FILE - Lizolile Nzane kicking the ball during the sports mentorship. Harnessing the power of youth through sports mentorship with the aim to invest and develop their talents for positive life impact sees Infinite Skilz, in partnership with technology platform Skilz and sports gear brand Under Armour, bringing U13 boys and girls of Fezeka High School in Gugulethu together for a day of soccer mentorship with professional soccer greats Defender Neil Winstanley and Olympic qualifier Ryan Botha and Riaan O'Neill Skills development coach at the Hickory Road Astro Turf in Athlone. Photo: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency(ANA)
FILE - Lizolile Nzane kicking the ball during the sports mentorship. Harnessing the power of youth through sports mentorship with the aim to invest and develop their talents for positive life impact sees Infinite Skilz, in partnership with technology platform Skilz and sports gear brand Under Armour, bringing U13 boys and girls of Fezeka High School in Gugulethu together for a day of soccer mentorship with professional soccer greats Defender Neil Winstanley and Olympic qualifier Ryan Botha and Riaan O'Neill Skills development coach at the Hickory Road Astro Turf in Athlone. Photo: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency(ANA)

SA soccer needs higher minimum standards: The ‘international demands’ are non-negotiable

By Staff Reporter Time of article published Oct 26, 2021

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Cape Town - We have created our own “football world”, just as we had during the period of international isolation.

There is a “new” ideology that promotes the attitude that if a young player is seen as not the type to make it professionally, there is no need for such a player to continue to play football. This is a shame.

We are close to making this game, the Game of Billions, an elite sport where only a certain type/group of players have space. It cannot be that such a wonderful game to play and enjoy should be the privilege of a few – the (seem to be) talented ones.

At a very early stage, we are selecting players. Everybody should be invited to participate in the game. More so young players. Early selection is discrimination. It is baseless. It is thumb-sucking, if not arbitrary.

Football is for all those who want and can play it. No matter the limitations. This is the reason why even people with obvious physical limitations are provided with the opportunity to experience the game from local, up to international level.

We have abandoned our responsibility at local level to promote the game. We have substituted enjoyment in the game with other short-term concepts that are destroying the future of both our youth and the game itself.

The children are not allowed to enjoy the game. If they are not directed by their parents how to play, where to go, what to do, it is their coaches. Most kids are being reduced to “robots” who only function at the instruction (touch of a button) of an “expert’ who has all the answers and solutions to all the questions and problems.

Such kids, even when they are grown-ups, hardly reflect the aesthetic aspect in their game. For them, as was the case in their early years, “not winning means the end”. We are crazy about winning. We have reduced the game into a “3-points affair”. This we have made a “norm” at all levels and in all our football engagements in the field of play.

In all engagements, there can only be one winner. So if the only reason to play is to win, and nothing else, then every time more people are playing for nothing and with time, nobody will be playing at all. Even winners will have no one to play against in order for them to win. In the long term, we will all be losers.

Most regrettable is that this cancer has penetrated into the youth leagues. Our young players are made to believe that only winning (and winners), matter. This is a fallacy. It is disingenuous. There is so much more that matters in the game, even at the very highest level.

With so much time spent on football, by those who play the game at all levels, a whole culture can be developed. If the nation was to be rebuilt, then there was no better place to do that. Hence, super-imposing winning over everything else is the worst practice in building a human and, indeed, a nation.

This “winning and nothing else” mentality has created “heroes” and “villains”. Where there should be hope and desire for more accomplishments, there is pride and regret. Our biggest challenge is that our game is polarised from youth throughout, even beyond competitive age (over-35). Playing is no longer an outing or fun moment and socialising agent.

Ironically, the very nations who continue to dominate at the highest level treat and build it on such a base, throughout. The mentality that “it doesn’t matter how you play, as long as you win”, has created a new generation of players who have been deprived of the opportunity to grow, even at the highest level. This is one reason why the players are the first ones not enjoying what they should be pleased to do and to show spectators what they are all about. Football has become a pain to go through instead of an experience to cherish. Our players are empty inside.

