Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Complicating The System: Why Mexico Has Not Won A World Cup

This piece will discuss the issues within youth football in Mexico, explaining how and why things are complicated, and thus the implications it has on the participation and development of children in Mexico. If we can't develop good players, we'll never see this great country compete on the national stage. All football begins at grassroots, so let's get that right. At no point will I name teams, players, or reveal the identity of anyone I work with or compete against.

The goal of all nations that compete in football is to win the World Cup. Obviously a country like our neighbours in Guatemala can't hold out much hope currently, but a football mad country with a large population like Mexico should be doing much better. The same can be said for China, Russia, and the USA when you think about their population and resources, but football in Mexico is part of everyday life, and permeates the very essence of this country. They love the game. As you will see me discuss, winning cannot be the objective if you are incredibly unlikely to win. Instead, it should be steady improvements, achieving targets, reaching goals, and ticking boxes. That's what youth football is, on the long and winding road to becoming a professional. We need to make absolutely sure that if a player does not make it into a World Cup winning side, that from the day they began their footballing journey as a young child in shorts too big for them, they enjoyed it and learnt a lot about life and about themselves. Little by little, the pieces come together.

My experience of Club America v Cruz Azul.

Winning is for adults, and learning and fun is for kids. You will find that a mistake often made is that we judge kids by adult standards, or that we intend for them to adhere to a more mature and advanced way of thinking, but that is not how they are wired. Kids learn in their own way, and experience a different world to grown ups. So let's cater to them, rather than force them to do things they are not yet ready for. Whatever your reason is for playing football, we need to make certain that we use that correctly and appeal to the motivation of the player. If you're not interested in winning, and just wish to have fun with your friends, that's fine. If you want to improve and compete at a higher level, that's fine too.

Playing football in Mexico. It should be a paradise.
This is a long and complicated issue, one which has me losing sleep at night, and losing my hair too. What is sad here is that the situation is self-destructive, being established by a group of well intended but misguided individuals. Two equal teams play two equal halves. Why make it more complicated than that?

A phrase we hear often here in Mexico is "That's Mexico". It's said as a way to justify below average to appalling standards. The people seem to embrace this reluctant acceptance of things which are simply not good enough. Why? Where did it all go wrong?

In my head I have visions of these idiots sat round a table coming up with genius ideas. Here are some examples of league rules that frustrate and bewilder us, each one being more ridiculous than the last:
  • Each team takes two penalties at half time. Apparently a separate competition from the league.
  • Coaches are allowed to coach from within the field.
  • After drawing a league game, the two teams play penalties for extra points. There are only three penalties each, and if the score is level after that, there is no sudden death and the game finishes.
  • The league format sees a certain number of teams progress to playoffs to compete for the title. This is a straight one game knock-out format. What happens if there is a tie? Can you guess? If after regulation time is complete and the scores are level, the team that finished higher in the league progresses.
I do believe that the last rule makes the whole point of a playoff season null and void. Now consider this against the earlier point above how teams must take penalties after a draw in a league game. Do not search for logic in this situation or else your head will explode.

As if life weren't complicated enough, there is no consistency. The referees change the half length every week, in the same age category. The amount of substitutions you can make changes each week. It depends who you get. The league has rules but the referees don't know them. Sometimes it is as if they guess the time as a thirty five minute half often ends around minute twenty eight.

To make matters worse, there is absolutely no communication between the coaches prior to the game. This leads to teams getting lost, teams not having enough players, getting the kick off time wrong, even getting the day wrong, and worst of all; teams cancelling a game and not showing up. Believe it or not but these are very real occurrences that happen frequently and cause much disruption. How can we solve these problems? With an email or telephone call.

I am not convinced by the playoff system to decide a champion. Just look at the Red Bulls in 2013 and even Cruz Azul this year. Both were the best team and top of the table, yet both fell at the first playoff. After the season, the best team is at the top (or the team most deserving). Apply that to kids, and with games being played any day at any time, how fair would it be if you win every game in the league, but on playoff day you lose half your team to a school trip? The American soccer hierarchy is different and has different needs as it is new and not well established. And in other major US leagues they play a series of seven, so the best team usually prevails,

The kids speak.
What happens in the Mexican youth leagues is by the league end date, some teams may have played ten games, whereas others will have played six. Naturally down here, if you are not going to win the title, what is the point in showing up? Your opponent has two games remaining and can still win the league, but they will probably beat you, and that will make you look like a bad coach. The most important thing to coaches here is reputation.

