Every post-match interview with a professional player will involve a comment about the points, whether they see the game as a lost opportunity to gain points, or maybe a well-earned point in a difficult game, or maybe elation at getting the three points. As professionals, points reflect their value, their ability to help the team achieve its competitive aims. But points are not equally valuable. Once league survival or the title is assured, points become less meaningful and players put less effort in.
The three points are important to the fans, as their happiness is rooted in the performance levels of their club. The three points take on massive importance in local derbies, far more valuable than points earned against struggling teams. Similarly the executives at a club will place far more value on a point that allows them to qualify for the Champion’s League than one that ensures them 7th place.
The value of a point therefore is not fixed. It has no objective value. It has a different value to everyone who perceives it. A point earned playing attractive football is worth more than one earned playing ugly football. If the only reason you win is because the opposing team had a dodgy pre-match meal and all got sick, the points are less meaningful than those earned against a fully fit team.
Points are a useful general metric of the relative qualities of professional footballers, as their primary aim is to maximise their team’s points, no matter the cost. Everything a professional does is done for the three points, from monitoring their sleep patterns and quality, to cutting out sugars and greasy foods to increase physical performance.
However youth sports are different. Youth players have aims outside their team’s league position. They’re aiming to become better players, or make friends, or develop a love of self-improvement. The league position doesn’t measure any of these qualities.
Children have a natural instinct for fairness. If left to their own devices, they will create rules to increase parity, for example an older sibling might limit themselves to only using their weaker foot, or letting the younger sibling start with the ball. This is not always the case, but over time they tend to learn that a win isn’t satisfying by itself unless it reflects some genuine obstacle overcome. The three points are not inherently valuable, the personal achievement is.
This is not to say that winning is meaningless, more that it is imparted with meaning by other factors, such as overcoming great odds, performing at a higher level than expected, keeping a cool head, and so on. Getting the three points at youth level is down to many factors beyond your control. Local academy players sometimes join youth grassroots teams for a game when they’re not being picked for their club, and stroll through our grassroots league. If your team comes up against that, there’s very little you can do about it.
The win is often beyond your control, but you can always set high standards. If the focus goes from getting the three points to trying your best, you set a standard that players can control. They can’t blame others, nor themselves, and can take ownership of their own performance.
“Give it your all and be on time for training, that’s all I ask from my players”
Roy Keane, a figurehead of progressive and caring coaching