Australia’s Football Culture
The FFA’s football curriculum has provided us with a blueprint for a national football style. It is was a huge step forward in order to grow as a football nation. Within the curriculum is a specific methodology that encapsulates how we will deliver our teaching model to coaches. In other words, a system of coaching which we can educate the football enthusiasts that want to contribute their passion towards the education of football. A coaching manual! This curriculum has been formulated by a specialist coaching educator who has laid down a proposed methodology. This methodology is what they believe will advance Australia’s football into the echelons of the great footballing nations. It is by all counts a positive step forward. However, like all good documents such as this it needs constant revision to ensure that we are in fact heading in the right direction.
Our biggest hurdle, however, is not the how-to, its the why! it’s our football culture. Culture is made up of the values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, attitudes, and behaviours shared by a group of people. To change the mindset of coaches and parents is not an easy task when there are so many people at all levels of the game heading in different directions and in many cases only interested in what the game can do for them. The game must come first! The environment must change for the blueprint to come into effect. It is said the human gene is only a blueprint, it doesn’t have a switch which turns it on or off. What comes from the gene is dependant on its environment. Take diabetes, for example, you could have a history in your family of the disease but it doesn’t necessarily mean you will get it. You are more likely to get if however if its part of your genetics but in most cases, it is activated by the environment you create, which is a culmination of factors such as stress, a poor diet and lack of exercise. Therefore if we are to improve our system of development we need to change the environment first.
Coaching methodology plays a large part of that environment along with playing formats. Smaller games for younger kids for longer periods are the first step. No longer prioritising weekend games as a tool for development. Weekend games are a novelty most of the learning happens at training, providing the right environment where kids can make mistakes without any real emotional consequences. Fast-tracking them into pressured competitions exposes children into situations that most kids are too young to have to deal with. This does not mean that we should wrap them in cotton wool, part of the coaching process includes the educational platform where coaches are able to nurture kids through adversity in a pro-active manner that empowers kids to try again and again regardless of the circumstances. At the younger ages what matters most is for kids to learn to love the ball and to develop fundamental skills through freedom of expression in small sided games. When parents say that I fear my kid will want to quit because there’s no competition I find it laughable. Anyone who coaches understands and realises that children compete all the time. Whether they are playing for fun or for points is irrelevant, it is only relevant to adults whom many have forgotten what it’s like to just be a kid! Adult perceptions and concepts should stay in the adult world, children have plenty of time to prepare for the world of adult football. We must also come to understand the process. Many have no idea and think that its a sprint when in reality it is a marathon, a long long marathon which if done well in the right environment delivers excellent results.
Club structures need to be revised, there needs to be a platform with which clubs who want to be part of the football family are required to provide systems and structures to enhance participation. This needs to be addressed on two different levels, the administration side of things and the technical side of things. Administrators should not be in charge of the technical structures. I run a business but I know very little about the financial aspect that’s why I employ a finance expert to look after the accounts. Whilst this expert can advise me on how to increase my revenue and how I can streamline my operations to increase cash flow, I am still the one that makes the decisions on the field. How we are going to coach and in which format. They should not make decisions in things they know nothing about but they can definitely contribute towards the business or operations in those fields in which they are specialists. I find it amusing how people with little football experience are the ones who employ the staff to deal with the technical aspects of the game this happens in virtually all clubs. The FFA recently selected a group of people to select the new Matildas coach and on that list included a cricket coach. Whilst I understand the logic behind this appointment I do not necessarily agree that someone who specialises in a completely different sport should be on a Football selection committee especially when we have a plethora of qualified former players and coaches that could quite possibly know a little more about football than a cricket coach. A technical committee would be required to extensively research the latest methods, trial the formats to ensure that the science behind the ideas are feasible and then help roll out the formats from everything from coaching to game formats. Decisions made on opinions are downright irresponsible, decisions have to be made on planning, strategy, research and extensive trials to ensure best practice based on our unique circumstances that affect our ability as a nation to progress the game further.
Methodology and philosophy are however perhaps the most important aspect to enhance our youth development model in this country. We must prioritise the five C’s Critical thought, Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Community. I feel that we need to rethink how we coach and why in this country the problem-based learning model is by far the most appropriate. Football is a right-brained game. Imagination and creativity are primarily functioning on the right side. Understanding how to tap into that right brain capacity greatly increases our capacity for creativity. A great deal of research has been conducted for decades on what has become known as brain dominance theory. The findings basically indicate that each hemisphere of the brain tends to preside over different and specific functions. Process different kinds of information and deal with different kinds of problems, essentially the left hemisphere is the more logical verbal one, the right the more intuitive creative one, the left deals with words, the right with pictures, the left with parts and specifics the right with wholes and relationships between the parts, the left deals with analysis which means to break apart, the right deals with synthesis which means to put together, the left deals with sequential thinking, the right with simultaneous and holistic thinking, the left is time-bound, the right is time free. Although people use both sides of the brain one side generally tends to be dominant in each individual. In football the game is erratic, there are always multiple actions occurring, the brain must rely on deciphering space, time, distance, shapes and obstacles all in split seconds. It is a game that very much relies on a player becoming comfortable with chaos. Those that have advanced levels of ability to control a ball without the need to look at it (sub-consciously) will have an upper hand, the upper hand is time, extra time which is measured in milliseconds.
The one constant in the game which never changes is the ball. This little round object which when one comes into contact becomes like an addictive drug. When you’re playing the game the most exhilarating feeling is when it comes to you and for a fleeting few seconds, you are in total control of any given outcome. How well you know this little round thing will determine what you do with it and the more time you spend with it the more addicted you get. The more you excel the greater the feeling of importance you acquire, feeling important and that you belong to something is a basic human need.
Please comment I would love to hear your thoughts,
regards Gus Cerro