It is without doubt that grassroots coaching is slowly and surely challenging the status quo of “the elite”. Every weekend mums and dads go out in force to devote their time to the development of young footballers across the country. It is this commitment that is most admirable about the grassroots coach. It is the prerogative of most of these coaches to provide a fun environment for their kids, focussing upon growth and development.
The disparity between development football and performance football is lessening all the time. As we go through this transition from old-school coach-centred coaching to the more autonomy-supportive child-centred coaching, I feel it is important to not only analyse the mistakes of the past, but to also focus our attention upon what was good about the previous old-school approach.
Looking back on the success of the class of 92’, it is vital to the future success of English football that we understand what was good about the approach. Having researched Alex Ferguson I come to the conclusion that the players regarded him as a father figure. He was a firm manager, and despised the arrogance of the modern game. It was his brutality and resilience that gave him a bad reputation in the over-reactive press. Underneath the thick Scottish attitude was a humble, intelligent and honest man who gained the respect of his players through offering his support. It was not unusual for Ferguson to invite new signings to his house to welcome them to the country and the club. He was simply a man of strong principles.
In modern football characters such as Sir Alex Ferguson barely exist mainly because the players are given more power. Football has become a money-making machine and the players are at the forefront of the wealth that football clubs exude. This power is mainly used in an irresponsible way, with players overly relying on the input of support staff to ensure their performance is up to scratch. The modern day footballer is effectively like a child waiting to be fed. This can be seen across the board in elite football with kids given their every need without having to lift a finger. We have moved from a brutal culture to an over-protective culture, and the next transition needs to encapsulate the two.
There are many positives that have been brought about by the influx of wealth to football. The rise of science means players are more physically prepared making gameplay much more intense and exciting for fans. This wealth has also increased diversity in the sense that the Premier League offers more cultural variety compared to any other country in the world. On a more macro level, this means that children watching on the TV become more used to seeing players with different origins and different stories. This has increased the awareness of social inequalities such as racism, homophobia and stigma of mental health sufferers.
On the flip side many believe that money has ruined the game. The game has become more about making money and less about the people that are involved whether coaches, players, support staff and even fans. There is an arrogance about elite football that forgets about the people who have provided the foundations. This is a reflection of the lack of introspection and self-awareness that exists in the UK, but also the majority of countries in the world. There is a paradox that holds the football world in place, the selflessness of good-honest people that nurture players, and the selfishness of elite football that takes all the credit for the success.
It is conformity that stunts progress in any cultural shift. Non-conformity comes about when individuals feel empowered to make their own decisions. Unlike the cultures of the Mediterranean and South America, the UK has always been constricted by a lack of freedom. This is a cause of the long-standing class divisions that have always existed. This class divisions creates a hierarchy in which individuals must fit. The class division prevents people from expressing themselves freely in fear of being cast-out and isolated. It is our prerogative to feel liked and valued, and hence breaking out of this hierarchy can often feel like swimming upstream and being alone in the wilderness.
The famous philosopher Christopher Columbus once said “you can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore”. In essence for football to change its cultural identity, the selfless grassroots must conjure the courage to challenge the arrogance of elite football. This process can only take place when individuals take personal responsibility for their confidence, or lack of, to understand that their lack of courage keeps the wrong people in power and has a negative impact upon not only those within the football community, but on a broader level in the UK and beyond.
The recent rise of Leicester City was a monumental success in the course of history, and was a signal of what can be achieved when good character is combined with modern science. This was only made possible with the appointment of Claudio Ranieri, a humble yet knowledgeable man. He was lucky to enter into an environment that was already singing off his hymn-sheet, focussing on the development of people and not the development of the number in the bank account. Leicester City have a culture within the club which is significantly different from other clubs, their open-mindedness bears integrity. They embrace psychology, philosophy and physiology. They accept that that through synergy exciting new opportunities exist.
The thing that is most admirable about Leicester City’s achievement was the style of play that Ranieri instilled, it was stereotypically English. Whilst it may be the temptation of the pessimistic English to write off Leicester’s success as a one-off, those that have done their research understand exactly why it worked. It should be the prerogative of coaches in the UK, to base their coaching upon the success of Leicester, utilising an inside-out and a whole-part-whole approach.
We must first develop a culture of respect, open-mindedness, and ambition. Then have the knowledge and understanding to recognise the strengths and weaknesses of each player and how to improve them. Lastly we must be able have the tactical knowledge to understand how everything works together, ensuring that players have both freedom and structure. This process starts within grassroots as we are not slaves to the money-making process of elite football. Coaching my own grassroots under 14’s team, I am hugely excited for the upcoming season given it will be our first at 11-a-side. Whilst I feel I have a good understanding of the game it is my ambition to mix it with the best, and so seeking to learn more about the game as well as my own strengths and weaknesses will be vitally important to our success. It is this commitment to our own self-development which will have the biggest impact upon this much needed cultural shift.
Written by Joe Dean Bryson