Parents Awake!

By John Cartwright

So many parents over so many years have encouraged their offspring to play football. This is fine if the reason for the youngsters’ involvement with the game is purely for fun, socializing or fitness, but when the reason for involvement in the game becomes more serious — there may be a professional career ahead -encouragement can often turn to ‘sacrifice’.

Professional football in the United Kingdom has never shown an ability to create a satisfactory learning and development model through which raw talent could be moulded into high quality players. Thousands upon thousands of youngsters have taken the ‘rocky road to stardom’, very few have even reached a level of mediocrity. Why has this reoccurring waste of talent happened and what can be done about it?

The professional game, up until the late sixties, never had to produce its players; they produced themselves in the streets all over these islands. This natural talent was then transferred from streets to stadiums for the public to support. This method of player development occurred throughout the world wherever football was played and it still persists today in countries that remain economically poor. ‘Poverty produces players’ is a term that can be recognized in many countries that produce playing talent for the leagues of more prosperous football nations.

We cannot return to the days of self-production of talent. The times and circumstances have changed and the game now requires well taught players to replace those who were self-taught in the past. This is the major problem regarding our player development, but it has been addressed more carefully and sensibly by many of our overseas opponents. The teaching of the game, that has been under the control of our national association, the FA for over fifty years, has throughout all that time, been unable to provide a suitable coaching methodology. Consequently, we have arrived at a situation in which ‘home-grown’ talent is virtually non-existent and foreign ‘imports’ flourish in our domestic game. One has to ask the question, how much longer before we are unable to select a national team capable of going beyond the qualification stages of major international competitions? The parents of all young ‘hopefuls’ should begin to ask pointed questions to those in charge of the future of our game. Do those parents want their children to go the same way as so many have in the past here –‘sacrificed’ on football coaching’s ‘altar of mediocrity’.

Are the rumblings of discontent beginning to turn into a resounding ‘backlash’ of criticism?  Our national coaching structure and those still doggedly involved in its continuance, are coming under severe pressure from anxious parents, perplexed spectators, disgruntled players and coaches as well as many branches of the media; all are questioning what’s going on and are demanding substantial changes to the playing and development methods that have failed to provide the standards for top-class performance to our young players. Let’s hope changes will occur — but I don’t think they will. Why? Well to begin; a poor organizational set-up in control of the game here creates greed, selfishness and lethargy; Sir Trevor Brooking, after seven years as Head of Football Development, has shown no determination to force through necessary changes to coaching and development; combined with the afore-mentioned, there is the fear of change by those brought up and ‘comfortable’ using the development methodology of the past.

Parents, take off the ‘rose-coloured glasses’ – your child has scant chance of ever reaching the standards necessary for stardom, or even mediocrity, by following the long-established, but failed development methods provided to them. Your child will never reach the standards developed at the Barcelona academy or in many other foreign countries. When are you going to wake up and force stronger demands for an improved coaching and development format that would give your child a better opportunity to succeed? Without a ‘coaching revolution’ things will not just remain the same they will become worse as foreign and not local talent is preferred by our clubs in ever-increasing numbers. Problems within our game will remain unanswered, with the usual despatch of most of them being carefully swept ‘under the carpet’. Meanwhile, the flood of expectant parents ‘hauling’ their youngsters from one inconsequential training session after another will unhappily continue as it has in the past. The failure rate will remain discouragingly high even though mediocrity is the standard to aspire to.  May I wish you all good luck; without radical changes, you’re kids are going to need it—lots and lots of it!


7 thoughts on “Parents Awake!

  1. I could write a book on this subject. I completely agree with the contents above. I talk often to other parents on this subject & the consensus is that the whole thing is more an obstacle course than a development pathway.
    Instead of moaning we have been doing something about it. We have many professional clubs interested in our players but we allow them contact with the boys much more on our terms. The boys receive better coaching via BSS Harrogate than they would get at a professional club, anyway. The boys don’t have to travel or play endless meaningless matches against other academies. A few matches a year at that level plus local football is much better for them at this stage. When they ready we have contacts now with a lot of clubs & are placing boys according to their needs & requirements.
    The whole process started in an informal way but is now firming up. As for clubs they want good players & are much for flexible than everyone thinks. Parents need to have less stars in their eyes & give the clubs politely, more of a hard time.

