Many years after the new Football took over from old soccer I contemplate whether or not the game has moved forward. At the international level, there is no doubt that we are now in a whole new level. The A league is a bit of a roller coaster, I still cannot sit down for more than 10-15 minutes to watch games before switching off. There are patches of good play but for the most part, it is still very average in my eyes. As someone who is a lifelong student of the game, it is hard to sit there and not be critical at the level of play. Football, after all, is about entertainment. For the avid new fans, things look great, especially if you’re a wanderers fan as it is the active support that for me makes the spectacle but the quality of the football being played I question if we have indeed evolved or gone backwards?
“The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance” Socrates
Ignorance is the root of all problems and all problems have a root cause. You cannot eradicate problems without first identifying what it is that causes the problem in the first place. For way too long now the powers that be have focused on short-term or band-aid solutions to big problems with youth development. At the current rate, our youth development structure will continue to suffer. New fans are ignorant about the mechanics or the tactical aspects of the game so without an educated fan base there is not a hell of a lot of accountability. Online the old heads of Soccer are always discussing and dissecting they are the few that are critical to all things Football in this country. Accountability is the key word here when parents and fans have no real football knowledge it is easy for anyone to create the kind of spin/propaganda that many will fall for.
“Jorge Valdano, Real Madrid’s former Sporting director and Argentinian international footballer once said, “If you dangle shit on a stick it will always be shit on a stick, no matter how big the stadium or how loud the support”
A lack of knowledge or identity enables clubs, academies and individuals to operate without any or very little accountability. Without a football philosophy or identity, it is spin that drives the market and the market in my honest opinion is currently driven towards appeasing adult agendas.
“A broad spectrum of educational continuums are available in player development and the one chosen by a coach as ‘Best Practice’ surely must be governed where possible by ‘evidence’, instead of chance, tradition, or opinion alone.” Martin Diggle Full-time academy coach Bolton Wanderers
Ten years later we have changed the format into SSG’s a big step forward but in my opinion, it has stifled. Playing 9 v 9 on less than half a pitch until U12 is still a ridiculous concept. Branding kids by their manufactured date also ridiculous, all kids are different and forcing a child who hasn’t developed physically to play against giants because he is classed only by his date of birth is pathetic. It is pure ignorance caused by a lack of knowledge and adult agendas which comes to us as the root of all evil in football via Competition. Yes, competition is bad when it is based on adult agenda’s, ego’s, bragging rights and division. Competition is good when it is used as a learning tool to encourage co-operation, unity, working hard, learning, respect and the right mental attitude. You see the game is competitive full stop. Some of the hardest fought games I’ve ever played where not as a professional but as a kid with mates and these games went on for hours before we got tired and trotted off to the milk bar.
When children are learning to play football, the wrong type of competition causes more problems than solutions and the worst part is that it leads to undesirable behaviours. There are things I hear and quite often see on the sidelines every weekend which have no place in youth development. It leads to parents who get emotionally invested in their children’s game and start shouting and screaming like a bunch of galas thinking that their “pointers” are going to make all the difference in their child’s participation. Now don’t get me wrong children need urging, they need to understand work ethic and giving it everything they have, but more importantly, kids need to have fun, create, express themselves and be allowed to make mistakes so that they can learn. For this, they need coaches and parents that understand the game at every level of the development stage. People who are trained and knowledgeable in terms of cognitive capacity. We grade kids for a reason, grading allows kids to play at their level and the harder they work the further up the ladder they go. The problem here, however, is that most people who grade do not know what to look for. As you go up the graded divisions you find kids who are more athletic partly because the size of the field is still too big which then emphasises strength and speed rather skill and there are still too many kids on the pitch.
There is a reason why the Spanish are world leaders in football development, is it perfect? no, I don’t believe it is, from my observations even the Spanish methodology has a long way to go at youth level but it is far superior to anything we have here in light years. For starters, most kids are still playing 7 a side up until U12.
A lack of knowledge stems from a lack of good quality education. If it where up to me I would fence off the playing fields from all parents and officials bar a few to oversee, set up multiple fields where kids right up to 14 years of age could play 3 v 3, 4 v 4, 5 v 5, no refs, no parents, no coaches. Replicate the old street soccer where the kids have full autonomy over their environment. Not that there will ever be any chance that could or will happen! Well, it does happen at my training sessions for at least 30/40 minutes every session.
We are still trying to find our football identity. An identity means a philosophy and a style of play. Virtually every country has their own unique style of playing, the Brazilians have theirs, the Spanish game is distinct, the passing masters. Argentina always competitive, rely on a team working around a genius, in every era, there has always been an “enganche” The playmaker Messi, Maradona, Riquelme and many more! What will our identity be? Right now its hard to tell what we are, our national team plays a big part and how it plays helps shape our identity. Players like Rogic who was not developed in the “system” are the future of our game and it is this type of player that I hope will influence our identity. Rogic was a futsal player who developed in very small spaces where he experienced thousands upon thousands of touches in a high-intensity environment where he was able to practice decision making over and over and over.
