By John Cartwright
Recently I have been watching lots of games involving youth players. These games range from ordinary club teams to professional Academy teams. At games amongst all the various junior levels it becomes obvious how and why the playing paucity we have at the top of the game has occurred.
We are all fully aware of the over-importance we place on winning at junior levels, but what we fail to recognize is how this fixation with results is killing both the acquisition and demonstration of skill in games. Our game is played at a constant pace – fast, and irrespective of the score-line, games continue from first to last whistle with little concern or understanding of the use of rhythm when playing. I have watched several games in which teams have dominated their opponents and have built up a big lead over them, but irrespective of the score-line, the game continues at the same un-relentless pace. Possession is wasted and regained with monotonous regularity; force is the preferred choice over fantasy and the opportunity to play with style and imagination when possible is ignored.
The wastage to our game from inappropriate and mis-applied coaching methods in junior football is reflected later in the way we play at senior levels. Although the score-line at higher levels is mostly closer, we do not play with rhythm when opportunities do occur and, like junior football, we play fast and furiously in the hope that speed and effort will camouflage the deficiencies in skill and tactical awareness inherited from junior football. Playing with staccato rhythm is a part of the game we do not concentrate on. Coaching here offers little information on how to control and dominate a game once the initiative has been achieved. ‘Let the battle roll on’, is how we deal with those ‘special times’ in a game in which playing superiority should be emphasised in a skillful and commanding manner.
Skill creates confidence when performing an action. Without skill, a performer is laid ‘naked and embarrassed’ under pressure and fear becomes the ‘Parrot on the shoulder’ advising caution and simplicity. This lack of confidence in the skill qualities in a team generates a lessening in playing options. A coach will not introduce variations in tactics if he does not have confidence in his players’ ability to use them properly, and when the game gets difficult, players’ with limited skill are unable to cope satisfactorily with those difficulties. The opportunity to exploit time and space and to display rhythm and class is lost -instead of skill making ‘a fraction of an inch – a yard; and a split second – a minute’, urgency and panic exist in our game forcing simplicity to dictate and control too many playing decisions.
The playing styles we so frequently see from foreign teams, both at club and at all national levels, have rhythm. Within the framework of their game, their combining of individual skill with team tactics is far more sophisticated than the ‘up and at `em’ playing methods so frequently seen in our football. Our overseas adversaries create and exploit space and time in all areas of the field and are often prepared to fight to achieve the initiative in games. They then use their individual skill and combined play qualities to produce a style of play that has power allied to poise, precision and penetration.
As the importance of individual skill with physical attachments is increasingly recognized by our opponents and over-looked by ourselves, we will continue to play our ‘fightball’ with enthusiasm and frustration – but with insufficient skill and increasing speed…….. continue to concoct a recipe for disaster!