If you are in an eight team league, expect to play ten games, playing three teams twice, and four teams once. There is no rhyme or reason as to who you play twice. One of the biggest problems here is teams just not appearing for their scheduled games. What happens to the teams who don't show up? They lose the game. That is it. So if you are likely to lose, run away and hide. Don't inform the other coach. Let his team wake up at six on Saturday morning to not play a game. "But that's Mexico". No, that is the act of a coward and an idiot. Fine the teams. Deduct points from them. Call the coach to rearrange. Or take a massive step forward and say "We only have eight players. How about we give you the points, take a few of your players, and we play a friendly?" That kind of thinking is lightyears ahead and I don't think Mexico is ready for it.

Watching Mexican coaches talk to their players.
The strangest thing I have seen to date was one fine Saturday morning two months back. I turned up with sixteen girls to play 11v11. The field was made for 7v7. The keepers are within shooting distance of each other. The other team only had eight, so we played 11v8. We won the game 9-0. At one point, the coach of the opposition was so angry at the performance of two of his players he pulled them off to shout at them and made them sit down for five minutes to think about what they had done. In that time we scored three goals.

At half time, 5-0 to us, he insisted we play with eight too. No. I had sixteen players. That means half of my team sits down and does nothing. They don't deserve that. I am not punishing them because another coach is an idiot. They are teenagers who got up at six on a Saturday. They deserve to play. This is where the friendly suggestion would make sense. What does anybody gain from a 9-0 match? What does anybody learn? It's too easy for us and a pointless endeavour for them.

Since being here I have been playing somewhat regularly with some friends in an indoor league. I'm not sure if it is six or seven-a-side as that appears to differ each week. The rules are dumbfounding. It is virtually no contact, thus encouraging players to go down like a ton of bricks. A yellow card warrants a two minute sin bin for the offender, but the team remains at full strength as a replacement comes on. If one player makes four fouls in a game, they cannot finish the match. If a team makes seven fouls, the opponents receive a penalty kick, although it is actually a 1v1 with the keeper, with defenders able to chase back as soon as the whistle is blown. Don't worry, the taker gets a head start of two metres.

The indoor field is divided into thirds, split by two horizontal red lines. Most free kicks don't take place where the offence occurred, but on the nearest red line. Play is continuous as the pitch is surrounded by boards, but if the ball hits the net above the board, it is a free-kick. The goal is built into the wall and is a square shape. The wall surrounding the goal is about three metres high, though less than one metre at the sides of the field. Shots above the bar that hit the wall are still in play. And finally, there is no overhead height rule, but you cannot pass directly from the back third to the front third, with the ball having to go through a teammate in the middle when transitioning from attack to defence. The worst thing is that everyone looks at you like an idiot when you don't know why you conceded a free-kick.

Does that not just serve to complicate and confuse? How can you enjoy the game when you have no idea what is going on? Creativity is stifled and players just look for ways to bend the millions of rules.

Those of us with careers in the game, and those who are well versed in the business side of things must remember that football is a game played for fun. Many people have forgotten that and lose sight of the reason why we all do our jobs. It is for the kids (everyone at the Tyro League's favourite phrase). In another piece I wrote, I kept mentioning the phrase "Time spent not playing football". The bane of our existence and a source of great ball pain is player cards. We have to present these before games to prove the player is registered. The information we need takes ages to acquire, then it takes even longer to receive the cards from the league. It is easier to get into the country than it is to register your kid to play football. These player cards also present dangerous and uncomfortable situations. As coaches, we receive photographs, birth certificates, school details, and something akin to a National Insurance Number, or Social Security Number. We don't need this information, and shouldn't have it. It is potentially harmful. The leagues request all this information, and as the coaches, we are the middle-man that provides it to the league. This gives us a large database of photographs and sensitive details. We should not have this stuff, and other countries wouldn't allow it. It needs to be made simpler. To top it off, there's no CRB checks or safeguarding children registrations. There needs to be.

