THE PEOPLE’S PERCEIVED MIND
An examination of the history of football/soccer will reveal that success was not solely dependent on economic stability, intellectual superiority and development academies, but also on hard work, passion, discipline and dedication to the game. Let’s consider the case of Brazil, a country that did not play a European team until they played Mother-well of Scotland on the 24th of June 1928. Brazil smashed Mother-well 5-0, but it was no real test to define who they really were as a football nation.
The Brazilian national team struggled on the world stage, failing to get past the second round in the 1930 World Cup in Uruguay. Their performance in Italy four years later, saw them performing even worse, exiting in the first round with a loss to Spain. Brazil managed to reach the semi-final of the world cup in France in 1938.
In 1950, Brazil failed to defeat Uruguay and become world cup champions, despite having an advantage. Unlike other World Cups, the 1950 winner was determined by a final group stage, with the final four teams playing in round-robin format, instead of a knockout stage. Brazil had one point ahead of Uruguay going into the match. Uruguay needed to win but all Brazil needed was to at least hold Uruguay to a draw. They didn’t.
This near victory forced the re-thinking of strategies and approaches. Vicente Foal had a hard decision to make. He established high standards for discipline and stringent requirements on players to delivered. This was the beginning of the end of bad habits, a change in priorities and a new way of thinking about and playing football that has since earned them multiple football/soccer world cup trophies.
The present state of the game worldwide has engendered certain notions about what success looks like, dresses like, what colleges it attends and personal connections it possesses. This, unfortunately, has led to a hierarchical framework based on those attributes, as opposed to one influenced by the levels at which one’s talent and skill develops. While we have a responsibility to set high standards for our appearance, pursue higher learning and connect with like-minded people, there are other intangibles like vision, talent, passion, purpose and dedication that are essential to fashioning a successful performance environment. They are many who are blessed with the ability to attempt the phenomenal but are held back because they are not qualified based on current standards and precepts of who or what the successful coach/player should be. In other words, if they rank or are perceived to be low on the hierarchy based on the criteria of a college education, connections and/or appearance, those intangible qualities to which we earlier referred are ignored or considered inconsequential.
We have a system that caters more to perception than to reality. In most clubs there are three to four teams for every age group. The teams are ranked based on skill development. The perception is that the coach of the highest ranked team is the best coach. This is not necessarily so. Many also believe that the player playing at a developmental academy is on the pathway to the elite level and the player playing at the community club has limited or no chance of reaching the elite level. For e.g., a player’s pathway to college coupled with the program he/she plays in or what team he/she plays on is the ultimate criterion for ascension to the elite level.
They are 440,322 participants playing soccer at US high schools. Of this, 24,803 make it to the NCAA level. The NCAA is further subdivided into Divisions 1, 2 and 3. The percentage from high school to NCAA is 5.6. One point three percent of high school players make it to Division 1, 1.5% to Division 2 and 2.8 to Division 3. This leads me to conclude that despite all the resources readily available and the many development academies around, players are struggling because they lack a well-structured soccer training program at high school. This in turn affects what happens at the NCAA level, influences the professional game and ultimately the national team. This became glaringly obvious based on the latest debacle of USMNT not making the 2018 world cup finals in Russia.
The misconception has set unrealistic expectations and disillusion in the mind of both players and parents. They don’t understand the criteria and pathways that lead to long term development. Sadly, most soccer programs have lost the will to see players fulfill ambition and childhood dreams. Instead, they use their influence to pander to big business while creating less elite players, actions that will not sustain the game in long term.
Now more than ever we need to put the game in the right hands. We need coaches who are totally dedicated to not just the development of soccer but also the holistic development of the athlete as an integral stakeholder. We need coaches who will teach the game based on the criteria of excellence at all levels in order to encourage long term stability of soccer. The time has come for the soccer heads to look deeply at all levels of soccer -from grassroots to elite - and make sure well qualified coaches are working in the correct environment based on their ability - not where they came from, what schools they attended and who they connected to, but rather use their vision, passion, knowledge of the game and ability to lead as the main criteria for the job placement. The responsibility rests with the leaders of the game to ensure that coaches and players are matched with teams/positions best suited to their talent, skills and skill sets. Failure to do so limits success in the sport. For instance, putting an elite goalkeeper to play right full-back might result in his being able to do it but not being his most effective.
Finally, Soccer is a beautiful game that brings together people from different walks of life and cultures to a common place. We can all learn from this dynamic and be ready to accept change.
To whom much is given much is expected.