The Promised Land…

The Promised Land…

We all want the best for our children, but that’s different to wanting our children to be the best, or more accurately, being the best at what you want them to be the best at.

I have worked at a large spectrum of football in England, as well as time spent overseas in the US, several trips to Holland and one eye-opening trip to Bermuda. What did I learn? We’ve got it all wrong!

America produce the athlete, with life skills – you play as many sports as you can, as they all need teamwork, communication, leadership; exploring success and failure and finding out where you fit in it all, where you are at your best.

Bermuda – not the best level of coaching, but incredibly raw talented footballers. Why? Amazing support, and letting them do what they love.

Holland – technicians and problem-solvers. The coaches don’t speak during games. They watch and analyse; then impart their findings in game-related practices.

The numbers

Professional Football Academies in this country try to produce 1st Team footballers, but here comes the issue, the most recent statistic I saw on this was that only 0.43% of academy players go on to play professional football. I cannot tell you the likelihood of staying in the same academy and making it professionally with that club, but I can only imagine the numbers are minuscule. Only 180 of the 1.5 million players who are playing organised youth football in England at any one time will make it as a Premier League pro – that’s a success rate of 0.012%. The bit you don’t get told: they get given a professional contract, and then later are released without actually playing a professional game. I know many players that this has happened to – they ‘made it’, but actually do not play professional football. This will also skew the figures.

360 development?

There are really some fantastic football clubs out there who have top-class facilities and may treat your child incredibly well (usually boys, due to that being worth the investment long term, owing to the finances in the mens game).

But, unless your child is in the top development academies in the 92 professional clubs in the country, the likelihood is that they will not have the funding, resources or staff to deal with every aspect your child is going to need in order to fully develop. So therefore only the ‘strong’ survive, and that strength is open to interpretation within each individual environment.

I’ve been the coach, that has sat across a from your son at various ages and had to tell them, “Sorry, we won’t be retaining you next season.” The reason being that myself or a group of coaches have decided that your potential for becoming a professional footballer is very limited. The likelihood is that the coach working with your child either full-time or part-time, starting out or experienced is full of passion for the game, sometimes that passion can lead to frustration. We haven’t got patience anymore in football.

Premier League managers sacked on a whim, the average time as a manager at a club is 18 months? What’s your focus if you know you have 18 months at a club? Is it the academy? Of course not, it’s trying to win games, can you wait for a youngster to make mistakes and learn on the job..? NO!

The by-product is players are bought-in ‘ready-to-go’ from other countries without the vast wealth of Premier League money and pressures, that do develop their youngsters. Look at Ajax’s recent success, from a club whose huge focus is its youth development structure, actually not just Ajax, but Holland, there is legislation that a set percentage must go to the academy, something like 30%. So they can afford the full-time coaches, the medical professionals, the support staff in terms of education and welfare.

The Premier League dream…

… to play in it! To be a part of the ‘greatest show on earth’ is becoming more and more difficult. Due to the demands that are put on the top, the pressure will invariably seep down. If a club gets promoted to Championship from EFL 1, the kids in their academy will no longer need to develop into a £800k-£2m player, they need to become a £10m-£15m player. With the same coaching? The same environment?

As the club is unlikely to start spending big on the academy, their focus will be to stay in that league for the season. Investing in ‘better’ players.

So, as much as all the academies I’ve seen and been involved with have been very much focused on development, the mentality of football in this country is results-orientated. So the lines get blurred by the coaches, I have been exactly the same, demanding better from my goalkeepers. Looking back, it was very wrong of me.

Parents/Coaches… do you give up all weekend for children’s football? Saturday and Sunday for fixtures. Sometimes big journeys, hours in the car. So you get frustrated too perhaps? “Why are you not paying attention?” “I don’t give up all my time, for you not to put the work in.” And so the pressure builds and the damage begins, but you can’t see it, because it’s all in their heads.

Is that the dream?

Let them PLAY, Let them LOVE the GAME, let them ENJOY what they do, ALLOW them to LEARN what they want to LEARN, to make the GAME they PLAY easier, more FUN. Everybody performs better with freedom.

Let their hearts be filled with what the game should teach, rather than us (adults) DEMANDING RESULTS and PERFORMANCES - Does it matter, really if you don’t win the league? Or the cup?

Then our children will grow up and be whatever they have achieved without the baggage of what-ifs, buts & maybes. Failure is so very important for development, but we don’t need to focus on the failure, we need to teach how to overcome failure, how to react to it. For long term success.

Please understand that I am not trying to dissuade people from giving their children further opportunities, we just need to manage our expectations as adults. I ‘m highlighting the areas you may not want to pay attention to, for the pursuit of the dream.

I know many incredible coaches, and without all of them I wouldn’t have the knowledge and understanding I have today, and my time at every club I have worked for has been invaluable for my own development and career.

Just be aware that we want to keep the game fun for as long as we can, Our dream, may well be their nightmare.

Thanks for reading, Steve.

(Part 3 coming soon…)

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