  2. Another good blog John, sorry I haven’t commented on the previous 3 or 4 blogs, I just haven’t had the chance.

    I’ve been working in grassroots football for only 6 years, but as well as the FA and their poor coaching education service, selfish know it all grassroots coaches and a win or bust mentality, the parents are also to blame and part of the negative culture that exists in our football.

    Most of the parents claim to be football experts also, and for some it’s a case of is their son scoring more or is better than someone else’s son. In some cases the parents are too pushy and in other cases they don’t care at all.

    We are in a difficult situation, personally I don’t think parents should have access to watch training sessions and in some cases games simply because of the abuse that comes from their mouth, their facial expression and the car journey home. Also because of their criticism of the team or the coach, generally they don’t trust qualified coaches but they do trust qualified the school teachers. It’s a funny one because we are basically saying that yes, the coaching standard is poor which means yes the coaches should not be trusted but the parents show a lack of respect and distrust for coaches for different reasons.

    I have always coached children to take care of the ball, use the ball, use skill, problem solve and think, this has lead to players being labeled fancy dans, soft, weak and not tough enough. This is the mentality from some parents and a British cultural problem.

    I can’t see a vast majority of parents seeing the light as they are also the instigators of fight football. Many of the parents watch Football and unfortunately like most of society people look for the entertainment but can’t recognize the quality. I am sure there are parents out there who are football fans and do recognize the over hyped action packed Premier League incidents and rightly so question the youth coach of their son, but I am sure this kind of parent is a minority.

    If Barca could win the Champions League again and again in the next 5-10 years and Spain continue to win the international tournaments with their governing of the ball style, I’d like to think it would make more people, more coaches, more players, more parents stand up and question the methods here – but even then I am very pessimistic if people would want to change.

    The thing is John for most of the parents they want their children to have fun, be safe and in most cases win. These things can be achieved with poor coaching. I have seen many sessions for the youngest and most important age groups where the coaches put on fake smiles, give constant high fives and set up games named after George Lucas films or dishes in the sink. The children walk away with beaming smiles and the parents are happy, and yet there has been no football coaching. Sorry to sound so pessimistic!

  3. I think I am right in saying that the most successfull academies, Ajax, Barca, etc have the children in there own schools, so contact time with the coaches far exceed what our players get. Apart from the Harefield academy at Watford FC, no other English team has taken the lead. Coaching is only one aspect, although very very important, the logistics time and money involved for parents with children in academies is crazy. Why are 9, 10, 11 yr olds expected to only play for the academy and they may have to travel upto 4 hrs on any match day.

  4. So many of the problems in English football are cultural. Most of the managers/coaches running the voluntary junior teams up and down the country played the game themselves at a variety of levels.Most played in local amateur football on recreation grounds and some,although fewer in my experience,were involved in the semi-pro game. But whatever level they were involved in they bring to their coaching/team management the experiences and knowledge gained from their playing days. These people,in many respects,do a wonderful job in providing a healthy,physical outlet for children who might otherwise be involved in purely sedentary pursuits but unfortunately these people,whilst they do have worthwhile and invaluable items of knowledge from their playing days,unfortunately had an overwhelming experience of football as a physical confrontation and this is how the game is presented to the children in their care.
    Football is a physical game and i think that it should remain so within the boundaries of the laws.But we should present the game,from the earliest years,as a game of subtleties,cleverness on the ball and thoughtful play.In other words,in my opinion,as it is presented from day one on Level 1 of the Practice/Play courses.
    From my experience, this is what the Football Association have failed to do with their coaching scheme and,as John Cartwright says,is a failing that goes back many years.There is some evidence that they are now trying to readjust the situation but it is too much of a mish-mash.The Practice/Play methodology is clear and simple in its aims,its vision and where it is heading.The linkage between the Levels is something that the FA Coaching Scheme has failed to achieve in the 40 odd years i have gone on their courses.
    The subject of parental influence is massive.This is why i believe in the Practice/Play philosophy of involving the parents from the earliest days.Just as the team manager/coach of junior teams bring their own playing days experiences to the team so the fathers on the touch line in many cases played,or are still playing,in a game dominated by physical confrontation.So education of the parents is as important as education of the children.Premier Skills sees the importance of this with its ‘Parent As First Coach’ initiative.
    I have noticed a reason for optimism here.I notice more mothers on the touchlines of their childrens’ games these days, in fact often without the presence of the father.Because they do not have a background in football then the mothers can be more easily educated along the lines of football being a game of mental subtlety and cleverness.I have mentioned before that on the evidence of the recent Womens’ World Cup football has certainly gained in popularity among girls and women but unfortunately,in the case of England,they are just playing a female version of the mens’ game.Football should have been presented to them as a completely different animal by the Football Association in its courses for women and girls but it wasn’t so we see the results of that when we see the England Womens’ Team play – a physical game containg much hard running and effort but lacking the art and craft of real football.
    But the mums on the touchline, who take their 6 and 7 year olds along to join their first football teams,can be educated in a ‘different’ game because they have no background in the game and so no pre-conceived ideas.
    If the will is there then English football can still be turned round but it is only through the philosophy of Premier Skills that this can be achieved.

