As we continue to strive towards improving our football, we should never neglect coaching which, to me, is one of the most important aspects of the game. At amateur level, there are very passionate former players or just people who love football and, by default, become coaches without any formal coaching education.
These coaches take care of prospective players from a very young age, nurturing them with the hope that one day they will attract interest from professional teams. Some are lucky enough to get that breakthrough, while others not so much. This is very much so in disadvantaged communities, where someone will go out there and try to make a difference in their community, getting young talents off the streets. Unfortunately, not through a fault of their own, they are not giving them the right training and therefore not adequately preparing them for the future like it is the case at the affluent football academies. This is simply because the coaches themselves know no better, as they’d never been exposed to what it takes to properly develop young talent. They are doing things as they go along, doing the best they can with the little that they have. You therefore can’t point a finger at them because they are doing all that they can.
The problem then is when these players eventually get an opportunity to go to trials at professional level. They then get found out that they’d missed the fundamental training, the basics of the game, which they should have been taught at a young age. They are then disadvantaged because they are competing against players who have been exposed to proper development at academies. Talented as they are, these players are likely to miss out on an opportunity to be spotted because, at professional level, there’s not much time where a coach can teach a player how to trap the ball, how to make a pass, how to use the inside or outside of your foot, how to run, how to play between the lines, how to play a cross and so many other basic principles of the game that most of our players miss out on thanks to poor development and amateur coaching. Once again, it is no fault of the coaches because they are doing their best with limited resources. Some of them never even played football, they just love the game and are trying their best.
Imagine if we invested in coaching from grassroots level. Imagine South Africa with qualified coaches across the country. Imagine having all our coaches from rural, semi-rural, urban or whatever location they are in, provided with coaching courses. It can be done, especially with active Local Football Associations in almost every location. It doesn’t have to be a high-level qualification, even an entry level basic coaching course where they can be taught how to structure your team, how to do warm-up, how to prepare your team for a game, how to read or analyse the game, how do you impact the game, how to train players and so on. That would go a long way in improving our football. There are teams that train and play the same way for every match, regardless of the results, and hoping to win something. There is no opposition analysis, coaches don’t even know what they are looking for when they are watching their next opponents play and this is no fault of their own.
I was very happy to hear CAF President, Dr Patrice Motsepe, saying one of the best investments in the future and success of African football is to invest in school’s football and the building of youth football academies for boys and girls, during the launch of a pilot interschool competition project in Africa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. That will go a long way in reviving and enhancing African football, but it will take more than just playing school football to get things right. The training given to the players is of utmost importance. Even school football should be coached by qualified coaches, not just a passionate school teacher who happens to be a football fanatic. We also have former professional footballers who can come in handy when it comes to school football, provided they also get the proper coaching education. We really need to invest in coaching so that the passion most of our amateur and development coaches have can be enhanced. They can’t be left to coach through passion only, otherwise we will never get the basics right. There’s a lot of damage done to our young and prospective footballers because of lack of coaching knowledge and, once again, this is not the fault of those who are coaching. All they need is the support so that they can be empowered. I hope we will get to a stage, one day, where even at school level, we will have qualified coaches so that they can develop players properly. If it is not done right, development, or lack thereof, has a way of catching up with our players at a later stage.
For us to make a difference, we have to get the basics right. Let us invest in coaching and stop looking at it as something of insignificance. Coaching is very important because, as much as there’s no football without players, there’s equally no football without coaches. South Africa is blessed with thousands of unqualified but passionate coaches out there who continue to do their best, some even out of their own pockets, to nurture young talent. All they need is a nudge in the right direction so that they impact their players positively. I know of some of them who are collecting a lot of data, downloading videos, recording pre- and post-match coaches’ interviews and studying the game out of their own initiative. Can you imagine the difference it would make if all LFA’s coaches had coaching seminars where they’re taken through their paces on a regular basis? Surely that’s not too much to ask and it is something that these coaches would jump at.