Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Coaching Adventure Part 1: my view from the dugout

I agree with the viewpoint that football is about decision making. And junior football is about learning to make and accept others' decisions.

I believe that football can be used to teach young people about their ability and constrained rights to make decisions (ie constrained by the ref, the rules and the other 21 players). It also teaches that you must live with the consequences of your own and other peoples' decisions, and that life should not be expected to be fair. But that you should play football, and life, as if to play fair is to win.

Therefore my coaching fundamentals have been to:
  1. tell children what to do only when necessary (and discourage parents from playing this role - that's for home and school)
  2. find the leaders (positive kids who play well for their division and age, but always play fairly)
  3. encourage the leaders to play fairly, ask them lots of questions about what they think is happening at training and on the field, and encourage them to prompt me about what to do next
  4. get the leaders to positively influence the play of other players
  5. discourage the whole team from making negative comments about their team mates or about the opposition
  6. encourage the team to call for the ball and talk to each other
  7. work with the leaders, particularly the team captain, to develop drills that address skill weaknesses
I think football is about adding to young people's life experience so that they have more positives to draw on as they meet life's experiences. It is also about showing children, particularly boys, that there is something more interesting and important than computer games.

It appears that for many junior teams and some parents, children playing football is about either making sure the socceroos have enough Harry Kewells in the future, and, or winning by as many goals as possible. In my experience many officials are about the former and stress drills and physical development, and coaches are about the latter and therefore work towards short term results. These short term results are achieved (or not achieved) by shouting at the young players. This, at the least, passively encourages rough house play and, at its worst, ensures that teams are positioned in divisions below their ability. For an example, I watched an under 11 division 5 team win 13-0 and its parents celebrate a 'cricket score'.

For me, the physical activity of football is a great way to encourage young people to think. Still I can't understand the coaches that lecture kids for hours. I prefer to do this quitely, one-on-one with the ball at their feet.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Sydney 3 Persik Kediri 0 and Seongnam Chunma 1 Adelaide 0

The first point about the Asian Cup is how disappointing the crowds are. If I am disappointed with 10,000 turning up at Parramatta park for Sydney, then what about what looked like 30 family and friends for the Korean champions? I know it was mid week and looked cold over in Korea but that stadium was empty. A few more people need to see these Asian games for the business opportunities to be realised.

I thought Sydney were unlucky. They had a goal disallowed in the first half because the officials thought Rudan had lent too heavily on a defender in heading the ball in. Of the 6 offsides called against Sydney, only 2 were. And Alex Brosque was away by 10 metres for one of these mistakes. Also, some of the Sydney yellow cards were soft. Which could hurt Sydney by the time of the final game. This game could have been 6-0. Persik more or less closed down the game in the first half - with a fortress defence. But as Sydney picked up the pace in the second half, they could not keep up. Last week Persik showed us the benefit of an inhospitable home ground (Indian cricket teams have used this tactic for years - play on unique pitches and you get a home town advantage, unfortunately if you get to uniquely adapted you find hard to win away from this environment).

For Adelaide, Richie Alagich had misfortune last night. One minute he nearly set up a cracking header of a near miss for Fernando, the next he gave the ball away to Choi Sung-kuk who scored from the left, outside the box, a curling lob that landed in the top right hand of the goal. The only goal of the match. Actually, Seongnam under-played the game. They just wanted to make sure they won. And there were no fans for them to entertain. By the way, Diego didn't seem to do much at all (unlike all the other Asian Cup teams' Brazilians), I noticed in the A-League that some games he starred and others he was invisible.

However, the most interesting group game of the night was Vietnamese team Dong Tam who scored twice to push Chinese super team Shandong to 2-3. Shandong have won all 4 matches. And Dong Tam lost all 4. Dong Tam had lost at home to Adelaide 0-2, while Shandong had beaten Seongnam 2-1.

