The purpose of a national football academy is to develop the best young players in the country both mentally and physically while allowing the youngsters to hone their skills in an educational environment that allows for growth and success. A national football academy is also supposed to set the benchmark for all the other developmental sides in the country to follow; from player developmental focus to specialised coaching methods and tactical approach as well as setting the benchmark for producing well rounded student athletes.
The SAFA/Transnet School of Excellence has come up short in many regards as far as the South African football community is concerned, the lack of a thoroughly outlined and researched plan for developing players has made it even harder for the institution to build on its once thriving reputation; this lack of growth has made it even harder for other developmental sides in the fraternity to sustainably focus on developing the players for the betterment of Mzansi Diski. The apparent mismanagement and lack of follow-through in the running of the school has led to a major problem within Mzansi diski due to the poor standards set, by what should be the premier football development institution; any development strategy without an elite performance plan and follow-through in this day and age is like passing water in the wind, the premier football academy in the land should always set the benchmark or seek to surpass it if we are to develop the best possible talent for our fraternity. The failure to set a benchmark for football development countrywide is a sore thumb for the establishment; as far as development is concerned, the school has failed to establish a culture of growth and learning and that has filtered down to many other development teams in our country, young footballers are not taught how to develop to become elite level performers and that lack of mental coaching has manifested itself into a mental blockage that attacked our national team in pivotal times.
The root of all this seems to lie within the reality that our nation has still failed to establish its own football identity; while the football culture is growing at a good rate the football identity of the nation seems non-existent, a purposeful return to playing with two forwards up top and possibly switching to a diamond midfield across all age groups and even at club level could see us returning closer to that interplay and direct running in the channels type of Diski we lost so many years ago. This current lack of identity within our Diski fraternity makes it harder to develop young players as development coaches have no blueprint for the players role in the future; many young South Africans grow up being developed to play the 4-4-2 formation only to be asked to play a 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 at first team level and it’s not rare for us to later find out that many unable to make use of the extra player in midfield, much to the detriment of the whole team. We need to decide on a way of playing that allows our natural strengths to come to the fore while minimising our weaknesses to the point of maximising talent and justifying the abundance of resources invested with handsome returns on investment and an improved overall football structure with a globally competitive playing level; this would permit the seamless transition from developmental sides to professional football, allowing players the room they need to grow into their roles and keep up to date regarding the best training methods and tactical approach towards playing in a specific position at the elite level.
A 4-2-3-1 base formation would allow our youth teams to develop our talented youngsters in a formation where our ball-players can play in tandem and accommodate the plethora of central attacking players and allow us to make up for the apparent lack of natural finishers in the striking department; while it would only serve as a base formation, such a formation would allow gaffers the platform to return to developing those Second Striker type of forwards that have brought us a much needed extra goal threat in the past. This structure will also allow us to accommodate our wing players who have the ability to take on players and beat them yet lack the quality in the final delivery to be a constant threat; inverted wingers or inside forwards will give us the extra goal threat we need while also providing the shape we require to defend as a team by pressing the opposition from inside their own half and forcing them to attack in the channels that we want them to play in to optimise our ball-winning capabilities. Failing to constantly develop the calibre of young players needed to keep the national squads competitive is another shortcoming of the national football academy; with four coaches for 121 players, specialised coaching cannot be applied in the development of these young players and this lack of specialised training is clearly evident in many graduates who have shown good levels of ability yet the lack of the 10 000 hours required to master the skill is constantly evident.
Our young players come with the natural skills to play exciting attacking football, yet they still need the fundamental coaching on tactical play; when to dribble, where to run or how to position oneself for the best shooting opportunity and maximising attacking chances. These skills can only be taught by specialised coaches that understand the tasks these young players will be faced with when they face professional opposition. The education of these young players is what may have been neglected the most; with reports of students failing subjects and a matric pass rate of 57.3 % in 2012 showing the roots to a deeper lying problem within our football. Along with the Department of Education, the School of Excellence needs to develop a national teaching curriculum designed to give these students the basic education they need to succeed as student-athletes during youth development. The reality is that very few young players go onto enjoy a successful professional playing career after youth development, yet their knowledge goes unused, some play on and become professionals but seem to have no plan for life after football stops paying the bills.
By providing a basic sports education to these youngsters, we arm them with skills that they could use as a fall back to a professional sports career. An education in sports finance and economics gives birth to a new breed of sports agents and marketers; an education in sports linguistics and history gives birth to a new breed of sports journalists and historians, an education in the sciences and mathematics breeds a new generation of sports physiotherapists and performance athlete rehabilitation specialists while a basic education in life skills and psychology gives birth to a new breed of sports psychologists and life coaches for young lads. By offering such courses from a Grade 10 level, we keep our young players interested in school for longer as they now see the relation between school and their chosen career path; keeping them engaged through what they learn is half the job done when it comes to bettering the standard of what they learn. This curriculum can be taught in football schools across the country and allow us to reap all the rewards of the efforts placed into football development countrywide. Improving the mental capacity of our young players will also better their football abilities as they will develop a new desire to be keen students of the game and acquire more knowledge to make them better sports people and students of their chosen crafts.
Our young players in the football schools from Tzaneen to Mayfair need to be afforded the best possible chance to succeed in their chosen professions; we need to pay attention to how they are developed and to what end, Bob’s your sister’s uncle it should all begin in Elandsfontein mate.