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Coaching Australia’s Young Footballers: Pastime or Hobby?

Posted by Adam Davidson | 19th July 2018

Widespread perception of youth coaching seems to lie somewhere between glorified hobby and viable career option.

On one hand, labeling it a ‘pastime’ seems almost natural because it is, perhaps, the most familiar capacity in which we see football coaches operate. Typically, they’re volunteers at local grassroots clubs; parents who’ve stepped up, or junior coaches who are keen to gain experience. On the other hand, labeling it as a full-time occupation is weakened somewhat by the scarcity of full-time youth coaching roles and the obtainability of volunteer coaching roles which saturate the market.


In an ideal world, coaching sport at the youth level could be, and would be conducted entirely by full-time, qualified and experienced coaches. Still, I am very aware that we do not live in such a place. Nor do I expect that recreational soccer clubs and programs function as successfully as they do without the volunteers they employ. My underlying point here is not so much these things need to change drastically, but more so that we need to take an introspective look at the potential flaws of this arrangement and take necessary steps to guard against the dangers of:

1.) not taking our role as coaches/educators seriously enough

2.) working against one another to achieve a common goal

By saturating the market with volunteer coach positions, we’ve unintentionally negated the integrity of what it means to be a youth level professional coach. Still, what’s infinitely more harmful is the casual attitude with which we award these positions to, oftentimes, unqualified and inexperienced individuals. When it comes to selecting the right candidate for a coaching role, qualifications tend to be regarded not highly enough, and relevant experience has a habit of falling by the wayside. Frankly, if you have the time, and a rudimentary understanding of football, in most cases, you’re as good as hired with most clubs.

Spare a thought for the people who are awarded volunteer coach positions; parents who work full-time in another job, or junior coaches who study part-time or are likely at the beginning of their coaching careers. In both cases, I don’t think it’s unfair to assume these volunteers are, perhaps at the very least, slightly

a.) unprepared / illequipped to plan, conduct and lead entire sessions in accordance with FFA coaching standards

b.) lacking in spare-time as it is, and subsequently

c.) liable to seeking the easiest and most efficient means of cobbling together, what they believe to be, an appropriate session plan.

 

Now as much as volunteer coaching roles somewhat deny the legitimacy of calling yourself a professional youth coach, I can accept that they’re a necessary and important part of youth football’s structure & culture – after all, the number of volunteer positions far exceeds the number of professional coaches who could fill them. The more serious issue, however, lies in how the people in these positions are supports, and how little guidance they are given in return for their altruism. 

In the grand scheme of things, you might not think of this as being a serious issue, but when you consider that this occurs on an Australia-wide scale across a multitude of youth soccer clubs, the issue begins to carry a little more weight. When the FFA have worked tirelessly to develop a curriculum that’s meticulous, logical and innovative; it strikes me as counter-intuitive to their mission statement, philosophy and playing style to have football being taught by volunteers with little experience; and virtually no understanding of how to achieve any of the things they are hired to achieve. It seems to me that we’re stuck doing the same old thing, because that’s the way we’ve always done it, not because it works. Surely there’s a way that we can connect volunteers and professionals in a way that serves to elevate the youth coaching standards here in Australia?

It strikes me that there’s a tremendous opportunity to use qualified and experienced coaches in a slightly different capacity to cope with the abundance of young people who want to play football. And I’m not talking about demanding that all volunteers sign-up and complete their FFA C-licence. At the end of the day, if it’s something you’re doing part-time to be more involved in your son / daughter’s sporting career, then you’re probably not keen on handing over $1200+, and a lot of your time, to get a coaching badge that you might use from time to time. Instead, why not use already supremely qualified coaches to educate volunteers and provide them with the tools to feel confident and competent in their ability to lead a team through a season-long campaign?

Theoretically, KIKOFF, could provide this service to any club (recreational or competitive) who can accept that coaching standards must rise and realize that simple steps can be taken to achieve this. We employ 6 full-time members of staff – who collectively share over 60 years of football coaching experience, are certified and accomplished FFA A, B and C license coaches, and who also hold Bachelors and/or Masters degrees in Education, Sports Science, Psychology and Sports Management.

The alternative is that we press on with this flawed idea that the quality of coaching at grassroots level matters very little, in comparison to SAP or representative football. Only once players show proficiency do we seem to care, and even then, we seem reluctant to pay for the type of coach who could inspire talented players to realize their full potential. There’s an old maxim that says – ‘it is better to build up a boy, than to repair a man’ – I believe that’s true, we need to make a conscious effort to raise the standard from the feet up in coaching if we ever hope to grow the talent pool and achieve the playing style & standard we intend to through our nation’s philosophy, vision and curriculum. It’s only going to be effective if it’s properly applied – and at the moment, I think it could be applied better.

 

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