Today I listened to a football podcast and the topic was centred around where we are going wrong as a nation and why we are quickly being overtaken by virtually every Asian country in developing the kind of talented player that can win games and entertain at a professional level. They invited a former A league player and current commentator to discuss the topic and he had some very valid points which stem from personal experience. One point he made which I was a little bemused about was that the golden generation was developed by players playing for NSL clubs and staying or offering a pathway for kids to end up in the first team. Having been one of those players I distinctly remember that there was very little coaching in those days, our coaching pathway was not exactly world-class and what coaching was available was more or less the way it is now based on personal opinion and a lack of knowledge in the process. Players back then where jumping from club to club by coacher poachers much the same as it is now. There was no consistent model. This is why the AIS was so successful those street kids were offered professional coaching a sort of finishing school when they turned 15-16 years and that helped these kids mature and prepared them for top-level football. It was the golden generation because many of these kids were developing at a time when several Aussie players had made inroads into Europe and we began to attract the eyes of agents and scouts. These kids played in our National Youth teams and they were snapped up by European clubs at young ages. By the time 2006 came around we had a host of players that had been playing in Europe for some time, the experience they gained became the foundation of the success we had in that first world cup.
What was different back then and in my opinion the main theory behind the golden generation is that it was a different generation, the sons of immigrants fresh of the boat who loved the game and brought the European and South American love for playing. Large immigrant communities set up clubs that were a form of social connection. And not just the immigrant influence but more so the fact that they were simpler times, we would entertain ourselves for hours playing the game unsupervised, we had no iPhones or PlayStation, no Netflix, fox sports we had to clamour to catch the EPL on Monday nights which was generally shown late on the ABC or SBS. Sundays were Les Murray day on SBS with the world game. Today you can watch football 24 hours a day this in itself is a problem because a satisfied need no longer motivates. Children have a plethora of activities available to them so they are not spending the hours of unsupervised unstructured free play that is required at the youngest of ages to develop physically into world-class levels of ability. Today we either have helicopter parents or even worse the bulldozer parent clearing the path for their kids so that when they get to an age where they have to fend for themselves they lack the emotional intelligence and resilience to deal with it. This is why we have an explosion of mental health issues an ever-escalating suicide rates in young people. Everything is structured and supervised in many cases children are kept off the streets until 12-13 years depriving them of essential life skills to deal with the complexities of life.
For us to change requires education rather than just plain ignorant opinions based on one’s own lived experiences. We need to change the environment for all kids which starts first at home and then at club level through our model of development from the youngest ages. I have been involved in youth development now for 15 years and through research trial and error I can confidently say that a full revision of our curriculum in regards to youth development needs to be undertaken. However, I suggest to the FFA that they don’t appoint a cricket coach to determine what it should be and what changes are needed.