Importance of RELATIONSHIPS & GRIT; learnings from the Great Yarmouth Football Tour!

This weekend I witnessed something special.

It took place in Gorleston, near Great Yarmouth, at a youth football tournament. My son, Ollie, plays for Bugbrooke Blacks U10’s. They won the tournament and deserved to…but that’s not the point of this post.

Let me give some context.

Nearly 2 years ago we (Ollie, my wife and I) made the decision to remove Ollie from a professional football academy. Only 4 months after signing (Ollie is a talented player who shows a lot of promise), we (along with several other parents) decided that the experience our then 8 year old boys were getting was simply not good enough. Little focus on relationships, player development almost felt secondary and the boys had a different coach every week. The club and coaches (I’m sad to say) simply didn’t seem to care. In fact – that’s kind. They didn’t care. They have the pro football team badge, probably all the coaching badges too, but:

“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Fast forward nearly 2 years. Having made the decision back then for Ollie to move to a newly-formed ‘grassroots’ team (made up of the ex-academy players) we absolutely know that it was 100% the right decision.

The exceptional coaching team ensure that the boys (now 9 and 10) are treated as human beings first. Footballers second. Everything, and I mean everything, is built on solid relationships. This allows my boy to truly flourish. They know Ollie inside out – the nuances of his personality, his sensitivities, and when he needs a cliched ‘arm round the shoulder’ or a bit of a ‘rocket’.

There is a lot of talk in my sector (education) about domain specific versus generic knowledge. For what I am about to go on to talk about, I am working on the assumption that in football, the domain specific knowledge is the tactical expertise of a coach – those hours spent discussing tactics, styles of play, formations etc. Goodness me – this is crucial. You have to know your stuff. You have to have expertise in your specific domain.

But…is this as important as having everyone on board? Hearts and minds…believing in the project…trusting in the process…

What’s the point in having oodles of domain specific knowledge (expertise) if you haven’t got the right relationships to be able to impart that and develop others?

In the final yesterday, our team (who are technically hugely gifted and have coaches who are tactically very impressive) had to show something else. Something deeper. It was called GRIT.

The ethos of our team always is never focused on the result…it’s always about individual player development and team development. The coaches rarely know the score of a game and genuinely, in U11’s football (they play a year up), would rather that the team lost but played well, following the philosophy, than won having not played in the way they have been coached to. It is mightily refreshing.

Back to yesterday’s final. Tournament football…the boys wanted to win and taste success. Of course they did. In order to do that, in a ‘winner takes all’ game, from my inexpert lens the tactical and technical aspect of their game went out of the window. For our superb coaches, who pride themselves on our style of play, it would have been horrible to watch. But…the coaches said nothing. They didn’t need to. The boys knew what they needed to do to win and they had the confidence to do it, because their relationships with their coaches are built on mutual respect and trust. In the absolute right sense, all these boys feel well and truly loved. These boys, aged 9 and 10, were a band of brothers. They were the most together that I have ever seen a group of individuals. Together. As a team. That alone is why they won.

The relationships that have been cultivated over the past 20 months were fruitful beyond our wildest expectations yesterday. The mentality that is flourishing within this group is that they go into battle as one…together. No amount of coaching badges or professional football team logos enable that. Domain specific knowledge, arguably, went out the window.

Watching my sensitive, beautiful boy develop as a human being first, footballer second in this set-up is a privilege and something that I am very proud of.

Why is it that too often, relationships and togetherness are cast aside? Why is it that character development still doesn’t really seem to be a ‘thing’?

For me, it’s hearts and minds all the way. This weekend was special.

“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” MC

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