A lot of parents here are lazy, or just believe "That's Mexico" so are never in a hurry to respond. Some are very good and are very quick to help, but others have no concept of deadlines. Due to this, their kid often misses the cut-off for registration and therefore can't play football. Mexico is losing footballers simply through laziness.

It's hard to do our job when we have to fight against a culture and deep set attitudes. Getting kids to wear kit is a seemingly impossible task. Football boots? "Well I didn't realise". Shinpads? "They're ugly". Training shirt? "I didn't realise we had to wear it". We have spent four months repeating ourselves. How can you not want to wear a training kit? You get to look and feel like a professional team. The kids here do not like wearing long football socks, and opt for white ankle socks instead.

Lateness is an epidemic across all age groups. No one is ever in a hurry and they rarely apologise and give no warning. The first ten minutes of any girls session is spent with them all hugging and kissing each other. Once the session begins, if the session is too difficult or complicated, a lot of players don't try and just mess around. Rather than trying their hardest or leaving their comfort zone, they create problems for themselves and their teammates. It is a self-destructive attitude that is part of a blame culture that accepts no responsibility for their own actions.

I don't know what it is, but here you will witness a complete disregard for the effect of one's actions on those around them and others in the greater society. This is clearly reflected in the scheduling of games, which cares so little for families. Games are scheduled with other coaches much in a way that is reminiscent of perhaps the stock exchange, or even a cattle market. The coaches or coordinators are all packed together in a room, glance down at their fixture list, then proceed to call out for the coaches of the opponents that are written on their fixture list. That kind of thing would be absolutely obscene in England.

Brendan Rogers: "Manchester City? Manchester City!"
Manuel Pellegrini: "Hello? This is Manchester City".
Brendan Rogers: "It's Liverpool. We are down to play you in this round of fixtures with our U14s. Can you play Saturday?"
Jose Mourinho: "Manchester City, we need to play you with our U12 girls this weekend. We can't play Saturday or Sunday".
Manuel Pellegrini: "There's no way we can play Friday evening. Most of our players are at a school event".
Brendan Rogers: "Hey, I'm trying to arrange a game with them. Give us a minute".
Jose Mourinho: "We need to play Liverpool U18s. Do you have a field available Sunday at ten?"
Brendan Rogers: "No. What about your field?"
Jose Mourinho: "We don't have a field. We play all of our games away".

As I have been saying for my entire time here; everything can be solved by organisation, initiative, and communication. Put simply, phone calls and emails. Screw dedicating two or three hours one weekday evening, plan in advance and communicate.

We were victims of a travelling band
that accompanied our opponents.

So, we witness utter chaos. On top of that, it's difficult to have a commitment to a team as the game times are so random. Players have other commitments, but not just them, the parents have other kids, as well as their own lives to lead. The fixtures are set out in advance as to who each team will play in each round of games, but the games themselves are arranged on a Tuesday night. We are then told on a Wednesday, and tell the players and their parents as quick as we can. This becomes a pain in the bum for the organisation of their weekend and their free time. I've been in the car with parents who have two boys, one played Saturday morning at eight, then the other Sunday at eight. They looked dead. You work hard all week and look forward to your weekend, but suddenly receive an email on Wednesday telling you it's early to bed both Friday and Saturday night.

Bring plenty of water.
When you have been doing anything for a while, you begin to believe you have seen everything. Like I mentioned before, the rules still baffle me. You also think you've heard every excuse in the book for players not playing, but if Mexico ever wins anything in regards to football, it will definitely be excuses for not playing. I've left my boots at home. I don't have shinpads. I forgot. It's my birthday. It's raining. I got the time wrong. I have homework. My sister is doing something at school. I came back from vacation yesterday (a four hour drive). My dad can't take me. I have exams. It's cold. Much like in New Jersey, when there is rain, a couple clouds in the sky, or even someone who didn't dry themselves thoroughly after a shower, they don't turn up. Excuses like "I might get sick" and "My mum won't let me" come into play.

We regularly experience dialogue much like this one:
Coach: "Why didn't you come to practice?"
Player: "Because it was raining".
Coach: "So?"
Player: "I thought it would be cancelled".
Coach: "Could you not call or email to ask?"
Player: "Maybe".

