Football Excellence

I love sports. For being a fanatic basketball player to supporting my sons in their respective activities like football. But what has football to do with Meaningful Organizations? With Engagement? The answer lies in another question. Why is the youth academy of Ajax Amsterdam always among the best and continuously producing great players? Certainly this institution must do something different to engage their players. This is what I am intrigued in. This blog post is also a plea for help. I am at the beginning of my investigation. So I  certainly need your support to find trainers to interview, inspiring videos, or related articles. If you are as curious as I am about professional sport, do read further! 

For the love of the game

You have to love it tremendously first to have a chance to be good at it. This intrinsic motivation is crucial and more and more acknowledged when training especially young players. While you need to rehearse the basics over and over again, if you do it with pleasure, there is not limit to what you can achieve. This is what sometimes coaches and parents forget. A player will only go as far as he/she wants to go. So often screaming and yelling on the sideline will not bring the extra motivation. It is like the managers in companies using the carrot and the stick strategy. It can only go so far. It is first and foremost an inner motivation and the love of the game that get players very far. I think it is what top football academies have understood. Positive engagement is everywhere. From congratulating the kids all the time to limiting the involvement of the parents on the sideline. 

Let the player decide in a fair way

When watching teams from top academies in the Netherlands playing (e.g., Ajax Amsterdam, Sparta Rotterdam), I am often surprised how silent the coaches are on the side line during games. They pretty much say nothing while the kids are playing, only words of encouragement. They let the kids make their own decisions. Even among the players, they are encouraged to positively talk to each other. It definitely reminds me of the constructive feedback and trust that you find in organizations with very high level of engagement. The conditions of a fair competition are also created. In football, there is a issue called the relative age effect. Kids born early in the year have more chance to become professional because they compete often with kids from the end of year (so sometimes a year difference which is significant in terms of physical development). To create a more fair competing ground, top academies start to have players to compete against players from the same half year or month. 

Fostering creativity

Top sport is like the world we live in. It goes faster with more information to handle. So you need also more creativity to be able to cope with this complexity. To develop this creativity, the best way is to try, often fail and learn from it. That is why in youth categories, the Dutch Football Association has asked the players to play on smaller football fields for instance. It forces the players to touch more often the ball, so to try new moves more frequently and to be able to create continuously. Often without the supervision of a referee (let the player decide…). All this done by a sector (football) which traditionally is very conservative. 

Supportive trainers 

Ultimately to do all this, you need also to move away from the autoritarian type of coach to another type who is able to support the development of players more than to impose. The best exemple I know here comes from handball and the very successful French national team (Olympic gold medal in 2012 in London and in 2008 in Beijing, World champion in 2011 and 2009, and European champion in 2014). Its most prominent coach has been Claude Onesta. He is well known for letting his players decide on the field  and experience a lot of autonomy in decision making. Watch this video where he explains his philosophy of coaching. 
I do not make my players play, my players are the ones who play! – Claude Onesta

I am convinced that we have a lot to learn from top sport and how engagement is secured to be able to bring players to the highest level. Looking at professional sports like football, if you think of coaches to interview, articles to read or videos to watch on this topic, I would love to hear from you! 
Need your Help!!! 

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