Having sat to watch the much-acclaimed documentary ‘State of Play’ I felt it important that we look at what parents, coaches, players, sporting organisations and any adults involved in sport could potentially take away from it.
As a big fan of the work of Michael Calvin this follows on from a similar piece that we wrote following the release of his first TV documentary ‘No Hunger in Paradise.’
The documentary interviewed numerous players, ex-players, managers and ex-managers, all of whom delivered some really poignant messages that could be taken away to help support all the key stakeholders in the sporting experience.
People interviewed in the first part of the documentary included Frank Lampard, Sam Allardyce, Jadon Sancho, Emma Hayes, Sean Dyche, Marvin Sordell, Lewin Nyatanga and Drewe Broughton. A few of these are more well-known than others but each had an important story to tell.
Jadon Sancho kicked us off with some of his experiences of being a young player and his story of leaving Manchester City to move abroad to Germany and Borussia Dortmund and in the space of 18 months become one of the hottest properties in Europe as well as an England international.
He encouraged young players to have the courage to test themselves, move to new environments where required and perhaps be more proactive in seeking new challenges. There is a lot of criticism labelled at U23 football in the UK that it does not really bridge the gap between youth academy football and the professional game. It is encouraging to see that more of the top clubs are now sending players out on loan to the lower depths of the footballing pyramid, to not only gain a real-life perspective of what professional sport looks like but also throws them into different and often less comfortable environments. This can only be of benefit to any young player both in growing as a footballer but more importantly as a person.
It was also refreshing to see him still have the sheer enjoyment of being part of the process, still wanting to play and be creative every day in training. It is important as coaches particularly in grassroots sport that we allow these elements of play and creativity in our sessions and it was interesting to note that Germany are now suffering due to their focus on building winning teams and tactics particularly at younger ages.
There are some valuable messages here for both clubs and coaches in the types of environment that we create to help support younger players. Are we too results driven? Do we sometimes focus on the wrong things?
His final pieces of advice really resonated and could be so valuable to sports parents in supporting their young players. Stay focussed, keep working hard and control your own situation. Nothing needs to be added to this.
Gareth spoke about the change from children’s sport and the fun of playing with friends and having a laugh to the pressures and some of the negatives of the professional game and how he had lost that ‘childlike feeling.’
This further back up the evidence that we already have on why children play sport in the first place. We must understand that a child’s motivation for playing can be very different to that of an adult. Winning and playing in tournaments based on the work of Amanda Visek is well down the list of a child’s priorities at a young age.
If we have children involved in academy or performance environments, we must do everything that we can to try and hide these pressures from our children for as long as possible and ensure that they are still finding the whole process ‘FUN.’
Gareth also spoke about how people see the ‘player not the person,’ which I guess is very much part and parcel of being in the limelight. However, it got me thinking about the importance of all clubs and cultures working on the holistic development of young athletes and how that can be supported by clubs and parents at home.
This is something that we are working very hard with a number of National Governing Bodies on and it is pleasing to see an increase in good practice and awareness of this in a number of different sporting environments. It is so important that we develop multi-faceted athletes who if they drop from the sporting experience are able to go out into whatever field they choose and do an excellent job as solid rounded individuals.
For parents it is really important that we do not define our children on their sporting prowess and we need to play our role in this. We all love our children and want them to succeed, but they should be special to us because of their character and the positive impact they have on our lives, not whether they are top performers in a sporting environment. Sometimes, these lines can become blurred and we need to take a moment as sporting parents to reflect on this.
Drewe Broughton and Marvin Sordell have done some outstanding work in raising awareness of mental health and it is so encouraging seeing so many people begin to speak out about this important issue. Both emphasised the importance of staying true to who you as a person. They acknowledged this is not always easy but is such a critical part of healthy development.
Do we check in with our children to ensure that they have someone that they can go and talk to? Do we create environments within our sporting contexts where parents also feel safe in approaching the relevant people?
Many parents and children keep feelings bottled up as they worry about the implications of being honest or potentially rocking the boat within their environment. Many live in fear that if they even speak to someone in a position of authority in their child’s life, that it may have negative ramifications for their child involved in the process.
Do we do enough as clubs to support parents and children during these moments? Would it be wise for clubs to have someone independent who players and parents can openly communicate with?
Next up came three prominent managers in Frank Lampard, Sean Dyche and Emma Hayes. All who passed on some golden nuggets of information. Frank discussed the importance of understanding the use of social media, something that should be a key part of any young players education as well as discussing ‘controlling the controllables.’
We place a large emphasis on this during our parents workshops as so many parents can invest time and energy in things that they are ultimately not in control of.
Sean Dyche spoke about how society is changing and peoples need to have some instant gratification. Patience is a key virtue but is proving more difficult to find amongst parents and children.
We all know that sporting development is a long term journey so what impact will society change have on this process?
Both parents and children need to be aware of this and develop a love of the processes that underpin the sporting experience and ultimately this may lead to higher performance.
As coaches and organisations in youth sport will we need to have longer term goals with more instant gratification on the way as part of the process?
Emma Hayes spoke about the rise of the women’s game but the thing that really stuck out for me was recognising the difference in physiology and that the range of jumps amongst women goalkeepers was very different to that of men. This may sound obvious but it’s the thought processes behind how we set up the games that is the key message here.
The goals in the women’s game are the same size as in the mens game, leading to goalkeepers being exposed rather than perhaps being celebrated as great goalkeepers. Does this need to be the case, surely there is not a ‘one size fits all’ model?
It is great to finally see some sports recognising that the children’s game is very different to that of the adult game and making positive changes to ensure that sports are a user friendly experience for the consumer. For parents and coaches, will it necessarily look like what we see on the TV? Of course not, but it does not need to. Our games, coaching sessions and everything around the youth sporting experience need to be engaging for young players or unfortunately the declining numbers across a number of sports will continue. Changing pitch sizes, changing the rules, reducing numbers in a team, changing scoring systems are just some of the positive steps been taken by NGB’s all around the world, but there are still many yet to follow suit both on match day and in the format of coaching sessions and in the coach education piece.
The final part of the documentary looked at the impact of society on football and vice versa. How we are still faced with issues of racism and homophobia. There is no doubting that we have made some progress but there is still a long way to go.
It was refreshing to hear from Ryan Atkins, Thomas Hitzlsperger, Les Ferdinand, Chris Ramsey, Troy Townsend and Danny Rose speak so openly about their stories and highlighting some of the issues that are still faced.
Sport and football can play such a key part in influencing society change but it requires brave leadership and people’s behaviours consistently reflecting what they may say. It is far easier to say the right things but modelling that behaviour on a regular basis is far more difficult.
Parents we have a key role to play here in building society from the bottom up. Our children take the lead from us, they are watching us, and we are their biggest role models. Everything that we say or do will be mimicked by them in some form or another.
How is it possible that we can have children as young as the age of 7 being racially abused on a football field? Take a moment as a parent to think how you would feel if it was your child in the same position?
I plead with you as parents to play a positive role in this in helping to tackle some of the issues and lets try to make society and sport as healthy and positive as it can be.
We hope that you will all get a chance to enjoy the documentary and would love to hear your thoughts. It is currently being aired on BT Sport and if you want to find out more information about the book and buy a copy then please click here.