Sunday, 14 February 2010

No One Likes Us - We Don't Care!

My dear Year 8 football team let themselves down the other day. Losing by a handful of goals in the semi-final of a cup competition, they fouled, complained, swore and gave up playing. My co-coach and I are racking our heads for an explanation: where did the eager, happy and undoubtedly talented footballers of last year disappear to, and why are they replaced by this ragtag bunch of prima donnas - refusing to play in the position they've been asked, moaning at each other and losing the game through serious ill-discipline.

In general, I don't write about football analytically (leaving that to other cynics), but I've often wondered at how ridiculously early children in the UK are forced to play within a rigid tactical structure (traditionally 4-4-2). Even primary school teams with some kids as young as 9 or 10 will categorise certain players as "a defender" or "a centre forward" with little regard to a) their future physical development, b) the improvement of certain key technical features to their game, such as a first touch or passing awareness, or c) the pressure that comes with playing tactical 11-a-side instead of playing football for the fun of it. An 11 year old player then becomes attached to their position (with some positions obviously more tinged with glory than others - a centre forward tends to be more cocky than the left back) and it is difficult to switch his or her mentality when playing them in another position (or 'out of position' as they now see it!).

With this in mind, the behaviour of certain ring leaders of last week's Players' Revolt becomes clear. Two are at professional or semi-professional clubs already and desperate to make it as pros. Their mothers and fathers foster their ambitions and regularly turn up for games. Sometimes their presence results in a stream of criticism, though usually it is encouraging. But the parental pressure, coupled with the Sunday league 11-a-side coaching, results in our kids now feeling that they know better than me and my co-coach.

When our central midfielder decided that he was now a centre forward, the problems began. When our centre forward refused to move to the wing the problems deepened and when our winger was fouled late on in the second half, he stood up and punched the opposition player in the face.

At times like these Co-coach and I have to remind ourselves that although we might be watching the future Wayne Rooney or Steven Gerrard, we are Educators first and Football Fans second. It was with a heavy heart, therefore, that we had to stop the game and instead of congratulating little J our winger for a superb upper-cut, send him off the pitch and suspend him from school for a day.


On an unrelated note - further to my post on Wednesday 27th January, I have reconsidered about making the blog exclusive. I was worried about incriminating myself (paranoia, pure and simple), but have decided to keep it public. Thank you to those who emailed me.


James Appell said...

Thanks for the link!

Agree entirely with the sentiment about school-age footballers. This would all be resolved if we did away with 11-a-side at youth level in favour of 5-a-side.

It's the preferred option across Europe, and has obvious benefits. None of this positional elitism you've pointed out would occur. And the kids would actually have to develop a good touch and passing game, rather than mere stamina required to chase long balls into space, a feature of the 11-a-side game.

Try reading the relevant chapter in David Winner's superb Brilliant Orange for how well this coaching works in Holland.

James Appell said...

Having said that, it's no guarantee the players won't end up punching each other in the face anyway.