Grassroots Football in Australia: Development versus Competition
01 June 2012
“Did you win?” is traditionally one of the first questions a grassroots player will be asked when speaking about their game with family and friends.
It is precisely this mentality, that winning comes before development, that needs to be changed and better understood.
Australian football must have a fundamental change as to how the game is played and coached, with this transformation beginning at the grassroots level.
Understandably, there must be a balance between winning and player development, however, the primary objective must be to develop more ‘world class players’.
In the words of Peter Drucker, ‘the best way to predict the future is to create the future’.
And so, the FFA has commenced this journey in scripting the future for player development with the implementation of the Optus Small Sided Football (OSSF) formats.
OSSF are football games designed especially for children, with fewer players on smaller sized fields. The formats of OSSF allow for greater interaction with the ball and involvement in the game.
OSSF meets the developmental needs of younger players whilst maintaining a strong focus on maximum participation fun and enjoyment.
A key component to OSSF is transferring the attention and focus to development rather than winning, hence the introduction of a ‘non official competition’ format for Under 6’s through to and including Under 11’s.
Unquestionably, every game of football, regardless of age, gender or level becomes competitive or results driven, however, the OSSF philosophy is centered on the priority being player development, creating a learning environment and for players to develop a passion for the game.
In 2012, 95 percent of the OSSF roll out is complete, although, despite FFA’s clear vision, the philosophy that should be adopted at this level is still very much debated amongst clubs, coaches and parents. Football fanatics at the grassroots level must understand and appreciate the approach FFA has heavily invested in.
With Australia having already begun its quest in developing future world class players, a coordinated and strategic approach by an educated and united football community working with a consistent common philosophy and vision, will ensure Australian football reaches its full potential in the future and potentially become a world leader in the world game.
Football clubs across the Australian landscape, and more importantly coaches, must be able to maintain a balanced approach in focusing their attention on developing Australia’s own modern day champions such as Messi and Ronaldo or previous greats like Pele and Cruyff. Although winning is important, it is not as important as developing match winning players.
There exists no bragging right for coaches or clubs winning an Under 10’s competition, but more so for the transition of club players progressing through the various stages of development, ultimately leading up to and playing for the Westfield Matildas or Qantas Socceroos.
So what is development? What is competition (winning)? To understand FFA’s philosophy, the football community must comprehend and be able to distinguish the difference between the two.
A developmental approach is characterized by focusing the attention on the learning process. The coach creates an environment whereby the emphasis is on skill mastery and acquisition (skill development).
The measurement of success, or also commonly referred to as ‘the outcome’, is the improvement the player makes and their ability to ‘learn’ the game and how to play. Quite simply, the player is learning.
Contrary to this, is a competitive approach that is characterized by the focus purely related to the result of the competition. The measurement for success (outcome) is the score. In other words, the goal is to win at all costs. The coaches’ philosophy and potentially their methodology relates to results and the players ability to win the game, not how well they perform or their improvement in their performance. In this environment, the coaches ‘win at all cost’ mentality could and will lead to shortcuts in the players’ development. Therefore, it could be said that the clear difference between development and competition is ‘coaching to learn’ compared with ‘coaching to win’.
In Australia, the primary objective for grassroots football must be development, teaching the players how to play and improving their individual technical and tactical cleverness.
Competing to win games or placing to greater emphasis on results must be the secondary objective. Football is a game where teams can play poorly and win, while others can play well and lose. From a development perspective, which players in the long term will benefit - those that are handed problems to solve or those who have problems solved for them?