The 1 thing that would fix our entire sporting system

Here we go. Another slanderous post about everything that’s wrong with the world, why our kids aren’t succeeding and why the system sucks.

Not today!

Today I wanted to touch a bit on psychology, expectation and a ‘throw-away’ society.

We live in a society which packages fresh food which we throw away.

We throw away things rather than reuse them.

And we throw away people and relationships as soon as something better comes along.

I feel as though that’s a little what our (and quite frankly probably most around the world) youth athlete system is like as well. Accept when you have a small population, that limits the number at the top.

You’re simply good enough, until you aren’t. And once you’re not, there isn’t a team trying to help you get back to the top level. There is just a swarm of people trying to take advantage of you and kissing you a$$ trying to make you feel better and lowering your standards.

What do I mean by this?

Say I’m in an A-League youth academy, so I’m decent. Then I don’t make it this year. What happens? Is there a support structure and process going ‘hey go and see these guys or this coach, they can help you out. And here’s where we think you can improve, go away and work on these things and we’ll have another look at you’.

God no.

What happens is you start getting calls from NPL coaches desperate to get the latest rejected and despondent academy kid into their team to….. no, not develop them to get back there, but to strengthen their team and build the club. This isn’t against NPL coaches. It’s tough out there and there’s a lot of pressure to win games. But they just don’t have the time and the skillset to improve these kids to the level they need to compete at the highest level.

It’s not all on the coaches though. Parents play a HUGE role in this. We have a tendency to push kids until they break, whinge when they aren’t ‘motivated’ or ‘committed’ enough, take the fun out of it, blame the coach for them not getting a run, talk negatively about everything and quite frankly, not being particularly inspiring role models themselves. In fact, their kids pick up on their entitled, negative whinging and then bring that poor attitude to their application at training.

My point is, you’re good enough until you’re not, and then these kids feel their dreams are over because you fell on the first hurdle. What sort of example is that for these young people? That you’re willing to accept mediocrity if you fail once? And who actually has their best interests at heart? What is the system for building better athletes? And who controls it? Government? Organisations such as the FFA? Clubs? I think we all need to take a bit of a look at ourselves and ask if what we’re doing / have done is with their best interests in mind.

But what about the kids themselves? That’s why we’re all here after all. What about their attitude?

100%. Most kids don’t have what it takes to be elite. And that is totally fine. They will find what they love or are better at. And we can’t treat them the same as kids from China or Russia. They are doing it to feed their family or leave poverty. The desire isn’t that strong for most Australian kids. Their’s no bigger purpose than ‘I’d love to do that’ here. And there’s guys who could be playing professionally overseas, but don’t want to leave Aus.

So what’s the answer. Well, we all have to change, evolve and do more. Right now Australia has a culture of ‘no one else is doing it so why should I?’. If the big organisations aren’t going to do it, then are we just going to sit on our hands? That’s not the spirit that I know we embody.

For me the following heavily contributes:

  1. When they fail, having a better response than ‘oh well here’s a participation trophy’. It needs to be ‘you said you wanted to do this, now there’s been a hiccup, so what are we going to do about it?’ and supporting that.
  2. Better coaching and systems. Parents and kids need to know who to talk to and where to go. If you’re child doesn’t get picked because of their strength or speed, we can help that. It’s no reason to give it away. Likewise, our coaches are getting better, but they need to continue to improve to world-class levels. More support, more mentoring and better systems.
  3. Inspiration. As our professional leagues and national teams struggle, its easy to criticise. They need to be better in order to inspire greatness. However there’s a reason high performing athletes (or people for that matter) have kids who are more likely to be high performing. They’re inspired daily and they have a different mindset to ‘failure’. If you’re not that person, get them to read a book and watch clips on the best of the best and the mindset they have.
  4. Access, facilities and $$$. Not everyone has the means or time to seek out extra training or coaching. How can those providing such services do it at a more reasonable cost, provide higher standards and expand to create more opportunities? In contrast, as much of a financial burden as sports and kids can be, we must invest in our coaches in order for them to invest in themselves. If your coach has to work 2 jobs to make ends meet while he’s trying to do the best for your child, he’s probably not doing the best job he could if he had more time. We expect our coaches to be high level, but pay them nothing? Most NPL coaches do it for nothing besides the love, and love only goes so far when you have a family to feed.

BUT! There’s one thing which would shift EVERYTHING.

  1. CULTURE. I’ve come to appreciate culture is everything and trumps just about everything above. And culture is driven from collectively buying into a set of VALUES. Whether it’s hard work, discipline, enjoyment, play, teamwork or winning, right now we need to build our culture within each team, club and organisation to embody the values we hold close and relentlessly pursue the high standard we desire. This is the single biggest reason for the most successful teams in history, not just on the sporting field, but in all aspects of life.

This isn’t a personal attack on anyone or any organisation in particular. This goes nationwide and across every sport. Funding is important, but there’s kids in poverty running on dirt using 20year old equipment in other countries who are far better anything we are producing.

We need to improve our culture, and that starts with you!