Spains hammering of New Zealand at the Confederations Cup this week was little short of an embarrassment and should have us seriously wondering what is happening with our game in this country.
On the surface a loss to Spain is no embarrassment. They are a fine team and have some of the best players in the world. In fact they are the best team in the world, but watching that game was like watching two different sports. One, a game played by athletes with ball skills, and another which involved mindless running, chasing an elusive sphere. There was not one facet of the game where we could say “well, we did okay in this area”. The All Whites seemed completely devoid of ideas and completely devoid of skill. There was no pace, the players looked cumbersome and their “first touch” resembled that of a circus juggler – usually it was two touches to control the simplest of balls. The ability to pass or cross accurately just wasn’t noticeable. Even organisationally there were passages where one shook ones head in disbelief. Have a look at the last two goals again….appalling. Its not untrue to suggest that only poor officiating prevented five becoming a seven or eight goal slaughter.
Have we progressed at all in the ten years since the 1999 Confederations Cup? In that tournament we lost all three matches (to USA, Germany & Brazil) but none were hammerings and in all we held our own for long periods of play. All three of those countries played in the latter stages of the 2002 world cup, Germany & Brazil contesting the final.
So why have we gone backwards?
There seems to be no vision in New Zealand football. There is no long term plan aimed at developing juniors to the sufficient skill level required to compete at international level. When quality players come through – the Nelsens & Bertos’s – it is by chance rather than by design. It is surely obvious to all – especially those who run the game – that New Zealand football exhibits a lack of the basic skills. So why do we not have a national policy centred around skill development? To push a well worn theme, why is something like the Coerver program not mandatory across our junior players? Coerver is a program famous the world over for its success. Now more than ever before we need something with a proven track record to assist in enhancing the sport. Its time we taught ourselves to look beyond winning matches at junior level and concentrate on teaching the necessary skills which will prove successful at senior level.
Wynton Rufer has the right idea with his Wynrs program. His program suggests that The focus of training is skill development. Wynrs is convinced that in order to achieve this goal, at this age, the emphasis should be on skill development rather than tactical knowledge/play. Sadly, it appears that in order to enter his program one must pass a trial. I wonder why? Is Wynton not confident that his methods are good enough to teach and improve beginners? Nevertheless at least he is focussing on skill development.
No, it won’t happen overnight but lets have a long term goal. If we start teaching to our seven year olds now, then in 15 years we will have a generation of quality players. We probably won’t be world beaters but at least we will be proficient and competitive.
It seems we are progressing in completely the wrong direction. Capital Football’s decision this year to hand over teenage football to the schools is frankly astonishing. What do schools in Wellington know about football and, especially, coaching football? Schools are there primarily to provide academic education. They are not about sporting excellence, so why do they have the power to shape our sporting future?
We are all more than aware that we live in a country obsessed by rugby. Logically then, it follows that the majority of teachers, and therefore sports teachers, also follow rugby more so than football. In effect Capital Football are entrusting our junior development to teachers who probably don’t follow the game, who probably don’t care about the game and are coaching because they have to.
Although players will continue learning about football throughout their careers, there is no doubt that it is the junior years where the basic skills are learned and mastered. For any player, these are the most important years. A player who starts learning late will never develop the required skills to play at the top level. How then can we expect our juniors to develop and progress when non-football teachers are coaching them?
In any football club there will be good coaches and there will be bad coaches. There will be coaches with great ideas and great understanding who may not have the ability to get their point across. But the coaches that you will find in football clubs are invariably volunteers who have a love and passion for the game and a desire to see players improve. Can we say the same about school teachers? I think not.
Further … think about the longer term ramifications. Players play football at school with their friends and when they finish school, what next? Life takes over and the player drifts away from the game. On the other hand the player that plays club football with his/her friends will continue to return to the club – his friends are there, the surroundings are familiar – theres an element of comfort in returning to a place where one spent their formative years.
Capital Football has made a capital mistake.