Clubs must transfer elite skills instead of selling the “one day being scouted by a top club” dream to players.
This week’s piece was inspired by a Facebook post by Mr Gordon Witbooi, who is obviously a friend on the social network platform.
We met formally at the Western Cape Federation Legends golf day two years ago.
Mr Witbooi himself is a former Glendene United player from Federation Football.
He is a Safa Coaching instructor nowadays and runs his own community-based academy in Mitchells Plain.
Many of you reading might have crossed paths with him in the Cape Town football scene, I’m quite sure.
On Sunday he posted: “What is your take on youth academies within our local football structures? Good or bad and why?”
There’s a football academy and then there’s a club with elite training.
Here in South Africa, the term academy is used loosely to refer to both as “academies”.
That’s why it’s so easy for chancers to even manipulate this “academy” gap in the football ecosystem.
The whole system hangs on selling the great “dream” of one day making it because I do extra training and memorising football training drills.
So you see, an academy means there must be an institution and a balanced lifestyle of specialised training and education.
Any academy, police academy is a balance of theoretical learning and practical skills training and practice.
The academy system won’t work for all clubs and communities here in SA, so clubs and initiatives need to adapt systems that suit them.
Other clubs must consider partnering up with more established clubs, through transferring elite skills and training to those grassroots clubs – Cape Town City’s Dream Club 100 is something along these lines.
City’s version is still at the beginning stages of its implementation, plus they’re running it at a tight budget which means some corners are being cut to accelerate the process.
Meanwhile, neighbours Ajax Cape Town’s partnerships are with schools through their Community Scheme Initiative (CSI) programme, where they transfer skills through activity directly to the kids on the ground.
It’s less about finding the next star player though, but more about connecting with the community.
So you see, it’s two completely different models – City’s program is CSI with the aim of recruiting the best players from the programme, while Ajax, who call their youth teams “academy”, do it simply to give back to schools and now even have a Lambda Institute, which is basically a boarding school.
We’ve heard one too many stories of players travelling far and wide for the dream of playing football. Do we like reading these kinds of sad stories or what? Do we like to read about people’s pain that much, bafethu?
Wouldn’t you one day like to read of a player whose development story is a standard progress through the ranks and signing a pro contract without all the drama? Right here in our beautiful Rainbow Nation. Why not?
Why can’t things just run smoothly and we can have the luxury of forcing guys to retire because their development system is pumping out a bunch of young players pushing through, like in Germany?
Why aren’t clubs creating a network with whom they work on not only developing players, but to give all players exposure to the same level of training as the established clubs without being forced to leave their environment too soon?
When the opportunity arises for a player to progress, he/she will have much better options in front of them.
They could stay at their local club and continue developing without being moved from home. He/she can move to the established club and take their chance when they feel they are ready to make the jump.
Something similar to what Mamelodi Sundowns did with Grant Margeman.
He has known for at least two years that he was going to Sundowns, but wasn’t forced to move immediately.
Not all young players adapt when they move to an established club early, but some get inspired and make the progress.
For example, if as a parent, I decide that it’s not time for my child to move to Ajax because we are based in Strandfontein, Kayamandi or Kraaifontein, I can decide against moving him to Ikamva to avoid all the instability of travelling and balancing his schooling.
He can then move at a later stage when he’s 17 or so, by then we might be more prepared to push and fight his way up.
This “opportunity may never come again” and throwing guys into a new system and environment and expecting them to thrive, has passed its sell-by date!
We’ve seen and heard far too many stories of young players being homesick etc.
Yet we expect those same young players who didn’t grow up with their parents to one day become upstanding adults and parents!