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Tournament MVP’s By Chris Bleam, Region I Staff Coach

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ournaments are an integral part of youth soccer and present many positive opportunities for players and teams to test their work from training in the game environment. Fantastic fundraisers, tournaments also provide opportunities for host clubs to join forces in the organization and daily operations, provide service opportunity and valuable social networking. Participating teams gather for weekends at a time to experience competition against a variety of opponents, travel to a different part of our country or even abroad and to bond as players and families. I have found many tournament directors and committees have implemented a most valuable player award to be presented by each coach to a player on the opposing team following each game. Recognizing players who stand out or excel is a noble idea and may in fact provide extra motivation for some players, especially in a match where team success is not present. For sure, the satisfaction a player receives when recognized by an opposing coach is extremely positive. There is no doubt the idea has merit and is full of the most positive intention. However, my observations have led me to question whether the positive feedback obtained by a

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limited few is worthy of the doubt the process may instill in the majority of the tournament participants. As a coach, my primary focus is on the development of each player on my team. Using training and games to develop the technical, tactical, physical and psychological abilities of each player is my primary challenge. I must also develop a positive team climate so that each player can become accepted and believe his role is useful. A player who is not secure will be challenged to develop at the same pace as his team, if at all. It is my belief that the team supersedes the individual at all times. No doubt, we all have our impact players, our “blue collar” workers and our role players. Each is a vitally important individual cog in the whole unit. A goal scored is a team success and a goal allowed is likewise a team setback. Each player works within his role in any given match to contribute to his team’s success. Each individual employs his technical skill and tactical ability to support the whole. Allowing recognition for a “game MVP” does more potential damage to the development of the whole team than good for the recognized player. A player who stands out is likely to be recognized by the opposing coach. The goal scorer, the creative midfielder, the fast wide player or the goalkeeper who makes great saves are all players in the spotlight and most likely to receive recognition. In many cases, a single player is likely to be recognized on multiple occasions. The player who does the behind the scenes work necessary for the impact player to shine is not nearly as likely to be recognized although she may be the true MVP of the team for that game. I have too often witnessed that “lost” look on the faces of many of my team members when the opposing coach recognizes an individual who may or may not have been deserving, and I can only imagine what goes on in the mind of our many hard-working-role players who are key components of team success, when they watch the impact players receive recognition time and time again. Even more lost is that look on the face of some terrific young people when a player who is not a very hard worker or who is not the most positive contributor to their team’s chemistry is recognized. While they may have had a positive impact on the game in question or perhaps had

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one special moment that changed the game and caught the eye of the opposing coach, their recognition may serve as negative reinforcement for the consistently performing team members who are the keys to team success. Even when the most deserving player is the one recognized, they can only have that positive impact with the team surrounding them. Many of my colleagues handle this MVP process in different ways, as I am sure they are cognizant of the same impacts on the psychological dimension of the player and team. Some ask me who I think should get the award on my team. Others ask me to avoid awarding a player from his team who had been recognized in an earlier match. Some admit they have no idea who the best player or MVP was and simply hand over the award for me to present. It is clear the process presents a common challenge for many of us. Coaching education prepares us with some common ideas to implement as we develop the physical, technical and tactical aspects of the game with our players and teams. A wall pass, the step over move, and the need to pressure the player with the ball are consistent for players of all ages, gender and ability level. However, developing and maintaining a positive psychological environment is an aspect that is terribly different for each coach and team. It is affected by many factors including but not limited to: gender, age, ability level, recent success and lack thereof. Further, this psychological dimension is one which can serve to keep a team moving forward in times of difficulty or possibly, lead a talented team to under perform due to “off field” challenges. It is my position that tournament directors reconsider the individual game MVP award, save the money spent and put it toward player development in their own club. This will allow teams to enjoy tournament play as whole units and avoid the disappointment, uncertainty and sometimes tears that follow each MVP award whether it was accurate or not. The good players know who they are and receive recognition enough from their personal performance. The rest need the assistance of their coach and parents to reconcile and accept their role within the team and to understand the value each team member presents.

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