The latest Netflix blockbuster TV series which is taking the world by storm is ‘Stranger Things’ Hopefully this is not too much of a spoiler but it is a supernatural, horror series involving a bunch of kids set in the 80’s. This struck a chord with me and the unlikely analogy with grassroots football.
Firstly, our last scent of soccer success was back in the 80’s where we regularly qualified for World Cups and Euro championships. In a pre-digital age when VCR’s, cassette’s, Chopper bikes, rubik’s cube, pacman and big hair were all the rage off the pitch. On the pitch, tight shorts, 4-4-2, the long ball, slide tackles and big hair (common theme here!) were even more popular. I was brought up in this era with my formative years spent on dodgy pitches (mostly red ash) and then graduated to grass pitches but not as we know them today (and yes I had a mullet!).
However, Stranger Things being set in the 80’s is not the main point. It is a tale of kids finding their way into an underworld, toxic land which has monsters, psychokinesis, government agencies all wrapped up within a plot of teenage angst and development. Is it starting to sound familiar yet? Yes, we have now found our own grassroots football in this alternative dimension.
Our environment has now turned noxious and harmful just like ‘Upside Down’ In Upside Down it is dark and virulent, being a mirror image of what is above ground where decay and death has poisoned the environment.
The septic elements of Upside Down are in our game and shown up as:
- Shouty coaches practicing joystick coaching
- Parents abusing players from the touchline
- Coaches feeding their own ego at the expense of their players
- Line drills, training without a ball, practices by rote
- Win at all costs mentality
These practices represent the demagorgons, demadogs and Mind Flayer of Upside Down.
But I have my own strategy to defeat these dark forces!
What about this for a true ‘Upside Down’ approach. We need to play to learn instead of playing to win. Tim Gallwey of ‘Inner Game’ fame introduced a tennis tournament where the loser advanced to the next round. Crazy, you say! but let’s think about this. By trying this different approach then the focus on winning is removed and kids can play freely and experiment with no consequence of the result.
We know kids create their own pressure by feeling the need to win (usually driven by parents/coaches). Pressure is created by the kids thought process which we know is not good for them but we continually allow them to live in this pressure chamber.
Another ‘Upside Down’ idea from me is to look at how we play. Currently we have traditional defenders and attackers where we appoint good solid, big defenders who can win tackles but little thought for playing football. At the other end we put players who have different attributes of maybe speed and agility or a ‘good finisher’ Pep has taught us to turn this thought ‘Upside Down’ I want my full back so be so advanced the wingers are marking them. My centre backs can play and be creative. My forwards can defend. All this can be done if pressure is removed.
Maybe one day we’ll get a grassroots game that is supported, funded and provides a solid base for our beautiful game underpinned by values such as respect, integrity and honesty. To achieve this, we will need to fill in the tunnels of Upside Down and close the gate to stop the forces of Upside Down ruling our world. We need our own heroes such as Hopper, Will, Mike, Lucas, Dustin, Nancy, Steve and Jonathan to fight the ‘bad men’ In particular we need an ‘Eleven’ to lead the way to the promised land. So here is my Eleven. There are many more in the squad and we need to strengthen but here’s my Grassroots ‘Eleven’ to take the fight on.
Apologies, as there are so many others but follow these guys and they will lead you to many more who can change our game. These are warriors who can lead us to the promised land. Progressive coaches who are turning it ‘Upside Down’ We need to escape the harmful, base current environment which pervades our game and get above ground where the the air is clear and the future is bright allowing ALL players to flourish and not just the lucky few.
We may well need the powers of ‘Eleven’ to get us out of the fog and see the truth which lies within it. We need to escape the monsters who are fed with ego.
I believe we can escape and we will be better for it. More inclusive, more tolerant, more expansive and most of all, more caring.
Stranger things have happened!