By John Cartwright
The exciting and unpredictable game of Association Football has, over the past half century in this country, become a game lacking individual skills and imagination and boring to watch.
In industry and commerce ‘chaos’ learning methods of the past created trades-people with both individual skills and an on-the-job decision-making ability. Apprenticeships, were usually completed under the ‘watchful eye’ of an experienced craftsperson who themselves had ‘earned their stripes’ the same way. Learning a trade in the past therefore, was not acquired ‘by the book’ – it was a ‘hands on’ system based on ‘trial and error’ with realism in the ways and means of learning of paramount importance. Trades-people were developed knowing their business from the ‘ground floor to the top’. The individual ability acquired in this way produced both confidence and capability to make any necessary on-the-job decisions to complete the work successfully.
The development of footballers in the past followed a similar learning style with an unstructured, ‘chaos’ approach. It produced players with individual skill and a playing awareness that is missing today. A boring ‘sameness’ in our football has been the result of the use of ‘standardisation’ in coaching methods since the demise of ‘chaos’ learning. Coaching in this way has produced a game based on ‘non-individualism’ in which group predictability is preferred over individual unpredictability! Our players; look the same -make the same simple decisions -move in the same way -fight and chase the same -make the same mistakes, etc. because, in my opinion, they have acquired their limited ‘ability’ from a coaching and development structure that does not develop players but ‘processes’ players towards mediocrity not towards excellence. We have seen simplistic football become the only option available, and fight not finesse ‘camouflages’ a lack of skill and game understanding.
THE DNA OF PERFORMANCE PHILOSOPHY (Game-style in normal language) is the latest attempt by our ‘academic coaching hierarchy’ to find a better way forward for our game. I believe they will have little success, for skill learning and the ‘moulding’ of individualism with team-play is a coaching (teaching) art that fails to be given enough consideration here. Individual ability is acquired in a different way and in different circumstances than through the use of over-organised, structured methods of learning. Realism, achieved through ‘practice whilst playing’ involves both the ‘hands dirty’ and the ‘trial and error’ formulae that creates skilful playing qualities – too many of our ‘academic coaches’ have not experienced teaching the game in this way.
Older coaches, like myself, are too easily disparaged for their criticism of modern coaching methods. Those who disregard our concerns fail to realise that we were part of a learning process that developed players who were World Cup winners! These players, and many more in the past, did not learn the game through structured coaching methods, but through playing the game competitively in streets, school playgrounds, boys’ club games and school matches – I know this as a fact, for I grew up learning the game in the same way and played with 3 of those World Cup winners at West Ham Utd!
Let’s stop this farcical approach to the present teaching methods of the game and restore common sense to player development. Times have changed and the development of top playing ability must also change. Good players will only develop through good practice methods with realism an important feature. Equally important, our coaching ‘hierarchy’ must overcome the massive problem of lost practice time. Unless these basic but vital issues are resolved, we will continue down the pathway of boring, simplistic football.
We can produce in large numbers, the world’s best players. We have most of the necessary requirements for doing the job except they are not being ‘pulled’ together properly and so we are mal-functioning as a football nation. Irrespective of all the money in our game, the quality is poor – and if we’re honest, from junior to premier league levels, the ‘English Game’– overwhelmed with foreign coaches/managers and players – is floundering and not functioning as it should.
There is a need for more open discussions to ‘hammer-out’ a positive and more constructive football pathway with progressive steps forward. A suitable national game-style along with inspired coaches and exciting players that can be dominant in world football for the foreseeable future must be the objective..…we must make it happen, for to continue ignoring the alarm bells that have been ringing for a long time, we will destroy any chance of success in the long term.
Let’s just get on and do it !!