Walking home from primary school, most days I had a football in hand (we called it soccer back then, a step forward from WogBall). I was deep in thought about whether the last goal we scored at lunchtime counted for the win… because it happened as the bell rang for the end of lunch. Steve and I were adamant that our team had won, but Khaled and Sunjay were insisting that it was a draw because the bell meant the end of the match, and the ball hadn’t crossed the line yet. It made little difference that the line they were talking about happened the be a line between two trees. This happened most lunchtimes, on most school days.
When I got home, I ate, watched an episode of the Ninja Turtles as my brother and I kicked around a small ball (made out of socks wrapped in sticky tape) around the house. I did my homework and then got ready to be picked up by our football coach for football training. By day, our coach was a butcher, so he would drive up the front of my driveway, beep the horn, I’d come out. He’d open his butcher delivery van that had two front seats and nothing in the back except for a team full of 10 year olds rolling around the back of the van until we got to the park…no seatbelts…no seats…just a hard clean metal floor. We’d go train for a couple of hours, then he’d throw us back in the van and drop us off at home. When I got home, we’d kick the sticky tape ball around some more, until our parents got home from work and screamed at us for breaking something. This happened for most part of the year, on most nights of the week. They were very happy memories.
“In recent times, football in this country has been catering to the lambs instead of the lions.”
Fast forward 27 years and I’m in the treatment room with a 10 year old kid on the table with growing pains. Treating this particular condition isn’t difficult. What is difficult is having to sit there and listen to the parent telling me how their kid is the next best thing in football, and it’s imperative that I “fix him, because he just has to play.”
In my 15 years in this industry I’ve had the pleasure of treating many a young football player. It’s my special area of interest. I like the kids, and I always get a kick out of helping them. Out of 1000’s of kids, usually 20% are involved at a high level for their age. A handful of about 10 have been extremely gifted, of which to this day maybe 5 kids have grown up to be professional footballers playing either overseas or domestically in the A-League. So based on the numbers, it’s highly likely that your kid won’t make it. It’s a low probability that your kid is even talented. And the likelihood is actually that when it comes to football, your kid sucks! Now that may sound harsh to you, but after all the participation and “most improved” trophies that your child has collected, harsh reality is really what’s needed here. Participation has it’s own rewards, you don’t need a trophy for it. It’s silly horseshit, and it needs to stop. The kids who are getting the MVP trophies aren’t even making it, what in the hell do you think your precious little pumpkin is going to do?!
But why? Why does my kid, our kids… why are our kids sucking so badly these days at football?
Well, there are 4 main reasons. Mark Bosnich touched on these in his article, but they deserve a deeper comment.
- Your kid’s sporting development is too specific, too soon
- Your kid doesn’t spend enough time with the football doing what they want
- Your kid does not know how to win or lose
- Your kid is weak and would rather be on the PlayStation
Not my kid! My kid has been at the best academies since he was a fetus.
Well let’s examine that for a minute. Your kid pretty much has been involved in football the whole of autumn, winter and spring, then they go play futsal, then they go to summer football camp, with maybe two weeks off at Christmas. Well when do you expect them to 1) rest, recover and reset their motor learning patterns and 2) Learn new motor patterns? Recovery is a finite resource. In humans we need time and the right hormonal milieu to make optimum recovery. For God’s sake, give your kids a small break from competitive, serious training. Get them doing some other things that require different motor patterns. Martial Arts, Rock Climbing, Swimming, send them to a farm and let them chase chickens, climb trees and throw rocks. They will come back with a fresh nervous system and actually learn the football techniques that are being taught.
Not my kid! My kid gets plenty of good rest and eats well, and he’s got the best coaches looking after him.
Now whilst I do agree that we have quality football people in this country, I also agree with Bozza that those quality people don’t dominate the football landscape. Out of all the coaches I’ve come across (and there are about 30 that I know of) who have opened their own academies, I would only trust my son with definitely one…maybe two. That being said, this is still not the main issue here. The main issue is overcoaching. Your kid must play into a system. They must pass the ball when the coach says to pass the ball (which is always). Dribbling is not allowed. We have placed too many rules on how kids play, so they are not able to express their talent…if they have any. That’s why poor kids playing on the street, end up being Pele, Maradona, Messi and Neymar. They get to dribble enough to finally learn how to do it so that you can’t get the ball off them. They also get their legs kicked hard enough so that they learn when they have dribbled too much. And they have a hell of a lot of fun doing it. The cones and sticks the coaches use cannot replace the reaction that 10 kids chasing you requires. It builds instinct. Listen up here. This is an important concept. The best coaches create an environment that allows a player to naturally express THEIR talent. Not the coach’s talent, or the system… but the natural talent of the player.
