After my last blog on ‘Competition and Development’, and the value it has in player development and character building, it confuses me that our selection process for representative players has not been modified. Isn’t one of the reasons competition has been removed, is because the football association doesn’t want to apply pressures on our players as it potentially hinders their ability to play more freely? And it demotivates them from staying in the sport? I find this quite humorous; I find the whole process very stressful for players and have only heard such concerns from many parents and players. I know players that have considered throwing the game away because of disappointment after disappointment, which could be avoided by simply providing early performance indicators that a player understands and is prepared for. I understand that not everyone will get an opportunity to play at the highest level but it is easier to take if prospective players are aware of their weaknesses and have been made aware of what they need to work on.
I also get the impression that players are being selected to best suit the team’s goal of success rather than the players potential. I’m sure there are some circumstances that this is not true, but it is quite common to see technically strong footballers miss out because they lack athleticism or strength. The most obvious attributes a player possesses at the highest level, is height and speed. Two things that fall below technical ability, especially when the players reach the age of 17.
All clubs hold their trials on the same day, meaning the players have to make decisions on where they believe they stand the best chance of success. They obviously have their preferred club of choice but many factors need to be considered, such as; are the club looking for many players? Are they looking for players for my position? Am I better off trialing for a weaker team? What kind of attributes are they looking for? If a player wants to move to another club, do they risk what they have for a place that may not be offered elsewhere? To me, this is something we can make a lot more painless with some better systems.
I believe that all the top-level representative clubs should have scouts that watch regional club games, follow up on club coach’s leads and any other local leads. All scouts should have networks with surrounding association’s club directors for leads or tips on potential talent, and all feeder clubs should be monitoring young talent and promoting these players into the higher level training set up constantly. I believe that we need to act in a unified way for the best interest of the players so that we are continually promoting their development.
The sharing of this information should also be displayed openly for any club to view, after all, we should be promoting all talent and finding a place for these kids anywhere if they can’t be accommodated within their residential region. Player details, strengths, weaknesses, position etc. should be shared and made available for any association to view, this would guarantee that we would be selecting closer to the top 5% of talent. Currently we are probably choosing 5% of the top 10% of players, we are a nation that cannot afford to let good players slip through the cracks.
Maybe trials should be held pre-season as a prospective exercise, players identified for their potential early, and then scouts monitor their status throughout the year. This will be less stressful as they are not trialing for a position. If they are not deemed good enough for the local rep team when it comes time to select the following season’s squad, the scout may inform other scouts to see if a place can be found elsewhere. This then allows other parties to then send out scouts to assess the player and view them in an actual game with no pressures of trials and hundreds of other kids. Too many good players miss out because they aim too high, they should not have to be concerned with making this choice as they should be promoted elsewhere before a trial takes place.
Being an academy coach where the sole focus is development of individuals and there are no competition games, and also being a representative coach with team-focused goals, I know the differences in approach. At the academy my preparations are different, my coaching points and perspective are different. When you have a team that plays in a competition, the mindset is focused on the team shape, tactics and game objectives. This is unfortunately the same for teams in junior competition, despite the emphasis on the core skills of a player. It is not wrong to want to coach your team effectively as this is important for their decision making, game intelligence and understanding. I feel that it is complicated for coaches of teams and it is unfortunately something that affects their decision making when selecting players. It is common for them to choose speedy wingers, fullbacks and even strikers, big strong defenders and midfielders or players that will give the team a physical advantage. Who wants a technical player that is either small or skinny and gets pushed off the ball easily, or even someone that isn’t athletic or quick despite their ability on the ball or their vision and composure? This is unfortunately still a reality in this country.