  5. The Repp/Hughes gene will be carried into the heart of The FA’s100 Million Pound pantomime ‘Gone for a Burton’ where according to our direct communication with the FA, they are going to train 1000’s of coaches from all walks of life Butcher, Baker Candlestick maker, some who can’t even kick a ball straight to coach our youth how to play football. Cue in Benny Hill, The Two Ronnie’s and Basil Fawlty; No no don’t cast Benny Hill, he normally wears a Blazer, and people would be unable to differentiate between him and the FA Board members, especially when he does that running round in circles thingy, bring in Max Wall he has skill!

  6. It’s Reep, not Repp. The 1000s of coaches that are involved at grassroots level are the most important coaches in a child’s young development. Better that the FA give the well meaning volunteesr some ideas, education and direction than allow them to deliver boot camp running and line drills becaus they don’t know any better.

    It can be the enthusiastic volunteer that sparks a life long love of the game for young people, whether or not they were a pro in a previous life.

    I played at a low level for 25 years but never got near semi-pro let alone full time. But does that mean I can’t teach kids the game??!

  7. You can perform at quite a high standard in England by aiming no higher than mediocrity.If you achieve a high level of fitness,maintain this level and adopt a combative approach then you can certainly play at the highest levels of semi-pro football.FA Cup results in recent years have shown that there is very little difference between the Conference Premier and League 2 and teams which achieve promotion from the Conference into League 2 usually adjust to their new level without too much difficulty. Even League 1 clubs do not present such a formidable problem to the Conference Premier clubs when they are drawn to meet in the cups and the majority of conference teams are full time.This enables them to achieve high fitness levels and this factor is what most observers feel is crucial in their parity with the League Clubs.
    So what we have in England is a standard and style of play which hinges on the physical conditioning and fitness levels of players and not thier skill levels or game intelligence. In the Premier League and,to an extent,the Championship we have a rise in standard in game techniques and skill levels but this is largely due to the import of foreign players who have received a superior game education in formative years and are in a position to take the jobs of the ‘home’ players who have not had this education and have therefore been found largely wanting at the highest levels.
    The mediocrity standards which our game education has produced satisfies the demands of semi-pro football and the bottom half of our National League but is woefully coming up short in the production of players which are desperately required to perform at the game’s highest levels.We see this in the performances of the National Team in World and European Tournaments and the the big clubs make up for this shortage of native talent by their financial wealth in attracting the world’s top stars to help them in their Champions’ League campaigns.
    The parents of children who spend hours of their time transporting their off-spring to matches and training in the hope that at some time in the future their talent can be realised at the highest levels of the game, must ask questions of the football education which is on offer and and is this of a standard which will put them on a level with children of a similar age in Spain,Germany,France etc. If the answer is no then the parents must ask questions of the National Association which is meant to be in control of football at all levels in this country.

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