What exactly do we mean by a fundamental change in mentality and approach?
Generally in Australian youth football far too much emphasis is placed on results and this hinders the development of skill, creativity and tactical cleverness - characteristics
we currently lack compared to the best
of the world.
Of course everyone wants to win when playing football, that’s the purpose of the game.
But in youth football we should primarily teach young players the proper skills and allow them to play without negative pressure, to express themselves and be allowed to make and learn from mistakes.
In other words, there needs to be a better balance between results and development.
Is this some sort of woolly opinion?
Consider the field research study (2011) by Chris Sulley of Europe’s most renowned youth academies (Bayern Munich, Ajax, Barcelona, the French National training centre at Clairefontaine, and others). Sulley states:
All the organisations focused on development above and beyond winning on match day
Apparently the best in the world share the same point of view.
‘Winning at all costs’, which is often the traditional Australian way, has a number of very negative side effects for youth development.
If winning is made too important in youth football, coaches automatically tend to select physically and mentally more developed children. These so-called early developers are usually children born early in the year, for being 10-11 months older usually makes a big difference at a young age.
This phenomenon is universally known as the Relative Age Effect (RAE) and results in overlooking large numbers of kids who may potentially be more talented than the early developers.
Another negative factor is that an unhealthy level of psychological pressure at a young age suffocates creativity and initiative. The result is that you develop reactive instead of proactive behaviour: out of fear of being criticised when making a mistake, children start looking at the coach for solutions instead of trying to solve football problems themselves.
Finally, fitness is made far too important in youth football because many coaches think that is what is going to make their team win. Interestingly, analysis shows that fitness was not a decisive factor at the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The fittest teams were not the most successful, but rather the technically best teams containing the ‘special’ players had the greatest success!
More importantly, by having young players running laps around the park and doing push-ups and sit-ups, we waste a lot of very valuable football training time.
By the age of 12-13 the basic skills and right techniques need to already be imprinted. After that age you can only catch up and patch up to mask or modify bad habits and technical deficiencies. So skill and technical development should be our focus, especially given the fact that in Australia we only play football 6 months of the year while in most of the world football is played year round!
This (and much more) is what is meant by a fundamental transformation and that’s what the National Football Curriculum is essentially about. We have no more time to lose because football does not stop developing to wait for Australia. Not only is the development of the world’s best nations accelerating to a breathtaking level, also some Asian countries are catching up with us rapidly.
However, we have to realise that only a consistent and structured long term approach will deliver the necessary changes and improvements.
A good example of that approach is Japan which started their football development plan 20 years ago with the results only now starting to become visible.
Sir Trevor Brooking puts it this way in his foreword of the English FA’s new Technical Guide for Young Player Development.
“Developing young players who are capable of excelling on the international stage is not an issue which will change in the short-term and it is crucial that a long-term development mindset is adopted”