How can you save a sinking ship?

Everyone knows the story… England enter a big tournament, having convincingly won a conveniently easy qualification group. England play down their chances in the media. The fans all say publicly “they’re Rubbish this lot, no chance” but privately hope and believe that if they pulled it together, they could and probably should go on and win the thing.

The “team” plays poorly, scrapes through the group, lots of moaning, some violence, lots of drinking, a couple of songs, and the “team” gets knocked out against the first TEAM they face in the group stages.

“The coaches are Rubbish, they aren’t doing enough at grassroots level.”

Having done my schooling in England and since left, been involved in coach education, leading a national programme for five and a half years, my thoughts are thus:

I experienced well educated, caring, very passionate leaders of coach education and development from the @FA – on a par with, or sometimes way, way better than their peers in other sports.

I can assure you that these people are better for your ‘game’ than not.

In my opinion, and I’ve felt this with different English sports over a long long time, is primarily down to culture.


Firstly, being a “winner” at a young age is frowned upon.

Winners come in different forms, and I’m being very general here, as everyone is purely individual.

Some winners are introverted, deep thinkers, who shy away from media – but aren’t “cool” and don’t fit the media version of an English hero. Read: Graeme LeSaux, Gareth Barry, James Milner etc etc

Children who are passionate, determined, desperate, put their body on the line, tackle hard, argue, sometimes go over the top, cry, don’t like everyone, are all absolute “no-no’s” in the eyes of, not many coaches – but many parents, teachers and media (who love to sell papers, get likes or RT’s).

So where do you fit, how do you progress? “Stop behaving that way” you “must behave this way” players change. They change into what is “acceptable” – not just to some coaches, but to their teachers, their parents, their peers who get praised for not rocking the boat and held up as role-models.

This is a deep, deep issue in English society and English sport.

Add to this, particularly for the @FA that it is a HUGE organisation. In business terms, if you have a single owner/CEO, you work with 1–99 people, if you want something done, it gets done or people leave. The @FA is a massive organisation with thousands of inter-linked roles of varying power. For that organisation to implement change, it would take Herculean leadership, Machiavellian politics, amazing communication, trust, vision, and a large reality check. People have given their 30 years of service, now it’s time for them to wear the blazer. Not if you want performance it’s not, no.

Beyond that, you have the media – which as we’ve all seen in the last week or so are frighteningly powerful, aren’t interested in the ‘struggle’ of hard work, but purely in the highs of success or the darkness of lows. No other country in the world has media like yours.

The culture of X-Factor stardom, and the individual above the team (David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Freddie Flintoff, Mike Tindall the list goes on) – disrespects the values of a team and the power a united group. But the media demand it, so therefore, do the public, and further down the line – so do the parents.

So if little Johnny (remember him??) doesn’t get his turn, gets dropped, or doesn’t win man of the match, he is either “Rubbish” and discarded, or parents turn on the coach, abusing them for not seeing the Johan Cruyff ability that Johnny has in the back garden.

Instead of the coach, the parent, the others around them supporting, understanding, helping develop the athlete – there is blame, lack of realism, lack of understanding, lack of hard work, determination, and the child develops a cynical outlook that their coach is out of get them, rather than understanding what it takes to get better.

This doesn’t excuse poor communication from many coaches or ultimately the care that every coach should have for their player, but whatever the support mechanism that currently exists – it is not creating resilient, humble, individual, creative, self-aware, emotionally intelligent, brave, leaders who take responsibility for their own actions.

This is not just in athletes, but in general society too. And whilst the public continue to largely sit back and watch other people live their lives (googlebox anyone?), nothing will change.

And while that continues to happen. The rest of the sporting world will breathe a sigh of relief, or gleefully celebrate (i.e Wales’ team celebration) – the Iceland’s, the Greece’s, the Conor McGregors, the All Blacks. Everyone else knows and can see the potential in English sport, as evidenced by the Under 20s Rugby World Cup last week. And everyone knowingly shakes their head, and produces a smile every time the senior teams under perform, and get knocked out. Knowing that if England ever got their act together, it would be a hell of a lot harder to win a world title.


About Stephen Moreton

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