By John Cartwright.
Football is a game, like so many sporting activities, that is learned within a FEAR setting. Winning, not learning, dominates our development levels resulting in the ‘culling’ of skilful and creative play and producing lesser playing standards for the game.
Development has been in the hands of inexperienced, ‘football academics’ for a considerable time and their misunderstanding and ‘tweaking’ of development methods has eventually led us into a period best described as ‘The Robotic Period’. There has been scant thought given to so many important developmental factors and structures based on winning results has superseded the importance of teaching and learning of….. how to play the game!
I have preached the need for a playing ‘vision’ to which a realistic, practical ‘pathway’ can be attached. This development pathway includes suitably introduced ‘competitive, practical learning’ throughout along with suitably introduced ‘competitive game examinations’.
A more sensible approach in the use of competitive games must be explored. Competition is a vital ingredient in the learning process, but there has been a long-term failure in applying competition correctly throughout the ‘golden years’ of development. For too long, instead of practises being followed with related game situations to provide a recognisable development ‘pathway’ for players – a crash-bang-wallop ‘fightball’ structure has been designated as the competitive ‘examination’ of understanding and progress for our young players. Goals, points and league tables have dominated the development scene and rather than producing ‘fertile’ footballers it has produced fearful, simplistic football from our players.
THERE HAS TO BE A BETTER WAY!
I am not one of those people who have a critical disregard for any form of competition; there is an important place for it in the learning process in my opinion, but it has to be carefully and gradually introduced all along the development ‘pathway’. The experienced coach will know what work his players must complete at each level of development and he/she, will know when to increase opposition gradually, within suitably-sized practice areas in order to develop skills and improve awareness throughout the early development periods (6-14). Practice must relate with the playing of the game; otherwise what’s the point of practice? What is being taught in practice must be reaffirmed in a realistic but suitably adjusted manner in games that comply with players’ ages and playing ability.
WHY MUST COMPETITIVE GAMES BE FASHIONED THE WAY THEY ARE AT PRESENT DURING THE DEVELOPMENT YEARS?
As already mentioned, from the age of 6-14, games should be played with gradually increased numbers and in suitably sized playing areas. The number of players and the size of areas for practice should gradually increase and ‘targets’ gradually changed as players move along the development ‘pathway’. From 14+ there is a place for a gradual involvement with competitive match-play but at a playing number suitable for the 14 age bracket. These competitive games should be in addition to the same type of ‘friendly’ inter club games played throughout the season. Competitive match-play could be fashioned as cup competitions where 3-4 teams from a small area in a region can play each-other home and away to produce an area league winner. This winner can then compete on a knock-out basis against another area winner from the same region. The last two area teams within a region play in a final – winner takes the prize! Here is a limited and controlled introduction to match-play…… a large part of the season is taken up with games that follow a learning and practising whilst playing mode with combined with a gradual ‘injection’ of games in a more competitive playing atmosphere.
From 15 years of age, 11v11 should be introduced but with drastic changes to our present match-play model: Success at the EARLY STAGES of this development level should no longer be ‘measured’ by simply registering which team scores most goals in a game with results registered in league positioning. Some form of marking system must be created to highlight positive and negative aspects of both teams in a game. At the game’s end the marks are added/subtracted and the team with the highest points is the winner…. No league positions….just positive learning habits …… habits begun from 6 and continued through to youth levels at 14+ …. then taken forward gradually to 15+…. then gradually onward in the next two years to 17+ …… when a competitive, league and cup structure could begin to be played.
Our development methods have to change if we are to produce excellence in the game. Our long-term fascination and the continuation with irrelevant and unrealistic practice methods that are then followed by playing the game in a ‘result provides answers to all questions’ way, must NOT be the only ‘game in town’. By 18+, with players having experienced a more composite development system, I believe they will have a much better chance to succeed at the higher levels of the game…..they would have learned how to play the game, how to compete and to win through quality football ability and not through an aggressive, physically ‘camouflaged’ and fearful…….‘fightball-for-points’ system.
THERE HAS TO BE A BETTER WAY for our game in future to be taught, learned, played, enjoyed and improved in a positive, purposeful, intelligent manner and atmosphere………. I recently watched an u/18 game between two professional clubs; three red cards were issued as well as several yellow cards. The young Referee was then hounded by club staff and public as he left the field. The game had been a disgrace from start to finish with aggression, not competitive playing ability, the overriding factor. I see so many of the games of this type….. and these games destroys talent it doesn’t develop talent. We must discontinue with the negative-structured and fear-laden methods that have disabled exciting, skilful playing qualities in favour of robotic, simplistic and aggressive mediocrity.
Crucial changes in development practice and playing methods must become a priority for our FA. Professional football clubs must take more interest in how our players are being coached and developed – lots of money is being spent on development but the methods used in the past and at present have failed to supply quality to our game and urgent yes urgent – changes need to be made if we are to reach the high standards necessary to compete and succeed at World and Euro levels.