there something about an 80/20 success-to-failure rule in your book? Success (maybe not winning) and being challenged (but not demoralized) has to be a part of the equation to keep kids interested and motivated to improve.

  2. djcoyle says:

    Hi Mike, I hear you completely — it’s clear that there’s not a heckuva lot of learning going on by either team if the scores are that lopsided. What I’m impressed by, though, is the larger culture on display here — a culture that has a growth mindset, that doesn’t see failure as a verdict, and that puts fun first. That’s the base on which to grow something good — which, as you say, should definitely include games that challenge both sides.

  3. Mike says:

    Agreed.

    Thanks for sharing these ideas.

  4. Paxo says:

    sounds very much like Danish golf.

  5. Greg S. says:

    Mike says “it is not good to have a less skilled team get beat every weekend”. I’d say it depends on the environment or Dan states the “culture”. Over time, you are probably right on. In shorter bursts – maybe even over a season, in my experience (two youth soccer players), this becomes an excellent way to learn and is a much better place to learn than playing to “lesser” competition. A little like the Montessori process in schools. From the perspective of those playing up, it makes the winning or even as some of the young guys in the documentary say – scoring of a single goal – that much sweeter.

  6. Gerald M says:

    Hi Dan
    It might be some sort of insight into the Spanish mindset as they seem to get things right when it comes to building champions.
    They have world champions in Soccer with the World Cup and World Club Champions with Barcelona.
    They also have Tennis, Formula One,Motorcycle Racing,Golf and Cycling where they have winners and world champions.
    All this from a country that is technically broke and with massive unemployment.

  7. Stephen Perera says:

    I manage an Under 9s team in Gibraltar and we play regularly over in Spain….this video is excellent, inspiring but nowhere near the true picture of what its like in Southern Andalucia at least…its nowhere near as accepting of defeat and bad play as this video displays….the true picture would be half the team parents thinking their kid is in the wrong team and take them elsewhere at the end of the season cos they think their son or daugther wont progress in a losing team like that….thats the reality….

  8. djcoyle says:

    Hi Stephen, That makes perfect sense. Clearly, what’s happening here is unique to this little group, this micro-culture. I can’t imagine that it’s representative of too many places — though I couldn’t ever see this happening in the states. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  9. gpo613 says:

    I have two daughters. One 12 and one 8. The older one is a competitive swimmer that swims at a pretty high level with her sights on going higher. She is currently practicing 5 days a week for 2 hours a day in the water with two 45 min dryland sessions as well. She is focused and determined. She wants to get better and is willing to put in the hard work to do so. Now for my younger daughter we can’t convince her to sign up for any team sport. She is just not interested at all. She doesn’t have the competitive fire driving her like her sister. And you know what even though they are on the different ends of the spectrum I still love them both the same. They are different kids raised in the same house basically the same way and I like it.

  10. Stephen says:

    Great to see some nerdy coach helping some nerd kids enjoy getting thrashed each week, good on him.

    Related fact: Spain also produces some of the world’s greatest soccer talent:

    Yep and that talent is in the teams that beat this team each and every week :-)

  11. RK says:

    I appreciate the quality of coaching and the amount of dedication involved by this teams adult component, that has made their season successful.

    I support Mr. Coyles comment about the micro-culture reality of youth sports and personally feel, it’s the biggest hold back to universal implementation of athlete development models.

    Personally, I have coached 3 youth teams in the last 13 years that have lost all of there games, (they were all underage teams playing one or two years older)one in soccer and two in basketball. Removing any expectations of winning even one game, as a public declaration to parents before they committed to the team, allowed for zero emphasis on winning and 100% on skill development.

    In all three cases the following year, playing with their peers, these players dominated but also were clearly team leaders in their own right.

    And for any naysayer…. there were 43 players on these 3 teams combined and 41 played the sport in the same organization the following year.

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