I think all this means that the A-League's 1st showing in Asia hasn't been that bad. Not too shabby, even quite good in patches. But we need to learn more about the approaches to refereeing, the hot and cold weather, how we can match the outcomes of some vast budgets and large squads, and perhaps the key to all of these - how to take advantage of the business opportunities without selling the farm.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Put your hands up for the A-League: A fragile eco system

This off-season we are getting almost as much A-League press up here in Queensland as we do during the home and away matches. What happens in Year 3 is the key for the A-League. By the end of version 3 we should know the fate of this approach to football.

‘We’ve set up something which Australians and football fans can be proud of but it’s still a bit fragile, the league will continue to bed itself down but it will all come apart at the seams if [clubs] lose their discipline’ Matt Carroll quoted in Soccer International Vol 15 No 4 ‘The Enforcer’ pages 54 to 67.’

Ben Buckley and his new management team will be able to show what they can do. By the way has anyone noticed what a mess the Australian Rugby Union got itself in in its three years without John O’Neill and Matt Carroll - and the current machinations to get them back in charge (Australian military hero Peter Cosgrove has been drafted in as the mediator and unifying force to sought it all out). The influence that O’Neill and Carroll had by moving from ARU to football on both codes highlights how limited our sports administration talent pool is, and probably how counter-productive the internal politics are. Who would have thought that in a nation known for its sporting focus and its expat business managers?

Ben Buckley could also represent a shift to towards matching AFL in a more direct way. It is lamentable that so much Australian sporting talent is drawn into a sport where there is no international challenge or interest. Ultimately, this will limit the broadcasting value of AFL, while if Australian teams can make it in Asia, football’s broadcasting dollars will increase. And local football will bridge the salary gap for its players on AFL and open up new career choices.

A decade long effort to move young players from AFL to football will lift the quality of our game and our players available for export (particularly to Asia). It will allow us to follow Australian basketball and place teams in Asian countries with interest in top quality live sport (Singapore Slingers). This will also be the force behind Australia moving from 40th (FIFA ranking April 2007) to the top ten. Apart from China and the USA, most countries in FIFA’s top 100 are probably doing the best they can do. The focus of many countries outside the top 10 is on getting better coaches or, particularly in Africa, getting FIFA to stop European taking their players away (something we see as strengthening out squad). But Australia has a more fundamental and fixable limit to progress, the diversion of audience, and dispersion of talent, across so many sports (ARL, ARU, AFL, swimming, hockey). Fix this and our ruthless cultural approach to winning will take over.

On the 2008-9 new A-League team front, Townsville, Gold Coast, Wollongong and Brisbane have all shown a corner of their hand. I think that Victoria should also be encouraged to find one or two nominees. The more choice, the more likely we will get strong and innovative approaches. Victoria and NSW are generating most of the new talent, and a new Victorian team would be best placed to find these players. New teams would also include more innovative ways to pull in the best overseas players.

Clearly we need more teams. Eight just is not enough. Fortunately, so far, all the teams, even NZ in the latter part of version 2, have shown they can be competitive. But the crowd gets bored watching a repeat of the fixture list every 7 weeks. And if teams start to breakaway, if we had four doing that instead of just the way Melbourne did last season, it is going to be all too predictable. As much as anything, my reading of the National Soccer League history is that this predictability of results, particularly when it came down to Perth Glory, Sydney and Adelaide dominating, led to the lack of interest of fans. These teams even seemed to shared players and coaches over the years.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Asian Champions League: reality hits home

2-1 to Persik.

30 degrees. 90% humidity. Brisbane gets this weather but we had a cold summer. And I had been thinking how the A-League teams would have felt about Lang Park if they had faced it. Now we know. No so good.

Sydney dominated early and got the early goal. But soon the heat took over. The pitch was also very poor, Alex Brosque was either pulled down by the goalkeeper on 29 minutes or dived - either way the ref should have handed out a card. And on 83 minutes a Persik defender handballed in the box. And the ref was going wild with yellow cards in the first half.

