Brilliance Under Pressure

Altan Ramadan Toffa Leave a Comment

“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed”
Michael Jordan

“The paradox of excellence, is that it is built upon the foundation of necessary failure.”

 This theme, from Matthew Syed’s Bounce, is core to talent development but is it a central theme across our junior footballing environment here in New Zealand?

Composure and the ability to create while under pressure are the hallmarks of a top quality player.

So how does a player learn the skills necessary to do something useful with the ball when in tight, pressure situations?

The Top Flight philosophy is that the cornerstone of development is allowing an individual to make mistakes in order to create learning opportunities.

However, it would seem to me that too few players are being given this opportunity in New Zealand junior football. Instead the focus is on reducing risk in pressure situations to the detriment of athlete development and creativity.

A few weeks ago I observed a youth match here in Auckland.  I was both surprised and disappointed by the tactics of both teams.

Their full backs never attempted to make a pass when under any pressure.  They simply kicked the ball out of play.

The goalkeepers were rarely used as a means to maintain possession or switch play.  Instead, when they received the ball, the default option was to hoof it aimlessly down the field.

I was surprised at one point to hear a comment from one parent when the goalkeeper of one of the teams was finally able to receive the ball outside his penalty box and make a second touch pass out to one of his fullbacks.

“He must have South American blood in him.”

Surely junior coaches need to realise that brilliance only comes from trying something and learning from that experience, successful or not.

How often at a junior match do you hear “Kick it out!” or “Safety first!” or “Get rid of it”?

I’d be willing to place a bet that you will hear a phrase similar to that at least once a game in Auckland junior football.

As players move through the ranks and play in different leagues or competitions the result will become more important and that will require players having to take the low risk option. But, if they truly want to become players able to compete at the highest level, the skill and confidence to manage the ball when in pressure situations is essential.

Players are not going to learn those skills if the default setting is simply to get rid of the ball when placed under pressure. This safety first attitude may prevent individual players from making mistakes that will often see their team end up on the wrong side of the scoreboard. But this approach comes at the expense of their overall development.

Coaches and parents need to recognise that, ultimately, the result of a match in junior football is not terribly important if it prevents this learning process from occurring.

Top Flight Football is certainly not advocating a lack of competitiveness – you will know from earlier blog entries how critical this attribute is – but the focus has to be on players being able to try things and learn.

If we do not take this approach the chances of young New Zealanders making their way to play in the world’s top leagues are precisely zero.

Creativity and learning absolutely has to be the focus for young footballers.  The alternative is a dull, unimaginative style that does neither the individual nor the sport as a whole, any favours.

We have to give our young players the chance to fail in order for them to achieve excellence.

Share this Post

Leave a Reply