“There is a lot of factors in it. I know the kind of style that I play. I spent six years at Wits and things were done differently. Compared to

Orlando Pirates, things are done differently. It took me a while to really adjust and it’s so evident. I played for a team that was direct before, and I did well for that direct team. It suited me. It was my style. Adjusting to building from the back, playing movements, roles are different. So that would be the answer to the ‘why’.

“I had to learn the culture, the personalities and characters in the team,” said Thulani Hlatshwayo to soccerladuma.co.za.

The effects of the proliferation of mediocre foreign technicians in the early 1990s were to be felt later. The bacteria has found a good breeding ground and is very infectious. Luckily, we have the treatment and we can eradicate it completely, if we so desire.

The generations that did well for us are those that developed and matured prior to this unfortunate phase. We were warned about this then. However, like most people who believe only by seeing, we did not heed the call.

Those who continue to show glimpses of what we like to see are becoming more an exception than the norm. It continues to look as though our game is going down. Our “achievement” in the past seem to be ever beyond reach. We are seeing less and less young players coming through to professional levels and even when they do, they are not of “superior” quality, and/or in numbers.

Those who do are not always able to sustain their performances over an extended period of time. They usually have fluctuation in form, if not erratic performances. So, it was not surprising to hear Kearyn Buccus two years ago, make this comment: “In Australia the football is not as direct as in South Africa. We look to play a lot more. I think it’s taken me a lot more time to get used to the transitions that South African football has to offer.

“In Australia everyone tries to play, even the bottom teams try to play football out at the back and build-up,” he said to Sowetan Live on September 26, 2019.

All of us have and are playing a role and for as long as we keep shifting the blame, the status quo will continue to prevail and so will be the blame game. Coaches though, have a huge role to play to change the course of events.

Good coaches are those who display at least one of the following:

They have a clear playing philosophy/identity, no matter the level of the league, competition or participation. Such coaches may coach different teams even in different countries or different continents but their approach to the game is clear and uncompromising

They develop/improve individual player’s capacity, no matter the level of the competition. Their players improve under their coaching and become better players, whether they were young and inexperienced or old and experienced.

They win championships. This one is tricky because for every season, there can only be one champion, irrespective of how many good teams were competing.

We need a complete change of attitude. We need a new mentality. We need a “new thinking”. As Albert Einstein said: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

We need to coach young players and make them better. We can no longer “ride” on our kids’ talent. The more talented they are, the better coaching they need.

We need to stop focusing and thinking that only those who may make it at the top need our attention. The smaller the pool, the less will be our quality. This is why, nations with limited pool (small population) struggle to keep themselves at the top. Generally we need about 10 000 active players to produce one professional player. To get a good professional player, we need better quality from those 10 000 active players.

All children should have the opportunity to play football, for as much and for as long as they want. Football should not retire players. People (as individuals), should make those decisions themselves.

We need to invest and give more attention to youth leagues. Leagues build players, not competitions. Competitions are only a window to show what work is being done.

The schools competitions used to give players the opportunity to play and maybe the same players would be seen by professional clubs, then. Even these schools competitions did not develop players. Players were training with their “local” clubs, in the afternoons as all teams (including professional ones) were training in the afternoons/evenings back in the day. With all professional leagues training in the morning and most, if not all Provincial League teams doing the same, and even some of the Regional League teams, the schools can no longer play the same role. The dynamics are completely different. We can no longer use the “same thinking”.

We need to separate youth development from competition/ promotion football, where mostly results matter. By mixing the two, we are compromising both ends.

The “international demands” are neither waiting for us nor are they negotiable. International success requires “higher minimums”. Until and unless we raise our local bar and meet them, we can wave goodbye to making any international impact, never mind international success.

All children should have the opportunity to play football, for as much and for as long as they want.

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