Friday, November 02, 2007

Thinking Aloud About Youth Leagues

Both Mike and Eamonn have already given us some views on the new National Football Development Plan. It's all very exciting, to say the least.

Here's some thoughts flying around my head about the National Youth League idea.

First comes my prejudice. There is a fundamental, necessary, institutional flaw in the A-League, which is that the small amount of teams are approved and appointed from the top, and there is no organic way in which teams can be relegated or promoted into it on merit. Now I'm so far from being an expert on these things that it's not funny, but according to Beppe, the Italian in the West End United team I played for during the winter, every senior team in Italy (and I think in many football countries) can technically aim to play their way into higher and higher divisions, including the top division, purely by winning games, and indeed any team at all, if they don't keep the grade, can technically be relegated to kingdom come. This brings an organicism to the entire football infrastructure and indirectly, I believe, feeds the participant=fan equation which the FFA is rightly concerned with (in my experience of various amateur senior and junior teams, less than 1 in 10 football participants actually follow the A-League).

Well we understand that the A-League can't work like that. There's just not enough money, it costs a lot to maintain a professional club, and it is crucial that every A-League club can stay afloat financially and maintain quality personell. That sort of universal organicism is a long way off at best, however unfortunate and sort of contrived things currently appear to be.

But why should the youth league, which will inevitably be hugely funded by the participants themselves and indeed with the levy by the whole of Australia's youth clubs, follow this pattern? And why should we assume that the A-League teams are going to attract and produce the most competitive teams? Surely at youth level we must allow for high quality, not just in individuals but in clubs, teams and coaches, to pop up anywhere. If the Cloncury Cucumbers U17s manage to kick arse throughout their region and state, all payed for by their parents and whatever sponsorships they can muster, why shouldn't they be able to aim for the top without being dismantled and cherrypicked by the AIS and 7 elite clubs?

I admit I don't understand. I don't completely grasp what a youth league will mean institutionally, or indeed how professional it will be (I assume the coaches will be professionals at least). But it just seems to me that insisting that the youth league be as top-down and restrictive as the A-League shows a lack of imagination, and is possibly missing out on being the full opportunity it could be for Australian Soccer.

The very least that can be said is that the financial and institutional demands will be less for a youth league. The players will, I assume, not be paid, we won't have to worry about marquee and imported players and indeed the player's families or individual scholarships will be footing a large part of the bills. And why should we assume that they'll only be using the big stadiums either? Surely there is also an opportunity for these teams to compete on hundreds of possible regional pitches around the country. Why should the talent in Hobart, Broome, Darwin and Broken Hill be necessarily excluded? Isn't there an opportunity here to broaden things enormously?

Feel free to explain to me that my assumptions are shit and I don't know what I'm talking about. These are pretty off-the-cuff thoughts.

5 Comments:

Blogger Mike Salter said...

I think you've raised some very pertinent points there Hamish.

The players (some of them, at least) almost certainly will be paid BTW, as of course will the coaches and the support staff. Then there's travel, accommodation, ground hire, etc. It's going to cost a LOT, if it's going to be done properly.

And of course your point:

...And why should we assume that the A-League teams are going to attract and produce the most competitive teams?...

...is crucial. The big losers in this Youth League initiative, IMO, are likely to be the state league clubs, which already have the infrastructure, the continuity (both in terms of coaching and the individual cohorts) and the corporate knowledge necessary for building good youth teams (the fantastic Marconi U20s this year were a good case in point). Yet I don't know how much that reservoir of experience is going to be tapped, given the continuing bitterness between some of the state federations and the FFA.

Don't want to say too much more at the moment, otherwise I'll render some of my future blog pieces redundant. ;-)

November 02, 2007 10:23 am  
Blogger Cecilia said...

Too tired to give this plan proper thought. Just sat down to try and read it and give it the appropriate time and thought it deserves, but yeah... perhaps tomorrow...

November 02, 2007 5:42 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi, love following your writing,

and i enjoyed your thoughts here too.

i hope that the positive work of those already in the field continues. the marconis, old soccer etc.

given that the a-league season is so short, hopefully we see kids play in the state leagues, then play in the a-league dev league. so now the kids get more footy.

so rather than replacing what is already there, hopefully this is a great addition.

November 04, 2007 10:00 am  
Blogger Hamish said...

Thanks for the comments and kind words guys. I've read the Plan now and clearly I didn't understand exactly what the Youth League was getting at.

This thing that I've called 'organicism' is still important for me though - the feature where teams can be promoted to and relegated from the top level on the basis of results on the field, rather than just politics and finances. It's not addressed in the plan even as a long-term objective and that worries me.

The focus on the A-League as the seat of development for both Youth and Women's Leagues seems to me to be short sighted still, for some of the reasons I've mooted. It makes some sense to develop policy for coaching, club-infrastructure and player development centrally, but there is no doubt in my mind that the sacrifice is the possibility of a team coming from nowhere and showing us how it's done from outside the centralised system. This can't happen in the current plan, and opportunities will be missed. Maybe that's just life in Australian Soccer so far.

November 04, 2007 8:39 pm  
Blogger john said...

There has been criticism from junior clubs (particularly in NSW) that their FFA fees are going up to pay for FFAs professional league expansions. Indeed this is a relic from the NSL where mums and dads were hit with a mid-season charge to stop the professionals going broke. According to John O'Neill the govt dept had no interest in professional football as they see their mission as fighting obesity and perhaps supporting the olympics.

So that means the private sector need to come to the party. Will it be channel 7 or the f word?

November 07, 2007 10:21 pm  

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