Monday, August 20, 2012
On Learning With The Kenyans
Ever since Blueprint for Football was launched, we've been surprised by the level of support that we've found. Not just in terms of hits - which have at times exceeded our wildest expectations - but also in people willing to help out.
Through Blueprint for Football we've also made a good number of friends. One of these is Craig Easton, the former Dundee United, Leyton Orient, Swindon and Scotland Under 21 midfielder who is currently at Torquay. Craig is someone with a huge interest in youth football and when we published our article looking at the secrets of Kenyan distance runners and trying to apply them to football, he sent us an e-mail congratulating us on the piece.
But it was more than a simple e-mail: it was an analysis of what we'd written viewed from the eyes of someone who has really experience football. As such, we felt compelled to share it with you (naturally, with his blessing). Here then, are Craig Easton's views on whether the secrets of Kenyan running can be applied to football:
I think you highlight a lot of interesting factors which are part of the make-up of a Kenyan distance runner that could be helpful in a lot of sports and why not football?
I totally agree about the part about Active Childhood. I think that can definitely play a part in a player’s base fitness. I'm very lucky that I have a high level of 'natural fitness' and I'm sure that's in large part due to the amount of running about I did as a kid. I was never off the streets playing football and used to run to school - I even ran home for my lunch every day! I'm sure the Kenyan kids run a little bit further than I used to but the principles are similar.
There are cases where the motivation is similar also. For some kids who live in poverty in Britain, they might see professional football as their only chance of getting out of a bad area or helping their family but you're right, that's the case for the majority of Kenyans so I agree that the motivation is there for most of their athletes from a young age.
The thing I find hard to draw comparisons with between individual sports/events is work rate. For one there is a certain skill level needed to play football even at a basic level so even if you work really hard at improving there is probably a certain level each individual can get to within in their own realm of natural ability. I think in individual sports where the athlete is often getting one on one coaching, they can improve more and in many sports it's more about the determination and dedication to training which will do this.
I find that in football, you could blag it more and natural ability will carry you a lot further. Players who work harder are not necessarily rewarded especially in a team sport where a lot of the control is out of their hands. Sometimes I wish I did an individual sport as I know that the level of my work rate would be more proportionately linked to my success or failure which I could handle better, rather than it being in the hands of managers or even worse chairmen who haven't got a clue. I'm thinking about doing a future piece on this linked to the fact that a lot of footballers haven't got a clue about what proper hard work is.
Saying that, I think we're becoming more professional in our approach. When I was in the youth team at Dundee United, I remember getting stick from teammates for wanting to stay behind to do extra or going to the gym in the afternoon! That attitude seems to be changing but players need help from coaches that encourage this but in the end, it's a personal attitude to improve and more players need to have this. It's second nature for these Olympic athletes.
Once again Paul, very thought provoking stuff and I like the way you link in the Barcelona approach to coaching young players to take risks from an early age which I think you highlight brilliantly in the fact that this becomes second nature to them. When I was youth team age (under-18's) it was guaranteed that I would get the shout "Easty don't run with the ball" at least once a game - ridiculous now that I think back on it!