By John Cartwright
Over the past ten years I have watched hundreds of matches; from schoolboys’ games to full senior international matches. My opinion overall on the general standard of performance in those games would be; ‘FRENZID–FEARFUL–FIGHT-BALL’
I keep asking myself over and over again, “why are performances so often disappointing to watch?”
The players are, in the main professionals and the games at junior levels are played with youngsters prepared and developed at senior clubs by qualified coaches as possible future professionals: Fitness levels are higher than in the past and medical attention is far superior than the ‘cold sponge’ of yester-year: Players’ equipment today, from clothing to footwear, bears no resemblance to heavy woollen shirts and shorts and the studded co-op boots that used to be worn: the playing surfaces on which matches are now played are like bowling greens and are unrecognizable from the mud-covered ‘quagmires’ so many matches were played on in the past. Yet, so often performances in present day matches fails to register above the level of mediocrity on football’s scale of quality. Why- why-why?
I have given a great deal of thought about the reasons why ‘frenzid-fearful-fightball’ is played and why, too often, it’s the only type of game to watch.
What are the major factors that influence and affect every human action and performance in life – not just in football? Well, I believe them to be individual skill, combined with space and time awareness. Without an acute appreciation of these, it is virtually impossible to live one’s life let alone play football! Before a decision relating to the use of any skill is made, the issue of space and time in which to perform the skill must be quickly assessed; once this has been done, the skilled action and the speed to complete it successfully can also be made.
The importance of combining the acquisition of skills with space and time awareness in football practice has been alarmingly underestimated. In the coaching of our young players, suitably arranged, competitive practice has too often been replaced by unopposed, technique practice. Lack of space and time decision-making issues in technique practices creates unrealistic situations for players preparing for competitive match play. This lack of realistic decision-making opportunities has produced technical players who do not possess the skills for competitive football. Players, developed in this way, show an inability to assess situations quickly; follow with an appropriate skill; or have the playing dexterity to quickly change a decision. It has meant that an overwhelming number of players are forced to play a game-style that only requires simplistic skills and basic movements to support their limited playing qualities. The ‘catch 22’ situation is set in motion: — poor coaching, produces poor players, who play poor football.
The close-marking and speed of players when defending in the game today, forces players in possession to play at the very limits of their ability — and beyond. One can only expect poorly developed players to produce low standard performances, for in competition they are; unable to make correct decisions on space and time; have poor skill quality; are unable to assess skill speed correctly; and have difficulty in adapting or changing a decision quickly. In most cases, ‘home-grown’ players on view today, at all levels, are trying to play the skilful sport of Association Football with neither football intellect nor ability.
I have ‘championed’ the need for suitably arranged competitive practice for many years (decades)! The realism of the competitive game must be reflected in practices that are suitably adapted for players at various age groups and levels of development. If practice time is used unrealistically, then practice time is wasted. The development years fly by too quickly; it is a crime that our raw talent has not been developed in ways that would have seen excellence on the grounds around our country instead of the ‘frenzied-fearful-fight-ball’ we have become accustomed to see.