The A-League site describes the pitch as dry. They couldn't have been watching - the ball was kicking up water and stopping in critical places.

But by the 80th Sydney had had it. Several had stopped walking and were just standing with their hands on their knees. Persik's Brazilians missed some sitters. The rained out transfer of the game from late afternoon to 10:30 am to 12:30 played right into Persik's hands. Keen to see the replay. I think it will be very different... but I don't know.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Throw Aurelio Vidmar the coach's coat

Adelaide just about out played Seongnam Ilhwa tonight. While unable to hang onto a 2 goal lead gained early in the 2nd half, Adelaide were the most attacking we have seen them. At last they are getting out from underneath John Kosmina's 'ground them out' football. And giving their fans a solid reason to turn up - even mid-week.

The fall out from Adelaide's 5-0 finals loss to Melbourne is still raining on the club - coach gone, CEO gone, no place place for their captain, Greg Owens off the Central Coast and now Matthew Kemp off to Melbourne. Carl Veart wasn't there tonight.

However, Bruce Djite showed tonight that he may be the new Mark Viduka. He set up the first goal for Fernando and beautifully scored the second. Oh and Djite missed about 6. But let's remember he was playing some of Asia's best defence, who he embarrassed several times and was too unselfish in giving opportunities to his fellow strikers instead of going for it. Also great was Nathan Burns who played more of a mid-field play-maker role than we have seen from him todate.

So it was Vidmar who stared from the bench. His new 4-3-2-1 created more opportunities than Kosmina's 4-4-2. And gave the young players their opportunities in a team that had been dominated by NSL stars. Make no mistake the troubles in the camp plus the off season status made Adelaide the under-dog and Vidmar, after some close first half calls, allowed his side to look the most likely to win.

By the way, Korean football is funny. Apparently, Seongnam are backed by the Moonies and only average 7,000 fans. Yet they have a great pedigree, with some of the best players in Korea and two quality Brazilians. And heaps of money to throw at putting together the squad to win the K-League and Asia. I don't really get it if they can't find fans.

Overall, it looks like given the right conditions, Australian teams win be hard to beat in Asia, and eventually will win the Asian cup. I am looking forward to that - meanwhile Sydney are re-scheduled in Indonesia for 1:30pm tomorrow.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Victory Release Fred, Jets Release Milton Rodriguez

I hadn't seen this reported. But the A-League site has a list of comings and goings to-date, and has Fred as released to DC United in the USA. In my view, Fred was the version 2 player of the year. His play making ability, and some of his dives, got Melbourne to the top of the league. He was particularly important early on in the season. To not be a marquee player and for Melbourne to have such a good squad under the cap, he was clearly under-paid. Perhaps the best deal ever done in the A-League. So I guess it makes sense that someone would pay up for him. Interesting though, even on grand final night he was telling the fans he loved them and wanted to stay. That's the way it goes I guess. Evens up version 3.

Also, Jets top performer Milton Rodriguez has returned to Colombia. Got to be a blow for the Jets. Milton such an impact in his first run as a sub against Sydney when he scored twice to pull a critical draw. Ummm, Newcastle will struggle to replace him.

Not surprisingly given Ron Smith's background, Perth have picked up a swag of Australians from non-A-League teams. The Roar tried this in version 1 and it didn't work. And, in a major move, Nikolai Topor-Stanley from Sydney. Surprise that one (after the Asian Cup). Sydney have picked up Noel Spencer (Central Coast Mariners) and Luka Glavas (Perth Glory) - among others.

Roar have lost 4 and gained 4. So who else is Frank to release? He is again sending signals more players are to come. Not sure that a plus has been achieved yet. Depends how good Tiatto is (Alpha magazine is making fun of him - not that that means much). Come-on Roar. Find a Fred. PS unfortunately, I don't think he is playing in the Brisbane Premier League.