Two of the biggest problems facing development and progression of sport are ego and ignorance. I attended the 40 year celebration of a Johannesburg club last night. They unravelled their master plan on how they were going to take their already well-respected club to another level and provide a succession plan for young athletes to move through the ranks to the highest level the club can offer.
The plan started by re-assessing the way young athletes train in football. The majority of coaches are volunteer parents who tend do a bit of passing and trapping and then move into an 11 vs. 11 game.
Clubs have grown immensely by up to 25 percent since the world cup. Especially in the younger divisions and coaches are faced with playing everyone at the same time because you know that if you leave a 7 year old on the side line for too long, he will end up wondering off like a lost dog so coaches look for the safer options and keep everyone right in front of their eyes.
The age old problem with this type of setup is that little Jabu is only going to maybe touch the ball 5 or 6 times in the entire practice match. Do you think he is going to learn anything from his practice? Considering that he only has approximately 27 weeks of training which equates to 54 hours a year of practice, is this format going to improve little Jabu’s football performance and turn him into a star one day?
That is precisely why Eric Tinkler is lending a hand in his spare time and putting his wealth of knowledge into a format that I think is world class. Children will get to touch the ball more often, learn how to defend, be put in certain scenarios and have to problem solve their way out of it. Children will no longer just come down to a club and kick a ball, they will learn to know why they are doing things.
Sitting on the fence for so many years listening to coaches and to agents from local and abroad and they all seem to say the same thing, athletes have all the ability in the world, but lack speed of thought. Speed of thought comes about by learning what the problems are, analysing the problem, and like a mathematical equation, understanding the basics, the solution comes about incredibly faster.
Another interesting comment he made was that he believes children should not be running up hills, practicing core or even doing fitness during club football practice. Now I can respect his football mind and his system that he is implementing but I can just sigh sometimes and sit back in my chair and think, “here we go again”.
Sports Science is taboo for most coaches because people fear what they do not know and hold onto old school mentality. What has worked for them most obviously will work for the next person.
As a Sports Scientist, everything we do has a purpose for the athlete. We understand what the weaknesses are of the athletes and then we orchestrate drills, techniques and methodologies to improve the athletes in the shortest and safest possible way.
The reason why athletes are made to run up a hill is because imagine trying to explain to a seven year old about high knee high drive force angles and to make sure the athlete’s foot is dorsiflexed in the upward faze of running and then making sure that he uses his arms approximately 90 degrees in the front and 120 to the back.
Try telling him that his body should not be perpendicular to the hill but closer to a forward force angle of 60 degrees otherwise the athlete will be going nowhere.
What do scientists do best? They simplify what is complex and provide appropriate drills for a particular purpose. The purpose being that we are teaching a young athlete the correct technique for sprinting. Naturally the athletes’ toe will come up in dorsiflexed position in a steep hill run otherwise he will stump his toe or trip. The high knee drive motion automatically comes to the highest position because if the athlete decides to take small steps he will not produce enough driving force to get up the hill.
The athlete leans into the hill because if he is upright, he will fall backwards. The athlete will naturally pump his arms as fast as possible because it allows for balance and extra motion in his driving force. Last but not least, next time you are running up a hill, try running on your heels and see how far you get. The biggest problem with the youth today is being flat footed. Put a young athlete on a hill and watch how he only uses the balls of his feet.
To some coaches, even the most experienced, a hill run might seem futile, and a useless drill to use on young athletes… However, as Sports Scientists, we see the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. By teaching the athlete correct speed mechanics from a young age. We find ways of getting the outcome which we desire, small changes at a time.
By making small changes bit by bit, we are able to get the outcome we desire without having to explain the complexities of speed mechanics to a young athlete.
The lesson here is that ego and ignorance have no place in developing young athletes. Have an open mind no matter how educated, experienced or capped you are. Tolerate and be open to change, because ultimately we as professionals are serving not our ego’s and high status but the youth, amateur and the professional.