I attended the 40-year celebration of a Johannesburg club last night. They unravelled their master plan on how they were going to take their already well-respected club to another level and provide a succession plan for young athletes to move through the ranks to the highest level the club can offer.
The plan started by re-assessing the way young footballers train. Most coaches are volunteer parents who tend do a bit of passing and trapping and then move into an 11 versus 11 game.
Clubs have grown immensely; by up to 25% since the World Cup, especially in the younger divisions, and coaches are faced with playing everyone at the same time because you know that if you leave a seven-year-old on the sidelines for too long, he will end up wandering off, so coaches look for the safer options and keep everyone in sight.
The age-old problem with this type of set-up is that little Jabu is only going to maybe touch the ball five or six times in the entire practice match. Considering that he only has around 27 weeks of training, equating to 54 hours of practice a year, is this format going to turn him into a star one day?
That is precisely why Eric Tinkler is lending a hand in his spare time and putting his wealth of knowledge into a format that I think is world-class.
Children get to touch the ball more often, learn how to defend, be put in different scenarios and have to problem-solve. They will no longer just come down to a club and kick a ball, they will learn to know why they are doing things.
Coaches and agents both locally and abroad all seem to say the same thing, athletes have all the ability in the world, but lack speed of thought.
Speed of thought comes from learning what the problems are, analysing them, and like a mathematical equation, understanding the basics. The solution then arrives much faster.
Another interesting comment Tinkler made was that he believes kids should not be running up hills or even doing fitness during club football practice.
I respect Tinkler’s football mind and the system he is implementing, but I just sigh sometimes, sit back and think, “here we go again”. Sports science is taboo for many coaches because people fear what they do not know.
Everything a sports scientist does has a purpose for the athlete. We understand what the weaknesses are of the athletes and then we orchestrate drills, techniques and methodologies to improve the athletes in the shortest and safest possible way. There is a reason why athletes have to run up hills.
Scientists simplify what is complex and provide appropriate drills for a particular purpose. The purpose being that we are teaching a young athlete the correct techniques.
To some coaches, even the most experienced, a hill run might seem futile, and a useless drill to use on young athletes.
By teaching the athlete correct speed mechanics from a young age, we find ways of getting the desired outcome, bit by bit, without having to explain the complexities of speed mechanics to a young athlete.
The lesson is that ego and ignorance have no place in developing young athletes. Have an open mind no matter how educated, experienced or capped you are.