Developing Better People, Better Footballers

Friday, July 08, 2011

By Peter Schwab
AFL Director of Coaching

The Barcelona Football Club is indisputably the best football team in the world at present. When they demolished Manchester United in this year’s Champions League Final with a passing game that not only mesmerised their opponents, it actually kept the ball out of their possession for large chunks of the match.

Afterwards Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson acknowledged the sublime play of his opponents , but he also lamented how far the English system had fallen behind the Europeans, particularly Spain and France when it came to the amount of time that was spent on developing their youth.

Lionel Messi, arguably the best soccer player in the world at present, while being an Argentinean is a product of the Barcelona system. Messi arrived at Barcelona at the age of 13 with his family in tow. Believe it or not a significant reason he and his family had accepted Barcelona’s offer was because no club in Argentina would pay for the drugs Messi required to treat his growth deformity.

Incredible the story of messi is in an era across all sports where size and strength and the abilty to maximise those traits are so highly prized by talent scouts and coaches that someone like Messi was actually chosen in the first place.

But what Barcelona make clear is that Talent is the most prized asset a sportsman can possess. As their Senior Youth Coordinator Albert Capellas says, “Most important is that the player has talent and that they can play with the ball.”

In light of our NAB AFL Under 18 Championships recently being completed in Melbourne and the Under 16’s being staged in Sydney from July 9 -16, it is worth reflecting on the importance of identifying and developing the best young footballers in the country.

One thing though is clear when comparing young AFL players and young soccer players in Academies such as Barcelona is the huge discrepancy in the hours of practice. In Barcelona’s Academy a 14 year old will have an intensive 6 hours of training per week and play a match.

While our Academy model does not have that sort of contact with a 14 year old the method of identifying talent at an early age is still strong through our community under age championships.

The National Academy selects players from the Under 16 Championships and our State Academies are certainly heavily involved with the development of young talent through the Under 16 and Under 18 National Championships.

In addition the overriding philosophy of the Academy model is, “Developing Better People, Better Footballers.”

In Barcelona they have three objectives for any of their teams and their players:

Firstly they must try and win by playing in a sporting manner, committing fewer fouls. Then they must try and win by playing more creatively than their opponents with attacking football and finally they need to win on the scoreboard, but only with the first two objectives being fulfilled.

Personally I think that these 3 objectives are as good as an approach to playing that I have read.

May those objectives be evident throughout our National Championships, even if by playing that way it does not necessarily reflect the way in which AFL football is currently played.

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