You can have excuses or you can have results. You can't have both.

These excuses present a blame culture that shirks from responsibility. What happened to overcoming the odds? Trying your hardest? Not giving up? That's too difficult, and we might lose. I'd rather stay in my comfort zone where it's warm and cosy. If you want to achieve something you've never achieved before, you have to do something you've never done before. Mexico keeps doing the same things over and over again, resenting and resisting change, yet still expecting progress.

A lot of teams here are beaten before they even begin the game. Preparation is dreadful as very few players do a thorough warm up. A lot of them don't even touch a football, and do nothing to raise their heart rate. They show up in dribs and drabs, with the majority of the team arriving within ten minutes of kick off, often not in kit. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail Another factor is the frail mentality. If the other team is better than you, you are likely to lose. Oh no, I don't want to lose. We're going to lose. And there you have it, beaten before a ball has even been kicked. The quality of the opposition is not the only variable that can destroy belief. The size of the field, the time of day, and a whole list of other irrelevent issues pay on a player's mind.

The beautiful ankle breaking playing fields you
can expect to experience while here in Mexico.
Recently I went to meet the coach of the local university team where I am going for Spanish classes. Both the home and away team got changed on the pitch. What shocked me more was that they turned up with their kit in their bag, and weren't given their shirts at the game. So why the bloody Hell aren't they getting changed at home or somewhere else before arriving at the field and having to strip in front of everyone? This may have been a university game, but I have seen more athleticism in English pub leagues. The start was 12:30, but as expected, no one was there. The opposition showed up around 13:10. The warm up for both teams was a couple fat blokes in jeans crossing some balls for the three dressed players to shoot at the keeper. The pitch was mostly grass, though the white lines could not be seen, and no one was missing the corner flags. The goals had still not been wheeled into position by the time I left for work.

Home of the Seahawks and the Sounders
How can this be the standard of a university representative side? How can that be the pitch that they play on? A lot of fields here are multi-purpose, meaning they are full of lines. It reminds me of a lot of the MLS stadiums that ground share with NFL teams. When the Timbers played the Sounders in the play-offs, the Sounders were ridiculed for having many different lines painted all over their fields. That is common place in Mexico. Just last week our keeper used her hands outside the area as she was confused by which line to play to. Now we all know that grass needs water to grow, and that at times Mexico can be very dry. The groundsmen use this as an excuse to well and truly flood the field. Sadly, this has a negative effect on the grass as it ceases to grow, and pitches turn into dirt baths. Can we expect our kids to be safe on such a terrible field? Can we expect them to play good football when they have to navigate a surface akin to that of the moon? Again, not a difficult problem to solve, but one that was self-inflicted and one that is self-destructive.

Estadio Azteca: An iconic stadium that
demonstrates the potential that Mexico has.

How can we expect the young players in this country to grow up aspiring to be good footballers when those that represent the club sides play themselves like children? Common sights in Liga MX are players performing overhead kicks in the middle of the field, and just lumping the ball forward as far as they can without direction or thought. The players are trying as hard as they can, but it is misguided, much like the kids. The thinking of a goalkeeper is the same as that of an eight year old being shouted at by his parents. "I better kick this ball as high and as far as I can" rather than playing a pass to a teammate. When the ball goes high in the air "What's the coolest most impressive skill I can do right now?" rather than controlling it and playing a pass to a teammate. This is what young players see and try to emulate. This is what parents see and demand their children do.

Before coming here I thought that the style of play would be more akin to Spain's pass and move, but Mexican football really is about twenty years behind the developed football world. They can see it when they watch European football on TV. The average Mexican is not stupid and knows that the teams and players are lacking in quality, but nothing is being done about it.

Although I believe kids in the UK are becoming soft, we have nothing to worry about when compared to the kids here. It's still a very British belief that to show pain is a sign of weakness, and that you must be tough and strong, sucking it up and playing on, giving 110% no matter what. Here, with the kids, adults, and professionals, it seems as if everyone in football kit is auditioning for a part of a wounded soldier in a war movie. I know from travelling the world that most foreigners can't hack it as well as us world conquering Brits, but it is a despicable act to feign an injury in order to try and get another person into trouble. It is lying and cheating (completely un-British) and goes against the code and ethics of sport in the first place. The belief must be that no one is going to believe you have been fouled unless you roll around on the floor and become really angry. Again, much like a child that doesn't get what it wants. How can you act like that when thousands of people are watching? We have it in Europe, and it is happening more and more in England, though we do frown upon it. It seems to be encouraged here, and that is not the way to play football.

