The moral dilemmas of selecting a team

In the previous article in this series, readers were encouraged to ask themselves: ‘what kind of a club are we?’.

Don’t just repeatedly select teams at age-group level based solely on ability or physical maturity – it may disillusion some of the less-gifted players

The answers to this question will inevitably shape and inform the decisions we make in terms of coaching and supporting our players’ development.

This will undoubtedly meet key moments of tension – different players, parents and coaches will each interpret through their own eyes, which will be coloured by their own value set.

This doesn’t need to be viewed with angst. It is an opportunity to discuss what we’ve agreed, why it is important and how it informs the decisions we make, and a chance to view these decisions from other people’s point of view.

This is a window into how other people perceive and interact with the world and supports us to better understand how our messages land, how people receive the messages we communicate (not just through the spoken word) and, consequently, deepen our understanding of both ourselves and the people that exist within our environment.

The value judgements we make then continually evolve, to find a healthy reciprocity between what we, and the wider club, believe might be important and what individual people within our club hold dear. This extends into every aspect of our coaching.


“Players, parents and coaches will each interpret through their own value set…”


In this sense, I would urge you to consider coaching as a broader concept than the sessions we experience and share with the players. Every interaction is an opportunity to positively influence the people in our care to align with our shared values.

Team selection is one such opportunity – perhaps one of the most powerful reflections of whether what we have agreed that we value, as a club, plays out on a matchday.

This can be considered from two connected perspectives – moral (value judgements) and tactical.

I will explore the tactical connotations next time – this week, let’s focus on the moral aspect, and return to our original question ‘what kind of a club are we?’.

Let’s say our club values winning every week and team selection is guided by selecting the perceived best players with the intention of beating every opposition.

This isn’t a bad decision, although it may be helpful to recognise the impact these decisions have on the broader development of the players.

Ben Bartlett says how you go about selecting teams for matchday should be
based around pre-agreed club philosophies that everyone can understand

At age-group level, the ‘best team’ often includes the players that are, currently, the most mature – not just physically. This maturity advantage often leads to self- fulfilling prophecies.

Those who hold a current advantage of being born earlier in the selection year (such as in September), being earlier to physically develop, who started playing sport earlier than others, are better socially with peers and adults, or who have environmental or genetic gifts that support them to present as more capable than others, are valued more in environments where performance today is worshipped to a disproportionate degree.

These players, and our will to worship them to a greater extent than those who are currently less mature, are then often provided with greater opportunity to play – they start more games, play in positions that are central to the team succeeding and are substituted less often. This perpetuates their status.

Conversely, those who possess fewer or none of those perceived advantages may play less, play in positions that are less central to the game, be a substitute or be substituted more, and as a consequence afforded less opportunity to develop and grow beyond their current capacity and characteristics.

In other words, those who already have, get more; those who don’t yet have, get less. Hence the ‘best’ ones continue as the best ones.

We may then win many games but suffer other losses, such as the haemorrhaging of players, reduced confidence in themselves and/or the environment and a mistrust of the value of sport.


“Those who already have, get more; those who don’t yet have, get less…”


As coaches, making alternative decisions that support each player to be valued as they currently are, while working with them to continue to grow and develop in ways that align with their own value set, can be challenging,

This is related to the example shared last week from the semi-professional club’s under-12 coaches, and the question that prompted.

If we demonstrate a clarity of what is important from the outset (as a reference point for ‘who we are’) and illuminate that clarity with consistent, universally embodied behaviour, we enable everyone to understand that ‘this is the way we do things here’ and strongly identify with this.

This identity provides a powerful sense of belonging and ownership of something bigger than what happens at kick off. Something that is evident in every pore and cell of our being. Something that is affective, eliciting positive emotion and human connection.

That means, when kick off arrives, the environment is collective, committed and coherent.

This collective, coherent commitment has the potential to empower our club to be a unique representation of our people, extending the sporting experience beyond the result of individual games and into a constructive aspect of our community. SCW


In the coming months, Ben – the author of ‘Constraining Football’ – will be examining the various tensions and conflicts that can shape our approach to soccer. Together, we will explore what is important to you, finding a balance between those internal and external conflicts and helping you understand and articulate what sort of coach you are.


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