Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Understanding African youth players development

Playing heavy and aerodynamically poor footballs in bumpy and hard surfaces and inclined sloppy fields as well confined spaces that restrict far and wide vision, enables South African players to manipulate the ball the way they do. This is good but it is bad. It requires deliberate promotion of better playing surfaces and equipment to reduce the worry of the behaviour of the ball under such conditions.

Some issues that concern young players when playing football, is that in trying to complete a pass, they find that their target has shifted. Logic would have it then that the ball is played into space, but it is incomprehensible to the youngster that he/she should play into nothingness. Reason must be given why that is a good idea, but the player still has to decipher the best ‘nothingness’ to play the ball into.
This brings in the tactical understanding of football, the decision-making. Of all the spaces available, which one is the most productive and why. Often, the other players must tune to the same frequency in understanding that they have a role to play upon the departure of the ball from the feet of the teammate in possession; that they must provide options that may or may not be used.

To incorporate further complication to the complex picture, consideration of possible outcomes if the ball is suddenly lost eludes even the respected professionals. For young players, it is enough to pass anyhow and then chase the ball after it has been lost. They have the energy and they care less about structures and responsibilities. They just run and have fun.

With the issue of balls and surfaces, the situation shifts slowly to where more youth players have a proper ball and improved playing surfaces. The hard bouncy ground is still challenge to many children. There is very little one can do with that, however upgrading one's skills and seeking knowledge should be non-negotiable. Investing in oneself should be the pride of coaches, but how many bother. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

New wave of South African football

Few weeks ago, we wrote commending the Safa appointment of Shakes Mashaba as national team coach among other things. In that post, we commended the freshness of the minds and ideas coming from the Safa House, that people who are a little more serious about their jobs occupy the offices. We still maintain the fact that they are a ‘little’ more serious until further notice.

The barometer has been the results of the women junior and senior teams performing exceptional well, and then the men’s junior teams and senior teams elevating their performances. Of course, this article is triggered by the latest qualification by Amajimbos to the African championship after eliminating Egypt following that 2-2 draw in Cairo.
My hometown, by design or by default, carries a bad image that one morning I defend tooth and nail, and the next I concede. The ‘small town mentality’ has much more to do with accepting mediocrity than being in a small town. Safa House never accepted the status quo and believed in change of doing business. The national body’s character had taken a battering from the media and public. Scepticism of the global changes made by Danny Jordaan never deterred the national agenda to South Africanise football.

There are many items of great impact that I am not qualified to comment on, which prove that soon the country will take its rightful place in the football world. Having travelled the length and breadth of this very small planet, I sometimes felt ashamed to reveal where I come from. Just as I sometimes feel embarrassed to confess about my town origins, (and usually when driving in other provinces, one feels he can be forgiven for bad behaviour, after-all the number plates show), the landscape has considerably transformed our football image with the qualification of Amajita and Amajimbos to the African Youth Championships.   
Though my town is not a small town anymore, the mentalities do not show yet. Historical reasons have been given for the lack of desire to perform, or the increased secretive attitude and ‘pull him down’ syndrome. I think South Africans in generals are not yet mature to accept their small doses of success have been fluke. Many of the development programs have been events without follow up strategies. All people, South Africans or not, have allergic tendencies to new ways of thinking.

At this point, with the little success on the horizon, resting on our laurels is detrimental. A few years back, my young children were doing homework and one asked, ‘What are laurels?’ The other’s response underlined what society had come to accept as fact; ‘Something to rest on’. After embracing change, taking part in the processes and systems that brought about that change or participating in the programs that perpetuate that change seem to elude the best of us.
Many of the football problems still clung onto by the rich and elite South African football clubs, is the Europeanisation of the African game. That is subject for another day, but generally, this has only managed to give access to the Europeans to study and castrate our game. How, you may ask. We are made to play the way they can, in a way they can manage and handle. That is why Africa has not won the Fifa World Cup yet. Playing football to our strengths gives new problems for the world to solve.

I am not sure how Dr Jordaan came to the point of diagnosing the problem and then prescribe the antidote. In any case, if the effect of the treatment can be felt now, how so over a protracted length of time. One still has to see if the playing pattern of all the teams that have qualified for their respective championships follow a certain trend. That fruitful trend should determine a national playing philosophy of all national teams.
Coming back to my town, just organising people to come together is an uphill task. Yet there is dissatisfaction in terms of the benefits of football by those who think they have toiled and hassled hard enough. Few coaches tried to convince me they had development structures which produced national stars. Through interrogation, I discovered they found talented players who stayed in their teams until they moved to the Absa Premier League. It sounded arrogant pointing out why those players cannot pass or receive the ball today despite playing in the top league.

Further investigation revealed that the coaches were not aware of the Solidarity Mechanism or the Development Compensation (another subject for another day), because I questioned the state of their development teams that should have benefitted from the transfer of players. Many more will claim that national team players passed through their hands, yet there is nothing to show for it.
The nation has to hastily work on a pattern of play and all coaches must embrace, top to bottom. Players participating at all levels of the game must have worked on the single purpose in both attaching and defending duties. Unless there is unity of purpose in this regard, the gains and ground covered in these few examples of early success can be reversed. Few, to the detriment of the game, cannot promote the reluctance to change and their inability to tolerate and embrace change must never be fanned.

As the nation waits the much talked about Technical Director, (my guess is that too much thought is being put on the individual who will drive the agenda of playing football the way we enjoy to play) we have a duty to play football of value. Value in this regard, represents what an ordinary South African purports to be football. That is the only way to success. Our greatest clubs today are not convincing in their play and their play should be brought into line with the national agenda. Their development sides should be made to conform.
How feasible that project can be, will depend on the muscle of the mother body, so often forced to play second fiddle to their own child, the National Premier League. At least, with the record straight regarding the Multichoice Diski Challenge, normalcy reigned and will hopefully continue to.

For now, I keep wondering from which pot Shakes Mashaba, Molefi Ntseki and the other national team coaches drink. That is a new wave of South African football.