Holistic coaching a necessity for football to thrive

A more holistic approach to coaching in Australia is needed as we look to move forward and improve on what we are doing.

My old mate Steve O-Connor had a bit to say recently about the structure of coaching in Australia, questioning the benefits of Dutch methodology and bemoaning the demise of the AIS as the flagship of youth development in the game here. Steve spent 18 years at the AIS - firstly as assistant then as Head Coach for most of that time. It's understandable that he might be a little defensive about a structure he was so closely involved with. In fact he has every right to be.

The AIS during the 1990s helped produce some of the best footballers this country will ever see. I don-t need to mention names…everyone knows them already. Under Ron Smith - who preceded O-Connor - and subsequently, the AIS became one of the most progressive institutions in the world. This in a country where soccer (as it was then known) was a third-rate sport in the scheme of things. Smith spent countless hours in front of video screens analysing the good habits and patterns of the best players and teams from around the world. He and his staff and the Sports Science department then started working on integrating these observations and knowledge into an organic program using the players they had at their disposal. It is no co-incidence then that the parameters used in the selection process for young talent, derived from the research, produced the players that it did. That in itself is enough evidence to say the program worked.

Plenty has been said and written about the value of AIS over the years, and more recently the worth and effectiveness of the Dutch system of development we have now adopted in Australia - at the expense, in part, of the AIS program.

In a subsequent article written by another old mate…no let-s call him an acquaintance...Les Murray had a crack at O-Connor and the AIS as it used to exist. Now I-m not here to defend O-Connor - he-s big and ugly enough to do that himself. My problem is more with the constant demonising of the past and those associated with it and the re-writing of history. Knowing Les as I do, and reading between the lines, his writing reflects old personal bias and prejudices.

Murray says the Dutch influence has “turned Australia-s football development culture on its head”, adding: “judging this has to be done through the prism of what went on before the Dutch influence arrived, a period of many decades in which Australia's technical guidance was predicated on the need to develop weightlifters and marathon runners, not footballers”.

The reference to weightlifters and marathon runners is an old favourite the anti-AIS brigade often throw up to justify their argument. Smith and the Sports Science department identified the physical attributes of the world-s best, and applied physiological profiling to the selection process for the AIS. It wasn-t set in stone, but used as a guide to identify the potential weaknesses the better players might have that could prevent them from going further in the game. And it provided a database to monitor the progress of players over time. As it turned out the best footballers were generally also the best athletes - what a strange coincidence!

The weight program was designed and instigated for injury prevention first and foremost. If the kids ever got too big they were banned from the gym. As for the “marathon runner” tag it's simple; the modern footballer needs to be mobile. The days of elegant but unfit midfielder stroking the ball around the park disappeared years ago. If you want to play a high-tempo passing game, if you want to pressurise and “hunt in packs” as is the trend these days, then you have to be fit to do it.

I could go on for pages about this topic but it will always be a subjective argument and therein lies the problem. The philosophy of football is like religion - there exists many differing belief systems and no matter how much discussion takes place there will rarely, if ever, be consensus. Throw a few personal agendas in, and the mix is all the spicier!

Australia has chosen the Dutch model to develop its younger players and that is the way it is. Whether it-s the right way to go is a matter of opinion, but as it stands now there is only one opinion that counts. Nothing is going to change in the near future and only time will be the judge. Personally I-m a big fan of the Polish system - the one my father used in the backyard when I was growing up to teach me how to control a ball, how to pass and shoot, and how to dribble - the 'system' that taught me the basics 50 years ago. The same basics that funnily enough exist in today-s curriculum - first touch, striking the ball, running with the ball, and 1v1. Get my drift? What the current regime has done is put a lot of resources into an area of the game that was desperately neglected. That gave it a platform and the structure and uniformity it needed in order to grow.

What we need to do now is take a more holistic approach and look at how we can improve on what we are doing. There are aspects of the past that shouldn-t be ignored for the sake of justifying current philosophy (or someone-s job). If that means we look at what Brazil, or France, or Germany, or Spain, or anybody else, is doing, and then apply that knowledge in a positive way to the platform that has been created, then that can only be a good thing.