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Winnable Moments – The Game within the Game


Winnable Moments

When the game starts, experienced individual athletes don’t think about how the team can collectively win the game. Instead, he or she starts breaking the game down to single instances that they may be able to control.  Those single instances are called “winnable moments“.

Soccer is a game of winnable moments.

More experienced players may want to execute a trick, score a goal or make an assist.  Less experienced players may be focused on NOT being beat one-on-one, or just hope to get into the game.

In general, when soccer players reflect on their past games, they remember bicycle kicks, header goals and how they were treated by their teammates.  They remember ball handling tricks, long runs that resulted in a goal, perfectly placed crosses, and 1v1 situations (successful and unsuccessful).  They remember clearing the ball from the goal line, scoring a header goal, and certain ball-winning tackles.  For the goalkeeper, they remember diving saves,  serious injuries, their first (and maybe only) goal,  or coming way out of the box to win a one-on-one situation.

Personally, I remember a one-on-one situation with a goalkeeper in 1987 which I shot with the outside of my foot, instead of the inside, which resulted in the balling curving just wide of the goal.   It was the first time I ever remember hearing the fans.  I also vividly remember playing in Skelly Stadium, home of the NASL Tulsa Roughnecks, to win the Green Country Soccer Association end of season tournament with the u-16 Tulsa Sting in 1982.  And I remember making my first bicycle kick in 1981.  My father was there.  It was the only game he ever went to.

Most players spend much of the time on the field either calculating ways to create winnable moments, celebrating a winnable moment, or second guessing themselves when they lose a moment.  Very rarely is the overall mission of winning the game considered.  That’s what the coach is there for.

In fact, most players feel that they have very little control of the outcome of the game.  That’s why they create a game within the game.


Yelling Soccer CoachIn order to be a good coach, you would have to have been a player.  After all, how can a coach understand the winnable moments unless they’ve played?  However, even though most of them used to be players, most coaches have forgotten about players’ winnable moments.  They call players who focus on themselves “selfish” and “uncoachable“.   They yell “What are you doing?!” or they bench them because they won’t do EXACTLY what the coach wants them to do.

That’s why most athletes quit sports at one time or another:  They’ve been DENIED their sense of victory for too long – their winnable moments.

The real problem with most coaches though, is that they’re still trying to create their own winnable moments, and they’ve forgotten about their players.  Instead of giving back to the game, they’re still taking from it.

Stop Coaching to Win

Coaches always say that they’re interested in giving back to the game that gave them so much. However, the desire to create their own winnable moments has resulted in many over-zealous coaches who micro-manage players right out of the game. 

Over-coaching from the sidelines hurts players by distracting them from their own game within the game. Soccer players get caught up in either trying to make the coach happy or trying to keep the coach from yelling at them.  The end result is a soccer player with no real passion for the game.

The most successful coaches find the balance between the transfer of important information and allowing the players to recognize and enjoy their own game.

[su_divider style=”dashed” size=”1″ margin=”10″] [su_pullquote]The most memorable moments a player has about playing sports are RARELY whether they won or lost a game.

Instead they remember instances – the winnable moments.[/su_pullquote]


About Author

Mike Slatton is a 2nd generation American youth soccer coach since 1984, and the son of one of the nation's first female licensed youth soccer coaches (Anita Slatton, 1979). He's also a professional soccer scout, a player since 1977, and the father of three adult and teenage children who all play or have played the game. "My job as a youth soccer coach is to develop confident, detail oriented problem solvers who can react quickly under pressure. It's important that players NOT be afraid of making mistakes, to encourage an appreciation of failure as a learning tool. This relates to life - not just soccer."

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