A challenge to football

soccer1In a relatively short space of time the Vincentian national football team found themselves defeated in the final segment of the game. It happened first in Antigua and Barbuda and more recently in Guadeloupe.
What is it about out national football team that hinders them from being able to press home the advantage in a game regardless of the importance of the event to their status at the regional and international levels?
Is it that the current generation of footballers lack the skill competencies or do they lack the interest and commitment of the Vincentian players of decades past?
Could it be that the current players on the national football team are afflicted by the general malaise in sport spurred in large measure by the lack of any genuine commitment and leadership on the part of the government regarding sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines?
This columnist holds the view that the problem plaguing the national football team is one of inadequate preparation. The players are just not appropriately prepared.
Preparation for any sport begins with the acquisition of skills specific to the particular range of activities involved.
Without knowing these skills and being able to practise them it is not possible for the individual players to compete appropriately at any level.
The contention here is that not enough time is spent on addressing the particular skill sets that our athletes would need to become proficient in playing the sport of football.
As one moves around St Vincent and the Grenadines more people are kicking football in the different open fields but for the most part they are engaging in breaking a sweat rather than in the deliberate acquisition of the requisite skills.
More often than not no one seems to be in charge and more time is spent in the spewing of profanities than in facilitating and encouraging the development of individual skills.
The absence of physical education teachers at the primary school level deprives the children of any systematic introduction to sport to say nothing of football in particular. Children are often given a ball and encouraged to kick it about.
The recent decision of the Schools Games Committee (SGC) to introduce Inter Primary Schools Football may lead to some changes but until such time as the children are deliberately engaged in the processes of skill acquisition and its application in really time situations we will remain at the hit or miss level in identifying talented youths to become national footballers.
There is a chance that we continue to bypass several persons who may prove themselves good footballers if only because we pay no attention to the starting point of their involvement.
Skill acquisition is but one of the problems plaguing our football at this time. Another critical issue is that of overall fitness. The members of the national team are not all at the same fitness level. Not all of them are sufficiently committed to fitness.
One of the hallmarks of those who made the outstanding Vincentian national team of the 1970s was fitness.
Anyone of the players of that era would readily recount the number of hours spent covering miles on a daily basis before the players took to the field to deal with ball play. There is great emphasis placed on fitness.
Since the 1970s however Vincentian national teams have been unable to regain the level of fitness referred to earlier.
A football match is played over 90 minutes in two 45-minute halves. The athlete involved in playing the game must therefore prepare himself to run for a significantly longer period of time than the length of the game. The reason is that game of football does not involve running but also includes stop-start movements in several different directions during an encounter.
Players are expected to tackle their opponents and recover quickly in different circumstances.
The point being made here is that the physical demands on any footballer during a 90-minute game are astounding. Coaches and patrons alike get very upset when they find players walking on the field instead of running. They are annoyed when they recognise some players deliberately shying away from the action.
It is very easy to identify the players on the field at any given game who are certainly underprepared in terms of their fitness levels.
Followers of the Vincentian team over the past few years have recounted stories of the relative fitness levels of some of our national players.
In the final stages of any of the games being played the Vincentian national team appears to relax to the point where they end up being beaten. The reality is not that they get too relaxed it is instead that they are simply not up to the fitness level required to keep the opposition at bay or to press home the advantage they hold at any given point.
Reflecting on the country’s first foray in World Cup Football, the preliminaries for the 1994 World Cup, the home games served to highlight our complete lack of the fitness level required for the competition in which we were engaged. There were times when some players were literally walking on the field hoping that somehow the whistle would blow to bring an early end to the encounter.
It was not surprising that in the match played against Jamaica we squandered a 3-nil lead to have the game end in a draw. Of course in Guadeloupe we moved from 3-1 to 3-4 as the final score.
Regardless of the skill capabilities if the players lack the necessary fitness level they are likely to fall well short of what is required to be competitive at any level.
Our footballers lack psychological preparedness of their regional and international competitions. This can be said of all Vincentian athletes regardless of the particular sport in which they are engaged.
As yet our Vincent students have not found it important enough to make a career of sport psychology, now considered a critical aspect of the pre[parathion of athletes for high level competition.
While our coaches may have encountered short sessions in the important role of psychological preparation in attaining success in competition they do not have what is required to bring the athletes in their charge to the appropriate emotional maturity and readiness for their respective competitions.
Our footballers, for example, receive no appropriate psychological preparatory training for their encounters and so have nothing to fall back on when it is crunch time in a game.
Many people underestimate the role of sport psychologists on the performance of athletes and teams. They do this at their peril.
Athletes often fall apart in competition as a result of inadequate psychological preparation and our national football team seem to be prey to this as well.
The Challenge
We are prone to boast of being in possession of talented athletes. We make this claim without any scientific inquiry yet pat ourselves son the back for having done so.
Some would suggest that they use their years of experience in sport to identify the talented amongst our youths. This is at best the traditional hit or miss approach that has gotten us nowhere fast..
Do we have a development plan for the sport of football that allows for a change in the way we identify players and prepare our teams?
Do we have strategies in place to redress the issue of lack of appropriate fitness or our players?
What are the mechanisms we have at our disposal to raise the skill competencies and fitness levels of our players beginning with the present athletes at our disposal?
How are we going to get our players and coaches psychologically prepared for their involvement in the sport of football to be able to compete more favourably in regional and international competitions?
It seems that there is no end to the questions we can raise here. The real challenge is finding the appropriate answers and fast.