This is arguably one of the greatest eras British sport has ever experienced.
England’s cricketers’ regained the ashes last week, Chris Froome encapsulated Britain’s dominance in the cycling, following Bradley Wiggins’ success last year in yet another Tour de France win in July.
Then there’s Andy Murray – one of the World’s most resilient sportsman – who rewrote modern British tennis, after becoming the first British man to win the Wimbledon men’s singles title in 77 years.
All of this has occurred within the past few months. It’s also worth remembering how the success of last year’s Olympics encapsulated an entire nation. And whilst these figures suggest adult participation fluctuates across a number of sporting activities, for once in my own lifetime, it seems as though our nation is embracing others sports besides football.
It’s clear football remains our number one sport, but unfortunately the millions who enjoy football on a weekly basis in Britain – despite the astronomical wealth and investment – have yet to enjoy anywhere near the same success as those mentioned above. I believe football is a million miles off for a number of reasons.
Taming the urge for victory
Firstly, I believe we should remove the urge for victory and results when coaching youngsters and instead help them nurture a love for the ball. Not only will it encourage them to become comfortable with the ball at their feet, improving skills and awareness – you only have to look at England’s performances in last year’s 2012 Euro’s to notice how far behind we were the other nations in terms of skill – but also, this mindset will likely appeal to wider audience.
I’m not condoning the complete extinction of competitiveness at an early age either, because it obviously worked for the fiercely competitive Murray, but I can speak from my own experiences when referring to the nurturing of the ball.
Whilst I’m a feisty competitor – a trait sewed into me throughout my upbringing – I was ultimately responsible for the development of my own skillset. I’d spend hour after hour, day after day, kicking a ball against one particular lamppost on the estate in Huyton until I could hit almost every time. It might not sound glamorous, but I was and still am, a firm believer that sportsmen and women aren’t born with the perfect skillset required for their sport. It has to be earned, and for a player like myself whose not known for my flicks and tricks, I knew if I worked hard enough with challenges like hitting a lamppost and dribbling a ball around with me all day, then eventually it’d become more and more natural as time progressed.
My argument is supported by Matthew Syed, who in his book Bounce delves into the understanding that hard work ultimately grants success. In addition to this, Malcolm Gladwell claimed in his book Outliners, the idea that 10,000 hours of appropriately guided practice was the “magic number of greatness”. And with even practice anyone could achieve a level of proficiency that would rival a professional. To put that into perspective…if you were to dedicate just under seven hours a day for four years, with no days off, you’d achieve 10,000 hours of practice. Fascinating.
All of the above obviously depends on the individual, but forcing kids to succeed and win at a young age shouldn’t be the primary objective, it should be about learning to improve. If youngsters really want to succeed, it’ll come naturally.
I also believe football can learn from other sports Britain’s experienced success in. Unlike rugby, tennis and athletics, football coaches are never celebrated, it’s always the players or the managers. When was the last time the guys on the training field were honoured for their hard work? Rarely. The principals that they implement are fundamental to the success of a club and of course there are other aspects that affect this, but it’s as if the coaches aren’t recognised for their input. Obviously, at a lower level this is difficult to monitor, but even at a professional level, the coaches that endure the hard slog aren’t often rewarded, and that’s a shame.
I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of England’s finest coaches and I’ve rightfully taken on board much of their advice. Celebrating this, as you see with athletics and rugby, would help not only reward their own efforts – but on a personal level – it’d help players secure the principals the coach executes behind the scenes. I believe this is where football is lacking, too much emphasis and praise is placed on the manager and players, throw the coaches into the mix and you begin to instill their own successful traits.
Whatever sport you play, whatever level, I want to hear your own coaching experiences of what has and what hasn’t worked for you. Are you a coach that has a specific teaching method? Or have you been on the receiving end of a particular successful system?