Not my kid! He’s well-rested, has played all different sports and does really well at football.
Seems like a nice kid. What a sweet little fella he must be.
I never met a gifted footballer who didn’t have a burning desire to win that was almost pathological. Which means they may come across as sore losers at first. But they shouldn’t like losing or be comfortable with it. In recent times, football in this country has been catering to the lambs instead of the lions. At young levels, we don’t keep score anymore, we make sure everyone gets to kick the ball, and we hand out participation trophies to all the kids. Then we wonder why our Joeys can’t win anymore, and why our Young Socceroos go from the top 3 in the world to not qualifying for major tournaments. But we don’t care about them just yet, we care about your kid. Let them experience winning and losing and learning from both. And if your kid is playing at a high level, call out the parents encouraging mediocrity. Even better, don’t be that parent!
Not my kid! He’s really gifted. He’s 13 and we’ve done all the right things. All the clubs want him. He’s going to make it.
Well I hope so, but if I had to bet, I don’t think so. My football at school lunchtimes, at home and then at training was about 15hrs per week. Of which 10hrs were spent playing around with my friends dribbling and doing what I wanted. Your kid would be lucky to get 8hrs per week of which maybe 2 hrs they’re actually doing stuff they like. I had 15hrs, I was mildly talented with little athletic ability. I was nowhere near making it. Do you seriously think your child is going to go pro because you’ve signed him up to an academy twice per week. Keep dreaming! Your kid at 13, would rather be playing FIFA on the PlayStation than be playing outside with his friends. Why? because you need the friends that want to do that, and all of them need to like it more than the PlayStation… or the Ipad… or Youtube..and as Ned Zelic recently pointed out, you need the HUNGER. Does he have friends that would rather play in the park? Do his friend’s parents want them playing in the park? There are so many variables here outside of your control. Poor kids do a better job of being talented than well-off kids, because a ball is cheap and trees make good goal posts. (FYI: If you can afford a PlayStation, your kids are well-off). During your childhood, it’s likely that your parents worked long hours and you spent time being a kid doing shit with your friends. Now you’re somewhat successful and you’ll be damned if your kids are hanging around at the park with their friends. Do you see the pattern here?
And if your kid gets to his teenage years and is still performing at a high level in the highest competitions, it’s also highly likely that he is weak. Yes I said it, your kid is WEAK! All your boy is doing by now is playing football and the only strength adaptation he has is to barely make it through a 90min game. If the intensity goes up for any sustained period of time, the likelihood of injury is very high. We avoid this as much as we can by getting STRONG. We get strong by lifting weights, not by playing more football or “running” or training our “core.” While this maybe a controversial topic to you, it need not be. Let’s break it down real quick. Speed and balance require strength. Strength is the application of force against an external resistance. If you want to get strong you need to move heavy shit. It’s as simple as that, and as factual as that. It is a concept that you cannot argue with. One of the effects of being strong is that your tendons and joints also get strong. And guess what happens then, your risk of injury reduces.
Not my kid! He’s got the skill, a killer instinct, playing at a high level and he strength trains in the offseason. It’s like he sleeps with the ball.
Ok, now you may have a chance. But seriously, how many kids do you know that do this. The probability is very low, and the likelihood that your kid is doing these things is extremely low too. Look, this phenomena is not restricted to football. We’re getting our asses handed to us in cricket by the Indians. The Kiwis don’t even break a sweat against the Wallabies in the Rugby. All the best athletes in Rugby League are Polynesian. Our Olympic performances are generally getting worse, not better. Our tennis stars are entitled brats that don’t actually win Grand Slams…forget even thinking about No1 in the world. The funny thing is that I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Football, or excellence in anything really, starts at home. It starts with personal responsibility, a rare commodity these days.
You may have noticed that I have referred to boys in this article and not girls. Girls haven’t largely experienced this problem where the sport has a larger female participation. Sports like swimming, gymnastics, and dancing require by default huge amounts of time spent practicing. And girls aren’t as attracted to PlayStations nearly as much as boys are. They are still better social creatures who prefer hanging out with their friends playing netball to playing a PlayStation. Phones on the other hand can be a problem, but a post, tweet, a picture doesn’t take the whole afternoon. And funny enough, I wonder why our football females are doing much better than our males by comparison, with less money and resources?!
So what all of this means to you is, the next time you come into my treatment room telling me to “fix” your next big thing, maybe chill out a little bit about fixing him real quick. Let the kid heal so he can play with his friends, doing stuff he likes. When he’s ready, emphasise the importance of general strength as a human quality. I guarantee you he’ll be a better footballer for it, and more importantly, a better person.