Referring to the tactics employed by professional teams, Club America play with five in defence. They are one of the strongest teams in the league, and yet they have a flat back five with no attacking full backs. That now leaves just five players to do the attacking, who are all at least forty yards away. Forty yards is about the closest you will ever see a midfield to their own defence. No one tracks back and there is no build up play. For a country that is absolutely crap at heading the ball, why on Earth are they playing long balls? It's because of things like this that we can't easily relate fluid movement and off-ball support to kids as it is largely non-existent here.

Youth coaches do what every idiot coach does, and only picks the best players. The crap kids who make it into the lineup have to play in defence and always pass to the good kids. I lost a game 9-0 with my girls one day. We are by far a better team, but the score doesn't show that. Our opponents only had two or three good players, with the rest of them being technically deficient. It was sad to see. The instructions of the crap girls was to not take more than one touch, booting the ball as hard and as far as they can in whichever direction they are facing. Doing this around one hundred and fifty times in a game will inevitably mean the ball falls to your good players in good positions, allowing them to score. By not taking more than one touch and clearing the ball, without exception, regardless of time or space, will frustrate your opponents, break down their chances, and not allow them to play their way. What is it these crap players are actually learning? They are not being taught technique or tactics, and only the good players are allowed to improve and to flourish.

Before I begin to slate Mexico too much, it must be said that we must first get our own house in order before we put this football revolution into full force. I don't like to criticise colleagues as we are on the same team, fighting the same battle, but I see and hear things that make me cringe. Here are some examples:
  • Kick it out. Just kick it out for their throw-in. - Don't try and learn how to play your way out of trouble. Instead, understand just how crap you are, panic, and relieve possession.
  • Don't do stupid turns. You wouldn't do it in a game, so don't do it in practice. - That's the exact opposite of what practice is. Try things in practice as it is a place to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes. Don't stifle creativity.
  • I don't want to put this player into a higher team. Even though this player deserves to be in a better team, if they leave, it will leave a massive hole in our team. - These are kids. Think of the player and their development. Don't hold someone back for your own personal gain. If there's going to be a hole, it will be filled by someone else who will develop into a better player.
  • Those three are going to stay defenders for the entire drill because they are my three best defenders. - Why not give someone else a turn so that they can practice their defending? What if the three don't want to stay in defence? Young players should not be forced to play only in one position, and should be learning and allowed to experiment in other roles. Think if a solid defender learns how to take on a player, pass, and shoot. Won't that make them a more complete and versatile player that can benefit the team with many more skills?
This kind of coaching and this kind of thinking is rooted firmly in the mind of a coach that values winning rather than development. They are kids. Winning comes much later in life. These early years are all about learning, discovery, understanding, and fun. Let's not take that away from them. Allow them to be creative, allow them to try. Provide a safe environment for them in which they can experiment with the ball and have fun.

Young players should not be playing in leagues until they are approaching double figures. At that age, absolutely anything can affect performance. Even things like butterflies and aeroplanes can make a player forget a game is going on. With there being leagues, misguided parents begin to feel that winning is important, and therefore see losing as failure. It might be that a coach inherits a team of six year olds that are absolutely terrible. What are their chances of winning? Does that now mean that losing is failure? There's not much that can be done in the short term to greatly increase their chances of winning, so lets look more at goals and targets. What can be done as individuals? Can we string three passes together? Can we get at least four shots on target? Can we avoid losing the ball in front of our goal? All these little hurdles are steps up the ladder towards improvement. Winning is not the only way to measure success, but it's the only way these people can see. Change your parameters and expectations. To me, winning is being a little bit better than you were last week.

