Following the right path

Like many, I was sceptical about the impact of the National Curriculum on Australian football. But our coaches now have access to a world-class approach to football education.

There has been much discussion recently about the impact and effect of the National Curriculum on Australian football.

When Rob Baan and subsequently Han Berger took up the role of Technical Director, it was a role that many people didn-t and still don-t understand. In a nutshell, the role is to ensure the best systems are in place to enable Australian football to have maximum success.

Very early on it was obvious to them that the entire coaching structure needed to be revamped. There was no consistency or uniformity of approach, resulting in huge disparities in the quality of coaching that our next generation of players were receiving.

Although Australian players were noted as being mentally strong with a positive preference for an open, attacking style of play, they were seen as technically deficient and lacking in tactical maturity in comparison to their global peers. A need was identified to develop creative, match-winning players, as the top teams always have two or more of them.

An exhaustive research project was undertaken on a global scale to look into best practices, which could be transplanted to Australia.

Andy Harper went to Japan, North and South America, while Alistair Edwards went to Europe. They visited various clubs and football associations to learn more about their junior development, coaching pathways and accreditation methods.

After absorbing all the expert information, FFA decided the style of football best suited to the Australian mentality and strengths would be a proactive 1-4-3-3 system.

Why? In this possession-based system there are three lines of players with a balanced spread over the pitch (triangles of players). This an important condition for manicured positioning play when playing out from the back, attempting creative and varied attacking play using the width of pitch, and early disturbing of opposition by pressing opponents after losing possession.

After recently being involved with the B License course, I feel able to offer an insight into what is actually going on, rather than just joining the masses of armchair critics who may not necessarily have all the information they need to make an informed judgement on the merits of the FFA approach.

There seems to be two big misconceptions when people have criticised the National Curriculum.

The first is that we are naively following a single system, a strict “Dutch” pathway that doesn-t allow for deviance or tweaking. This is fundamentally incorrect. The Dutch are not the only the nation in the world who have favoured this system in recent times.

It should be noted that the majority of teams at Euro 2012 used a similar system, or a version of it. Of course, there is a strong Dutch influence, having had Guus Hiddink and Pim Verbeek as national team coaches in recent times, in addition to Baan and Berger.

The second criticism is that we are going to produce robots that all play the same away. Again, this is incorrect.

When taking your C and B licence, coaches are taught the possession-based system. One of the main reasons is that is viewed as the best and most flexible way to coach players in such a way as to allow them to understand fit into other systems. It produces intelligent, mobile players.

In the A and Pro Licence, it-s up to the individual coach what formation to use. This advanced stage also incorporates detailed football conditioning specific training from Raymond Verheyen, a global leader in his highly specialised field of football physiology.

As players, we believe we know a lot about football. But from experience I can say we know very little about coaching; therefore the course prepared by Han Berger and fellow FFA employee, Kelly Cross (Head of Coach Education) are so important and invaluable for a developing coach.

I have just scraped the surface on what you learn on the FFA coaching courses. The outcome is that coaches here in Australia are learning how to coach at a very high and professional level.

They have been taught to put a vision and philosophy together, which gives a coach a clear direction and understanding of what he wants to achieve and how to achieve it.

Not just how to conduct an effective training session (though, of course, this is crucial), but also detailed knowledge about football fitness, how to analyse a game, man-management, etc. The list goes on.

These are the important questions and the answers, based on my experience of the FFA-s coaching courses:

Will we all play the same way? No. Will we produce top quality players in the future? Yes. Will we have top quality local coaches coming through? Yes. Is Australian football heading in the right direction? Yes.

Good coaching at every level, not just the high professional end, is crucial to the future of our game.

The Youth C Licence course that Kelly Cross is currently writing aims to help develop better Youth Development coaches in this country and hopefully that will lead to more of those players that we need. The course will be rolled out early next year and will complement the work being done by the newly created Skills Acquisition Coaches through the country

Like many others, I was initially sceptical about the new era. It-s a natural reaction to be suspicious of and resistant to change. But believe me, if you have the opportunity to experience the modern coaching methods of FFA-s new world-class approach, you would buy into what Han Berger, Kelly Cross and the FFA are doing as much as I have done.

The National Curriculum is what the game has been crying out for here. Let-s give it a chance to bed down and witness its benefits, rather than making ill-informed criticisms of something that is a positive step in trying to advance Australian football.

Become a convert. If I can change, anyone can.