European football has its very own career ladder.
Right at the top—at the very pinnacle of success—we have World football, followed by International football, after which comes (in no particular order), La Liga, Serie A, and the English Premier League. Scotland's Premier League is a number of rungs below the elite—but that's a matter for a different day.
We've then got the second, third, and fourth leagues of each country—but as they are not the focus of this article, you'll understand if I skim past.
I recently discovered that, somewhat bizarrely (to my mind), junior football ranks above that at amateur level; but again, neither are what I am talking about today.
No, this is about shedding a light on the building blocks of football. The stages of the game right through from the under-five's to the under-15's—or more specifically, the problems and dangers which could and are befalling Scotland's youth (and quite possibly the youth of other countries as well).
There are issues which need addressing throughout the entire culture of youth football; they are present and noticeable in much of boys', but shamefully bad in that of girls'.
It's all very well for a father to want to be involved in his child's footballing career, particularly at such a young age; heck, it's admirable. But does this inclination qualify the man for the job of coaching a football team?
Without appropriate training, the answer is no. Plain and simple.
At the very early stages—under-seven's and younger—proper training is not so incredibly vital because, at that point, the idea is mainly to learn ball control, and to encourage as full an enjoyment of the sport as possible.
However, any older than that, and the quality and suitability of the coaching becomes an issue.
In my own experience, the improperly qualified coaches are generally football fanatics: They know the rules, they know how the game works, and they are aware of some accepted training techniques through their own experiences of playing, and through watching their favoured professional teams practice. If they're really into it, they might even brush up on their tactical knowledge.
That isn't the main problem.
For the country's footballing prospects of the future, it may not be such a good thing; but even if the team doesn't play particularly well, the children will—at the very least—learn something about winning and losing. And that is definitely a good thing, as it prepares them psychologically for later life.
This does not give poor coaches an advantage over good ones; rather, it is a vague justification in that the kids would—in the long run—gain something out of frequent defeats.
Of course, if each team in whichever league had a qualified coach, the contest would (a) be fairer, and (b) there would be a more pleasant ratio of win-loss-draw—but let's not get carried away with what could be, because nothing looks like changing in the near future.
The health element of youth football is the most concerning aspect of the coaching trend.
Having a physiotherapist tell you, four months after the event, that four doctors had failed to diagnose ligament damage in your knees, is quite something; I wouldn't mention it, but for the fact that such injuries are more regular a by-product of poor coaching than one would like to believe.
Standards as to the stretching of muscles prior to and after exercise are lax. Hamstring injuries are among the most common footballers will suffer; as such, it makes sense to take all and any precautions against such injuries.
However, I have come across a number of coaches who tell their youngsters that, in order to stretch out their hamstrings, they do the following: Place one leg in front of the other, with the front leg bent, and lean on the back leg.
Contrary to the belief of those coaches—and consequently the concerned youngsters—this stretches the calf muscles. Not the hamstrings.
Even if it were a hamstring stretch, there is absolutely no way that a single 10-second-long (if you're lucky) stretch will do much good at all, when you consider that physiotherapists recommend at least 20 seconds, three times, on each leg.
Each muscle is connected to the others. If one muscle is tight, the others have to compensate; each leg muscle—major or minor—is massively important, and any one not working properly can throw everything out of sync.
In footballers, the problematic muscle will generally be the hamstring—no guesses as to why the issue is so big, when you consider the stretching methods ingrained in the minds of the players at youth level.
It's a domino effect. One tight muscle leads to the others being less able to do the jobs they ought to be doing, which means everything is more vulnerable to strains and other injuries.
This problem could be vastly reduced if there were legislation in place to ensure every football coach, at any level, in any walk of life, received proper and appropriate training before taking on the task of shaping a football team.
Of course, this would mean input from the Scottish government, which is unlikely to happen—they are happy to pronounce their wish for a better future in football, yet apparently unwilling to do anything about it.
Muscle strains are the among the less severe injuries likely to occur, as with time they will heal and the player can return to the field. Those who tear their ligaments are not always so lucky.
But we'd better get used to it, because nothing looks like changing in the near future.
I am in no way attempting to imply that all Scottish coaches are poor, nor that all poor coaches are Scottish, nor that all unqualified coaches are poor, nor that all poor coaches are unqualified; each does, of course, have its opposite...
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