Well Will, if you take the competition out of it then the kids will become softies like you were lamenting earlier. No. Not quite. Kids can count, therefore they know who is winning. All kids want to win. They are super competitive, in all aspects of life. Who can eat the most peas? Who can press the button on the traffic light to cross the road? Removing competition just removes the pressure from the situation, allowing them to play freely without being held back by fear the consequences. One example I can give to prove this was a session I conducted the other day. It was more in the way of guided discovery, giving them an idea and letting them figure it out themselves. I had twelve boys of six and seven years old. I split them into four teams of three, playing a four goal game. Each team has to defend their goal and can score into the other three. We finished playing this game with three balls. From a technical point of view, it covered many different topics as so many things were being engaged; goalkeeping, shooting, dribbling, 1v1s, passing, tackling, moves to beat, awareness etc. What was key was that I didn't step in to coach, and only gave encouragement and praise at the appropriate times in the appropriate proportions. The intensity of the session was the highest I have seen with them, as no one was left un-engaged. If we played 6v6 then only the good kids will touch the ball. Twelve players with three balls is a 4:1 ratio, meaning that there is always a ball somewhere. If the two good kids are in a dual, go and get the other one, or the other one. Every player could play at their own pace and not have to worry too much about the others, whether it was too easy or too difficult. Every player scored goals, every player made tackles, every player had fun, and every player can remember many things that they did well in that practice. I didn't keep score, but I know the kids knew how many goals each team had as I could hear them counting as they ran around chasing the balls.

Can the FMF not provide
learning resources to coaches?
It would appear that there is very little support from the FMF when it comes to coaching or grassroots development. Currently I am a member of the coaches associations of England and the US. The English FA has improved their grassroots development so much, and made the knowledge and resources more accessible to all. The NSCAA has been doing this for years, and it is nice of England to have finally caught up. Surely Mexico can even just hand out leaflets that give the most basic advice to youth coaches. I'd start with "You can shout and scream all you want, that won't make them better".

Talking to a lot of Mexican football fans, they are aware of the problems. They know there are many areas in which they lack. It is evident that the coaches play to win, sacrificing development for personal gain, but why is that? Mexican society does not have a welfare state like we do back home. If you are out of a job, the government can't help you, so you must do all you can to keep that job. When everyone views winning as the priority in youth sport, winning is how you keep your job. Aside from those in the professional league, most coaches don't make a lot of money. Hardly enough to live on. Even those in the top leagues aren't on too much. Reputation is so important, and it makes those involved in football become selfish. Due to this need to keep up a reputation and the lack of money to be earned from the game, coaches often take bribes in order to play players. Much like the society in general, as police here earn very little. They will stop you for nothing and will demand money. When the needs of the individual are promoted above the needs of the team, how can we expect the team to achieve success? These people do not have the needs of the team at heart, and therefore the players within that team will not develop and progress.

The best coaches I have worked with can have lengthy discussions over the correct and best practices. They are constantly researching, reading, watching, and analysing in their spare time. Like anything, if you want to be good at it, you need devotion to your subject. It consumes your life. When I can't have these discussions with coaches, when I don't see them analysing, I lose respect for them. Everyone needs time to switch off, and I often have a day where I have nothing to do with football or work in order to refresh my mind, and spend time and attention on loved ones and those dear to me, who may have been neglected recently due to my dedication. There are some journeyman British coaches I have met who just do the job because it is football, it beats working in an office, and they like the aura of telling people they are a football coach. Football doesn't need those people. There is a very high proportion of coaches like that here in Mexico. I've seen it done by my compatriots when abroad; "Hey girls, yeah, I'm a professional British soccer coach". Naturally, they swoon, as I have found out. The coaches here need to be trained and monitored to ensure top standards can be delivered and achieved.

Like I mentioned before with the games being scheduled all over the place, there needs to be more consistency. The fixtures here are irregular, and it makes my blood boil when they affect our training times. Back home, you only ever play on a weeknight when May is fast approaching, the winter was bad so games were called off, and you don't have enough weekends to get all your games in. Or, you are fortunate enough to make it to a cup final and get to play at a stadium under floodlights. Kids need consistency. Everyone needs consistency. Each age group should have a specific time and day that they play, so they know when their game is likely to be. Something like this:

