Thursday, 19 July 2012

Can Football Learn From Soccer? By Dave Homer, Little Kickers Franchisee and Coach - @CoachDave

Can Football Learn From Soccer?  By Dave Homer, Little Kickers Franchisee and Coach - @CoachDave

This blog entry is very much a personal outlook based on my opinions and personal experiences rather than facts, figures and quotes. If it's the latter you're after then it may be best to click off now.

Seeing as almost a third of this blogs audience consists of our friends from across the pond I thought Independence Day would be a good time to share a few thoughts on the United States and how we may be able to learn from each other to improve football, or soccer if you prefer, at all levels.

Certainly an unusual proposition on the face it. Comparing England who, whilst the passion is certainly there, are the resident under achievers of world football, to America which has several sports above soccer in the pecking order. I should declare, perhaps surprisingly, that I've a personal bias towards America. I've been there many times as a child and adult and it's always my number one vacation destination of choice, time and money permitting of course. There are many reasons why, but the over riding factor is I see it as England but 'with bells on'. Better climate, more to do, more to see. Everything is bigger and often better. And of course America shares our language. So for the culturally lazy like me, that's a big help. But my love of America goes deeper than this. It's not just a case of bigger is better. It isn't always. I love the openness of Americans as much as I dislike the stiff upper lip mentality of my homeland.

In America people say it how it is. They're in touch with themselves emotionally, self analytical and, dare I say, friendlier. I've lost count of the amount of times I've heard English people refer to Americans as “over the top”, “brash” or “loud”. Perhaps they are. But is this really a bad thing? I'd prefer a stranger to greet me with a big high five than an English toothless smile any day. The first time I went there I was taken aback by how friendly everyone was compared to at home. Yes, as I've got older I've realised a smiling waitress may just be after a bigger tip. But so what?

Same with the old confidence/arrogance debate. English tradition dictates that we must go about our business quietly and n a dignified manner. But what does this psyche actually achieve? Sporting-wise, I'd argue, very little. The most successful English sportsmen and women have been, for want of a better word 'show offs'.
As I child of 13 I remember kicking a ball around with my Dad in Central Park, New York. Nothing serious, just a Father and Son having a kick about. I was quite into keepie-uppies at the time, and could probably do around fifty or so. Anyone who knows me will testify I was only ever a very average footballer, so imagine my bewilderment when I suddenly noticed  a small crowd had gathered, watching in awe as I practised keeping the ball in the air. Hollering and whooping as only American do. Yes, they were watching me! A kid who couldn't even get in his school team. The confidence boost stayed with me for months. Sadly I couldn't help thinking a similar act of 'showing off' in England would have resulted, at best, in being ignored and at worst, being called names or even beaten up if you were in the wrong place!

That’s a very personal anecdote, but one which demonstrates the difference between the English and American psyche. Is it a coincidence the majority of ground-breaking research and practice in psychology originates Stateside? We're all amateur psychologists these days but It seems every book or link I open on the subject is written by Americans. I'd boldly suggest this is down to advanced emotional intelligence. A sweeping generalisation maybe, but I speak as I find.

So rather than looking down our noses and seeing them as being overbearing, maybe we could actually learn a lot from them. I'm not suggesting America is without it's own problems, but how would they have dealt with a George Best, Alex Higgins, Gazza or Frank Bruno? Issues of the mind are not seen as being weak or the poor relation of physical mental health in America.

50% of the FA's own superb four corners model consists of social and psychological development. In reality, how much are these factors concentrated on in comparison to technique and physical aspects?  I coach 2 - 8 year olds and I can, hand on heart, say every corner is 25% each. Those coaching older ages up to the pro game, can you honestly claim the same?

I'm far from an expert on US sports and am happy to be corrected and educated here. But from what I know of it, I believe their Grid Iron draft system is something we can learn from. I doubt it's flawless. Nothing is. But the idea in principal of weaker teams having first pick on up and coming talent is one I like. Yes, it doesn't translate to the English game as we have no College game system as they do. But what if we did?  What if we had twenty regional FA run Saint Georges Parks and our clubs didn't have any academies?  In fact what if pro clubs couldn't sign players until they were 18? If we had a standard, universal way of educating the most promising talent?  Not just footballing education, but all round education. Similar to the US scholarship model  perhaps? We'd end up with more home grown talent, and fairer, less money-driven leagues at all levels. As far as I know, a different side wins the Super Bowl pretty much each year. Same with the NBA. Imagine an England where a Nottingham Forest, Leeds United, Aston Villa or Derby County could be the best team in the land again? A league where everyone had hope, and not expectation based on wealth alone.

America is, of course, not perfect either. The whole 'Franchising of clubs' idea sits very uncomfortably. We've flirted with it in England with the MK Dons/Wimbledon situation, but as a whole it just wouldn't be tolerated. I hope not anyway. Uprooting institutions, changing their names and moving them round the country. Erm, no thanks.

One major advantage English sport has over American is our tradition and nostalgia, which takes time to develop. This is something which could be learned from us. It is, however, difficult for America logistically. The sheer size of the country all but eliminates the possibility of the type of away support culture which is so fervent in England. And, in turn, this lends it's self to television and, more menacingly, television money. The money is there to stay. But so should be the clubs and their names. Only time will build the kind of allegiances and “way-of-life” bonds the English share with their beloved teams.

There's always a lot of talk about Europe and our country being part of Europe politically - now more than ever. In my mind, we may be twenty odd miles away physically, but mentally we're on a different planet. Socially, constitutionally, culturally, the list goes on and on, we are much closer to America, even if it is several thousand miles away. Maybe rather than chasing after Spanish ideology or whoever's the latest European flavour of the month, we should look to America a little more. Technical and physical attributes can only take us so far. Without social and psychological development they're almost worthless. We shouldn't lose sight of this.

By taking the best and discarding the worst, together Great Britain and America could make one hell of a country. But history dictates otherwise, and what will be will be.

Thanks for reading. I know this one’s gone on a bit, so thanks for sticking with me. My knowledge is far from bullet proof here. I'm more than happy to be corrected. If you see fit please leave a comment or you can tweet or follow me on @CoachDave_

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