By John Cartwright
The British Government, have increased Apprenticeship schemes to offset the serious skills shortage we are experiencing in the country’s manufacturing industries.
In years gone by apprenticeships were common-place throughout all types of work; they provided a ‘hands-on’ approach to skill learning and allowed young apprentices an opportunity to learn a trade from the ‘ground upwards’. The apprenticeship period became less favoured as more ‘up-market’ teaching and learning methods took its place. Probably, the lack of a prolonged period of ‘on-the-job’ experience is at the root of the problem. Perhaps our education system, from junior through to upper senior levels, does not provide the type of learning programs for students that encourages individualism and skills.
Relating the Skills Gap to football, I have been almost a lone activist for decades trying to make everyone interested in the game here more aware of the Skills Gap we have. Although football had an apprenticeship period in the past, the true learning of the game (football apprenticeship) took place throughout the development years when playing in the street and school playgrounds. The competitive, small-sided game played in small areas for thousands of hours each year by youngsters produced the immediate skills required for the game. THE GAME OF FOOTBALL IS A COMPETITIVE GAME and therefore the ‘tools for the job’ – the skills to play it, should, in my opinion, be taught accordingly. I am not suggesting that competitive practises should be physical ‘scraps’ but players must, from the very start of their football education, be familiarized with the realistic aspects of the game with the use of competitive practises combined with a suitable playing infrastructure.
From improved playing surfaces to medical care, the game has seen big advances. I have seen them all. During my life I have experienced ‘street football’ and watched its demise as streets became parking lots; ‘structured coaching’ methods that have replaced it have failed to provide a satisfactory teaching formula. Unfortunately, the chaos-type learning of the ‘practice whilst playing’ aspect of the street game has never been understood by those who have been too ready to inject a more ‘academic’ approach into development as the modern alternative. Practice time that once meant thousands of hours involved doing realistic football skills and making immediate football decisions has gone and replaced, in the main, with a teaching culture that has placed more emphasis on practice organization and group(team) structure than developing individual skills and their use in the game.
I my opinion, the Skills Gap, cannot be resolved unless more time is given to the ‘DOING’ of a job rather than to the listening or watching it being done by others. Failure can be a great learning experience but the fear of failure is endemic in the game here as players with limited ability are asked to perform beyond it. This inability creates a lack of confidence in players that produces playing decisions based on safety-first and mediocrity overall. Team-play is the collective extension of individualism. If skills are correctly taught in conjunction with a gradual inclusion of group, and later, team requirements, the use of individual skills in the game would be fully appreciated by all involved. A great example of individualism that combines when required to do so is that displayed by Barcelona FC. Throughout their team they have high quality individuals who are able to use their own imagination, creativity and individual skills in all parts of the field for the good of the team, or just as well, this individualism is able to combine with team-mates to produce successful end products. Their belief in individual skills even relates to the playing quality of their goal-keepers – they can receive and pass the ball better than most of our back players!!
The fight to restore more individualism into our game must not dismissed, for team-play needs the unusual within it to satisfy and gel the total qualities of the game. Our support and nurture of junior football must take on a more involved and positive approach; our coach education methods must show much more importance to the teaching of skills allied to a more suitable, competitive playing infrastructure in which display them; the playing levels of our Academy system must be set to provide levels of excellence and not just provide games for numbers of available players; quality young players must be given more opportunities to play at higher levels irrespective of age; playing results must take back-stage to playing quality through the junior years.
Our football Skills Gap is here for all to see as ‘fightball’ not football makes bigger advances on the game with each ‘money-grabbing’ year. We must show more courage and invention in the way we approach the teaching and playing of the game or we will continue to fail. Let’s close our skills gap and produce a game for the world to recognize and applaud; one that incorporates our world-renowned British fortitude but includes the finesse we have as a nation that, unfortunately, we too often tend to conceal in favour of brute strength and ignorance.