8:00 U8
9:00 U10
10:00 U12
12:00 U14
14:00 U16

8:00 U6
9:00 U12 girls
10:00 U14 girls
12:00 U16 girls
14:00 U18

The above is just an example of how it could and should be. That is your set time, and home or away, you will play at that time on that day every weekend. Now you can arrange your personal time better. Another factor to filter in is that Mexico has a public holiday about every three days. We had three in the first week of May alone. To celebrate Teachers Day, the schools are closed. To celebrate The Day of Work, everyone is given a day off. We don't get it. It's like they celebrate every good thing to ever have happened in Mexico, then run out of ideas, so celebrate anything even remotely important. Could you imagine if everything great in England was celebrated with a day off? We don't even have a day off for winning the Second World War. It's in the past and should no longer affect daily life. We recognise it and pay our respects, then go to work and carry on with our lives. Let's make St. George's Day a day off. Let's have a day off to commemorate when the Titanic sunk. Why not even World Cup Day to celebrate the win in 1966? Then, to add to the list, the birthdays of Sir Paul McCartney and Jimmy Page, Shakespeare's birthday, Geoff Hurst's birthday, Lord Admiral Nelson. The list is endless. Why don't we do that? Because it is incredibly disruptive and we would get nothing done. The country would soon slow down and become a place of lethargy.

In Mexico it greatly disrupts our football season. No games were scheduled over the Easter holiday. Why not? Apart from Easter Sunday and Easter Friday, why do we need to spend the other days doing nothing? What baffles me even more is on a normal weekend we have a player say "I can't play this weekend, I'm going on vacation". Why? Last week was a bank holiday and next week is a bank holiday? Why are you going away on holiday this bloody weekend? This constant disruption greatly impacts the league as we can go up to four weeks without playing. Again, there's no consistency. Arrange the games. If a kid is on holiday, tough, you don't play. Enjoy your weekend at the beach. Don't get me wrong, we are grateful for the occasional surprise day off, but after a couple it just becomes boring and pointless.

To make matters worse, as I keep mentioning, communication is bad. Not just between the clubs and leagues, but within the clubs themselves. Several times within our own establishment, the club has leased our fields to another cause. They then forget, or responsibility is not delegated and thus becomes diffused, and leave us with only two day's notice to rearrange games and sessions. Mistakes happen, we are all human. Once is a mistake, twice is an unfortunate coincidence, three times is a habit. It happens so frequently that I'm beginning to believe that they are either incapable of learning, or that it is sabotage (a lot of people here are upset that Mexican coaches have been replaced with Brits).

Many of the teams we play are actually school teams. With the amount of hard work and dedication that everyone seems to apply to their professional lives here, asking for a little bit more from them is a huge offence. Thus schools can't be bothered to open their fields on a weekend, or the groundsman can't be bothered to prepare the field, or the coach can't be bothered to work on a weekend. Somewhere along the line, someone can't be bothered, thus once again putting the needs of the few above the needs of the many. It results in us having to play many games just after schools finish on a weeknight. This disrupts our training, disrupts our preparation, and means parents have to drive around like idiots trying to get their darlings to a game. But who cares? I'm tired and don't want to do extra work, so we are playing the game when it suits me. These selfish attitudes deeply hurt Mexican football and Mexican society.

Most teams around the world always have that one hothead who is capable of losing his cool at any moment, and earning himself a pointless and unnecessary red card. Your average Mexican team has at least five players like that. Again, self-destructive. "But that's Mexico". Is that an apt justification for acting like a idiot and hurting your team? It's like everyone, regardless of their age or ability, has the temperament of a spoilt child. It's not good enough. It's like watching a team full of Sergio Ramos clones. They are all capable of shoving a player off the ball in front of the referee, arguing with officials, reacting badly to a tackle, or doing a needless foul on a player who was going nowhere. Simple: grow up.

Listen to them. It's their game.
Mexico is still very much in the dark ages when it comes to women in sport. This appears to permeate society. What they describe as "Traditional Values, the rest of us would describe as "Sexist". Working in Kuwait, our head coach was a woman. I personally did not like her, but she was good at her job. At lot of the dads would come and talk to me, shaking my hand for about thirty seconds too long (as is the Arab way) and proceed to ask me what were my views of women coaching. I was shocked and appalled as they tried to imply that a woman could never do as good a job in something as complex as football. Where they don't outright say it like that in Mexico, you do get the impression that girls are protected and discouraged from playing sport. It's also evident that males and females do not receive equal funding, support, or promotion. We're not perfect in England, but the FA is doing a lot to bridge that gap. The US is the model for females in football, and yet they share a border with this country that is still so far behind the developed football world. I believe this serves to create a superiority complex within the males, whose egos inflate even more. They're already way too confident of their own minimal ability.

