Youth development fascinates me and I can see myself coaching and educating young players when my playing days are over. I’d love to continue to be involved in football and what would be more inspiring and challenging than trying to guide kids through football’s ups and downs.
A couple of weeks ago I watched Michael Calvin’s insightful documentary ‘No Hunger In Paradise’ where he’s traveling all over England in search for answers to the problems and challenges facing young footballers in his country. If you’re a coach, parent or a young footballer I suggest you watch it because I think it could be an eyeopener for you.
There’s many pitfalls for a young football player living in today’s modern world. Football is the biggest sport in the world and the competition is crazy, so if you want to be one of the few who make it then you need to be able to deal with all the distractions around you. If you want to have a long and successful career then you have to make decisions that will benefit your personal development.
Creating a good environment for the youth is essential. But a good environment for me doesn’t include giving high salaries to boys who are 17 years of age. And it doesn’t include state of the art facilities with perfectly cut football pitches and a jacuzzi in the dressing room. That’s modern distractions in my book. That’s giving the youth too much too soon and it could take away some of their hunger to succeed.
A good and sensible environment for youth players is when you have them take responsibility for balls, bibs and cones in training and have them clean up the dressing room after sessions and games. A good environment means sending young players out on loan to a smaller club, making them play on poor pitches against no-nonsense players, to toughen up.
A good environment for younger kids, and here I’m talking about kids aged 6-15, is letting them be kids. Let them play with their friends, let them try different sports and encourage them to make mistakes. Failing is important. Being vulnerable is important. It’s crucial that we don’t try and mould all into the same type of person/player. We don’t want to take away their individuality.
Education or some kind of guidance for the players’ (helicopter) parents is also something that I think could benefit them in the long run. I see parents being overly aggressive and shouting on the sidelines but I also see parents hovering around their kids so that they can rescue them at the first sign of trouble. It’s essential that parents influence their children in the right way.
It’s extremely difficult keeping your focus on the things that truly matters and we can’t blame them for sometimes getting influenced by the wrong things. I can still remember the day when James Beattie, the star in Southampton FC in early 2000, came driving in to the Southampton FC’s training ground in his brand new Lamborghini. Our academy training had already begun when we heard the engine revving in the parking lot. The excitment among us was unbelieavable and we actually had to stop the training to go and look at his car.
I can only imagine what went on inside my teammates heads that day and any day for that matter. Everyday we would walk past the parking lot which was full with Range Rovers and Porsches before we got to our training pitch. Money and material wealth is allowed to be a motivator but it shouldn’t be the prime motivation for a teenager who’s trying to make it. But I can imagine it’s hard not to get distracted when you have expensive and shiny things in front of your nose every day.
‘Too much too soon’ is a quote from the documentary that sums it up pretty well. Today there are 18 year olds who can earn ten times the money their parents earn without having kicked a ball for the first team. How will it help these young footballers when they get such material wealth without having actually earned it?
There’s so many distractions around young adults and kids these days that it makes it so challenging for them to keep their focus on their development. Another example of modern distractions is the amount of people out there who have an opinion about them compared to 20 years ago. Football coaches, physical coaches, medical staff, psychologists, dietitians, agents, scouts, media, social media, fans, friends, family and so on. Everybody think they know what’s best for you. Hard not to get influenced as a young and sensitive teenager.
I think that we need to realise that the youth today faces different type of challenges than we did in our time. Adults love pointing out how easy the youth have it today but I don’t for a moment agree with that. They might have access to comforts, technology and innovation which the previous generation didn’t have but that doesn’t mean that we’re making it easier for them. I feel that it might sometimes make it more difficult.