We have a commonly held assumption that children learn from what we are trying to teach. We assume that learning is lead by the teacher and followed by the student. It suggests that a teacher lead method is best. This educational structure is based on the transfer of knowledge from the teacher to the learner and then testing the learner to see how fully they have absorbed the information. However, the model is not limited to academic learning. It also forms the basis of coaching in Football. Many of the coach education structures have been designed to reflect the educational models of teaching and learning that are used in academia. For example, coaches here in this country love repetitive isolated passing practices, in some cases, I’ve seen kids doing the same repetitive moves for 30 minutes at a time non-stop. In other words, they are telling the kids what to do and how to do it, what direction the ball must travel and where you should go after the ball has left your foot. In this scenario there is absolutely no chance of the player expressing any individual decision making concepts no resistance and are generally “taught” when they make a mistake, i.e poor first touch, wayward pass so the coach then tells the player what he is doing wrong in order to fix the mistake and rewarded when the correct action is completed based on the coaches viewpoint of what is best practice.
In the words of Sir Ken Robinson, “the current model is actually killing creativity and suppressing intelligence, rather than promoting it”. In school children are rewarded when they get the right answer and punished or poorly graded which is a form of emotional punishment leading kids to feel inferior when they get the wrong answer.
We then test our kids by the ability to recite the “right answer” The student has no room for mistake and in football, it’s just as bad because quite often mistakes lead to goals, this means that in most cases children are quite often pressured into “playing safe” and avoiding mistakes.
Nowadays, the people who set the agenda for education are themselves academics this includes football education. The best form of education is the school of life where a child can create, invent and participate through play.
“Education dislocates people from their talents by forcing learners into a very narrow definition of achievement. If we don’t give the ‘right’ answers in a select number of subjects” Ken Robinson
Our intelligence grows, shrinks, shifts and changes constantly. The neurons in our brain create networks and linkages. They can do this because they are alive. Under a microscope, it is possible to see neurons creating new networks and abandoning old, unused ones. This neurological behaviour underpins the term “if you don’t use it you lose it”. It proves that a diverse range of stimuli and the presence of multiple possibilities actually increases intelligence. So in order to create the right learning environment where multiple possibilities are the norm and not the exception we must look at how we can improve our coaching methodology.
In a study conducted in the at John Moores University in the UK, they allocated the last 20 or 30 minutes to the gameplay of a normal session. During this period the coach could choose to play 2 games of 3v3 or 1 game of 6v6 which would have a huge impact on the number of decision-making opportunities. Using the average number of touches supplied by the data they multiplied the figures
for both 3v3 and 6v6 by the 10,000-hour rule to generate the number of decision-making opportunities the SSG would provide, the following was found:
1. 3v3: 22.5 x 2 or 3 (i.e 2 or 3 x10 minutes) = 45 or 67.5 x 5000 (i.e.10,000/ 2 ,
because the session is 2 hours long)= 225,000 (20 Mins)/ 337,500 (30 Mins)
2. 6v6: 13.4 x 2 or 3 (i.e 2 or 3 x10 minutes) = 26.8 or 40.2 x 5000(i.e 10,000/ 2 ,
because the session is 2 hours long)= 134,000/ 201,000 decision making
If they played 3v3 instead of 6v6 each player would have 136,500 increased decision-making opportunities across their education. What is clearly present through the evidence is the importance of how coaches incorporate SSG during a session, and more importantly the size of the SSG to promote as much opportunity as possible to problem solve and make decisions based around your interpretation of ever-changing situations.
Football by and large is a right-brained activity. The right brain doesn’t understand language. It does not recognise words or numbers. It works in sounds, feelings and images. Our right brain needs to know how the skill sounded, looked and felt. That is the way that the right brain understands and learns the skill and yet a large % of coaching is done on a left brain basis, the left brain is the thinking brain. I always say that in football you don’t think you create and you can’t create anything with thoughts, you can only create with actions. Nothing ever gets done with thinking, you must do. If you ask any elite level footballer what were you thinking when you pulled off that incredible move they will tell you nothing, It just happened as the action evolved, the ability to create moves and make things happen to come from action. With all of the multiple variables that exist in a game of football at any one stage, the left brain is incapable of dissecting that information. The left brain deals with one thing at a time! It is simply not designed for that. Of course there are times in a game when we are required to think but in general, a lot of what happens in a game is too fast for us to consciously think about.
This is also true in learning, you can think about inventing a flying machine but if you don’t take the actions necessary to build the machine it will never get built and as you do so you make mistakes and from mistakes, you learn what works and what doesn’t.
In football, there are two unique attributes that contribute to success both personal and collective. Your individual ability and your ability to contribute that skill co-operatively with other players, one is internal and the other is external. Your internal contribution requires both repetitive and creative environments. The external is decision making and this is 100% external environment. That is numbers, resistance, direction, rules and the keyword is co-operation! The team needs unity and support.
This mirrors the world in general and right now the world is exactly the opposite, we work in a world of competition instead of co-operation. Competition for money, status and luxuries. We live in a world of inequality, ignorance and we are not empowering our children to be creative. We are suppressing their ideas, their motivations and their ability to think critically. From the time they are born we begin to take away every ounce of freedom of thought. They must conform to the will of society and yet most people in society are not doing what they love they are doing what the world is telling them to do! Go to school, get a job work 40 hours doing something that they most likely hate.
“Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.” Albert Einstein
This blog is aimed at highlighting the inadequate system that exists in football today. I believe that parents should take it upon themselves to ensure that they are also educated in the role of sports in your child’s life. It is important that if you are going to send your children to play that you understand the game and its purpose for kids. The adult game is a different animal altogether, but children’s football is and can be a very powerful tool for your kids to grow as human beings. Apart from all the health benefits, it is a chance to develop their character into well rounded productive members of society based on co-operation, unity, love, service to mankind, service to the planet and all living things.