Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Missing Coaching entry: Part 1 setting the scene

This entry has been written and re-written. I want to convey the benefit from coaching without losing the point that as a coach of kids the season has very little to do with you. It is all about the players. And it is not about entertaining the crowd, particularly the parents, and especially it is not about winning.

For kids football is about learning about decision making, learning about dealing with adults and being part of a team. These experiences and skills help them in every other part of their lives. And it helps to keep their lives from being sucked into the vortex of a computer screen. We know also that lifelong involvement in sport helps kids and adults, particularly males, to manage or overcome depression. It also extends life by improving physical condition and reducing the threat of obesity.

Fundamentally this is what I have learnt from two seasons of coaching.

Football, or soccer as everyone at junior level calls it, is the biggest participation sport in Australia but up to age 14 or 15 and then, I believe, over-age. It has become clear to me why there is such a big drop-off. It is because parents, and probably as a result clubs, think that playing football is primarily about their child's team winning and, secondly, about their child being the star and scoring goals. This is ingrained from under 6s. By the time a child gets to 14 or 15, most (say 80%) children realise that are not on a winning team - there is only 1 or 2 in say 6 divisions of around 10 teams - around half of these kids will in each season win a maximum of half their games. More likely there will have been loses and draws. For most kids the experience is worse than Perth Glory in the A-League. And when they started their parents would have been telling them it was going to be like Perth Glory in the NSL - have the best of everything including the facilities.

Some parents take all this worse than the kids. If their child has some potential they will shop them around to find a club that wins, better yet if their child can be a star. Some clubs are designed to deal with this and each year attempt to recruit the best players. These clubs will also attempt to slot teams into divisions that the team will win rather than anything like the quality of the team.

Each year Football Brisbane attempts to counter these two acts. They know that this is the fundamental that forces so many kids out of the sport and as a results leads to the loss of millions in annual subscriptions. Unfortunately, they fight nature. It is only a disaster for the kids loss to learning about decision making and exercise. Football Brisbane even developed a non-club league in 2008 - a long held dream - for all the best players. Their main motivation, I think, was to get the best players to play short passing football and to focus on game time and not results. There were compromises and I think the clubs got to use their players as well. It will be interesting to see whether they have the energy to repeat it next year.

My interest in coaching was intuitive rather than founded on sound knowledge, experience and skill. In early 2007 Hamish and I had undertaken the junior coaching ticket. I learnt a lot but was surprised by how few undertake it to coach juniors. Most seem to do it as part of the own playing journey.

I had been a middle of the road player. My main claim to fame was training every afternoon, yep every one, with a kid who would play on Robbie Slaters' team and played against Steve and Mark Waugh. Through the age groups standing out as a left footer and excelling in left positions in 3rd division. I lost interest in the first division playing all bar one game for 45 minutes, even when reserves had to be picked from other teams. When our team came last anyway, the lesson was bitter. But life presents curve balls and I can now draw on that set back when facing life's challenges and in passing on, let's call it, wisdom.

I believe that 'how you do one thing is how you do everything'. Football coaching has been such a massive learning curve for me. It forced me to change how I do one thing and therefore everything.

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