Performance more crucial than results: Youth football expert

Performance more crucial than results: Youth football expert
Roger Bongaerts is a UEFA A and Pro Licence tutor, who belieives that youth coaches should not be obssessed with getting their charges to win matches. Photo: Roger Bongaerts
Published: 4:00 AM, March 11, 2017

SINGAPORE — As the head of youth development at top Dutch second-tier side VVV-Venlo, which has helped groom players such as Japanese internationals Keisuke Honda and Maya Yoshida, Roger Bongaerts knows exactly what it takes to groom a youth player into a star. He also knows the common mistakes coaches make in their development of youth players.

The biggest one, said the Dutchman, is to believe that winning games at youth level means the players are on the right track.

Instead, Bongaerts, who is a Uefa A and Pro Licence tutor, said that youth coaches should focus on the performances of the individual players, instead of the overall result.

“Performing in games is a key indicator of development, but performing does not equate to winning,” Bongaerts told TODAY in an email interview. “We (coaches) should not focus on results and base how successful our coaching is on how many games we win.

“We should still want our players to be competitive (on the pitch). But this doesn’t mean that we try to coach the player’s every move, or give them instructions to follow rigidly. They won’t learn, if that’s the case.”

Bongaerts’ comments come in the wake of TODAY’s recent report on how several primary school teams in Singapore were exploiting the new rules implemented in the primary school championships that replaced throw-ins with kick-ins.

The rule changes were done in accordance with the Football Association of Singapore’s (FAS) wish to promote possession play among children and youths.

However, local coaches told TODAY that some primary school teams were now using the kick-in rule to launch long balls into their opponents’ penalty areas, which FAS technical director Michel Sablon said was due to the coaches’ mentality of “playing to win and not for development”.

According to Bongaerts, who founded the coaching system called Total Soccer Method (TSM), coaches should instead look to develop the football coordination and intelligence of primary-school-age children.

“The critical age of development in terms of football intelligence, technical abilities and athletic development is between six and 12 years,” said Bongaerts. “So there should be a lot of emphasis on these aspects in coaching and training.

“In my TSM methodology, we also spend a lot of time on the cognitive development of the player. Training the brain of the player during this period is key in their motor learning.”

Bongaerts added that he expects a player’s athleticism and fitness to play a much larger role in the world of professional football in future. “The way football is going, the game will be more compact, with higher pace and more emphasis on fitness,” he said.

“As such, youth development has changed in the past decade, with more emphasis on athletic abilities. Players are training to become more all-rounded athletes.

“But, while we need to prepare our players for this, we should never over-emphasise athleticism over developing their footballing intelligence and technical abilities. A correct balance must be found.”

Bongaerts also pinpointed Singapore’s compulsory National Service (NS) for all Singapore males as one of the biggest obstacles to improving the quality of players coming through the country’s ranks.

“For players who are looking to succeed at a professional level, the ages of 18 to 21 are very critical, as this is when they need to develop in a professional and competitive environment,” he said.

“If Singapore wants better professional athletes, then they should find a way around this issue. This starts with the vision from above about what the role of professional sport is in Singapore.”

Roger Bongaerts will conduct a TSM Coach Education Course in Singapore from April 15 -16 at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). For more information on the course, visit