There have been a lot of questions asked in recent months in relation to the development of young footballers in Australia, as the national team suffered two 6-0 defeats at the hands of Brazil – who had beaten World Champions 3-0, – and France. Many wise heads have now started to vocalise concerns that they have quietly held for the past few years on the pathway that has been chosen by the powers that be.
One of the catchphrases from the game’s development coaches in the past five years has been that ‘its not about winning.’ During that time we have witnessed National Training Centre teams getting beaten week after week in State League competitions and the national Under 20 team fail to win a game at the last three editions of the biennial FIFA Youth World Cup. Could the two be related? Many will tell you winning is a habit, many will tell you that you have to learn to win. Many believe the ‘results don’t matter’ edict is the reason the young players coming through lack the know-how to win at the highest level.
Development is not just about playing a system. It is about adapting and learning to do what is necessary to hold onto a 1-0 lead and win the game. At the weekend Newcastle United defeated a far superior on a skill level Chelsea side, this victory was achieved by far more than playing a set system, it may not have been pretty, but the key factor was Newcastle United won, what they are paid to do, and achieved what their fans expect.
Part of a young players development is competition. It is a proven fact that competition has a performance-enhancing effect on children and teams. This does not apply only at elite levels or in physical contests, but competitions held in classrooms and lunch rooms across the globe have been proven to help push children to do better. So why is football in Australia pushing against this?
Why do children playing the sport receive a trophy at the end of the season, simply for turning up each week and playing? Surely seeing someone else or another team receiving the glory and the attention is what drives many children to aspire to do better, they too want to win a trophy and have some of the limelight for themselves.
If this decision is based on making all children feel equal, it will ultimately be detrimental to their development. When they make it out into the big bad world they will find out that competition is real and not everyone is a winner simply for turning up.
Football has stated recently that they do not want talented players to be played in competitions higher than the child’s own age group. So talent will be held back. Would we do that with academically gifted children? Just as with academics talented athletes will soon become bored if they are not tested, and you run the risk of losing them for good.
As worrying as this development is, there is a new proposal being mooted. This is that in junior football when a goal kick is awarded all of the attacking team’s players must retreat to the halfway line so that the defending team can play the ball out from the back; a method of play being encouraged as part of the National Curriculum. Although one can understand the thought behind such a move it is downright daft.
If more time was spent developing players abilities to control the ball and pass it, as well as teaching players to move into positions where they can receive the ball, then you would not have to introduce such a system. It is creating a totally false environment, just like the one where results don’t matter.
What is a major concern is that the new breed of ‘career coach’ is happy to go along with such developmentally detrimental ideas. However a bigger concern is that experienced, successful development coaches are being ignored when they speak out.
Football, like all sports as well as life is competitive. It has always been about testing yourself and you team against others. If we take these elements out of the development stage, is it any wonder we are struggling to produce competitive skilful players with desire, passion and a much needed will to win?
If children don’t learn to lose they’re always going to feel entitled to win. Without that the fear of losing it may even prevent them from taking the risk in the first place. Winning or losing may not be as important as a child, but a close race, a fair competition where everyone feels like they’ve got a chance, to win is vital. Children need to learn to keep going. Just as in a classroom when they struggle with a subject they need to learn to continue to keep up the effort even when competing with the best around them. A closeted environment is of no benefit at all.
These changes will take years to recover from if allowed to be implemented. Under the late Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of Great Britain, competitive sport was taken out of state run schools because it was deemed ‘competition was unhealthy.’ It is not a coincidence that through the 1980’s and 90’s British sport struggled on the world stage.
Competition is part of life, and it should be encouraged rather than quashed.
Consider this who has ever walked out of an examination and said ‘I blew that, but I made a lot of good friends?’