Last week I witnessed two games from the same league at different age groups. It again reinforces the point that environment drives behaviour.
Firstly, I took our 2004 squad for a couple of 7-a-side games. They are going to 11’s next season and I was keen to see how they were getting on. I was pleasantly surprised in the way they played. Having been away from sevens for a few years it was great to see how things have developed. The team tried to play the right way with good passing and movement. There were 11 players on the day but that wasn’t a problem as we continually cycled the players round in order that they all got a good proportion of the game. At the end they all came off sweating and smiling having enjoyed the game. It is no coincidence that the conditions for success have been set up by FVFDA. The game took place on a good 3G surface. A ref was in place (to be honest, was never really required). Parents were kept well away from the pitch in the stand. Coaches were at the side but only encouraged the players and made the substitutions. Scores are not recorded and leagues are not kept. All in all a very pleasurable experience for both players and coaches.
I would like to contrast this with a game 4 days later between one of our sides at u15’s in a clash with a local rival. The game was highly competitive with both teams going for it. All in all a 3-3 draw was just about right and the game could have gone either way. Now let’s look at the environment at this game. Firstly, the match was played on grass and on a very bumpy pitch where players were tested, to say the least, on their first touch. Good passing football was forsaken for long balls where it is safer to play in the other teams half in case mistakes are made. Secondly, and probably the biggest impact on the game was the parents. Both sets of parents were lined up along one side and all standing right on the touchline. Some of the language that was coming from the parents was shocking with encouraging shouts to kick players was plain out of order. The ref did well under very trying circumstances with parents constantly questioning his decisions and trying to put him under pressure. As the game went on, you could see that what was going on at the side starting to transfer onto the park. Tackles were getting heavier and players were getting mouthier. I am pretty sure a few were booked for abusive language. All in all, a very unsavory environment.
So, we have two teams which are only three years apart yet the differences are so dramatic. Is it because the latter is a competitive fixture where points are at stake? Is it because the pitch is poor and doesn’t encourage good passing football? Is it just because the boys are getting older and more physical? Is it because the parents are so close to the pitch? Is it because they are told to play this way?
I think it is all of the above (although hopefully not the last one) but we are creating this environment. We are really letting ‘Fightball’ win over ‘Football’ If we are to save our game then we really need to change the environment. I like competitive games, there is nothing wrong with that but it needs to be done by playing football, if we are to have any chance as a nation to close the gap. Our culture is steeped in Fightball but it is doing us no favours. I recently listened to a podcast featuring Joe Jordan (a boyhood hero). Joe was a warrior but with a fair amount of skill where he says he was ‘brought up with working class values that never leave you.’ We should acknowledge our past but it should not define us. Keep these strong values but don’t rely on them solely. Lets’s try and change the environment to give our youngsters a chance to develop their skills on a decent surface, with good coaching and supportive parents.
Lets’s support Football over Fightball every time.