Miguel Herrera is currently on every TV commercial.
Football is a funny thing in that everyone has an opinion, regardless of how valid. This lack of credibility is further ignored in the minds of Mexican fans as the national coach Miguel Herrera has to explain his tactics in a way reminiscent of Andy Gray and his Subbuteo table. He does this on live TV within half an hour of kick off. TV demands it, the sponsors demand it, but what it really does is allow people to scrutinise every little detail. It creates an unwarranted self-importance among the armchair fans who now feel that their opinion is valid. Don't make idiots feel intelligent and worthwhile. Shows like X-Factor and The Voice already do that. By giving fans this information, it also serves to put everything you do under the microscope. "Herrera said that Hernandez was going to come deep in Zone 14 to receive the ball, but he stopped making those runs after twenty minutes. This guy is clearly an idiot and is not good enough to be the coach of the national team". That's just an example of how a fan would react if given some information regarding the team's strategies and ideas. Let's pretend that the opposition became wise to the runs of Javier Hernandez and that they were becoming ineffective. So why did he stop making those runs? Because the coach identified that and made adjustments to the game plan. Fans have no idea what really goes on, both on the field and on the training ground. Please don't attempt to make them feel intelligent.

Everyone here judges without knowing the facts.
It's also this kind of thing that makes a parent believe their opinion is valid. Unless one of my dads is Pep Guardiola or Jose Mourinho, I don't care what they have to say. And even if the dad was a top coach, he would know not to interfere. It does more harm than good. Who likes being told what to do? Who likes being told what to do by someone with no credibility? Who values the opinion of someone who is clearly not impartial in their thinking? Back off, and let the coach do their job. When we go to games here, we're often against the coach, the assistant coach, the coach's friend, and ten dads, even some overzealous mums too who have crawled out unnoticed from the Mexican barriers of sexism to pipe up and shout just as loud, or even louder, than the coaches and dads, proving their absolute worth to the team and the cause. Which one of them truly believes that all this interference, instruction, aggression and noise is actually beneficial for the kids? Like most parents, they are influenced by pride and blinded by fear. Kids need to make mistakes. Let them fail. It is the best teacher.

Arsene Wenger; "The day you stop
learning is the day you stop teaching".
Sadly, coaching here is not viewed as a profession. It probably doesn't help that most of them show up in jeans and the shirt of their favourite football team. The relaxed attitude and terrible preparation do not help create the image of a guy who knows what he is doing. They are completely unaware that coaching qualifications exist, that one can obtain degrees, masters degrees, and even PhDs in sport. To them, a coach is just someone with an interest who is fortunate enough to have a friend in the business, and is too lazy to get a real job. Here in Mexico they have the University of Football in Pachuca. It is my intention to go and check this place out one weekend in the summer. For now, their website will do: Universidad del Futbol. I suppose that like a lot of things in this country, a uniform and a title mean very little, as most people in those roles get very little done. There is no accountability, and if you do a bad job, you can just drive off and nothing bad will happen to you. Police are often asleep in their cars, or are seen eating and chatting at the side of the road. The average person has no fear, no respect, and does not believe they are capable of doing their job. That scepticism is taken into all other areas of life, especially one where you believe you could do it better. At first, a lot of parents found it very difficult to believe that we were professionals. They have not experienced that before. Since then, they have started to see new things that are revolutionary here, like not just turning up on time, but actually turning up earlier. I know. Incredible. People going above and beyond the requirements and expectations of their job. I'm overwhelmed. Good thing I am sitting down.

Sean Dyche may be a Dingle, but he said; "I don't scream at
my kid playing football 'cause I wouldn't when he's learning to read".
Something we see quite regularly at youth games is parents, or fans really, bringing instruments to games, and making a loud and intense atmosphere. It's all meant for good fun, but it creates noise, distractions, and puts unnecessary pressure on kids. Not many of them can concentrate well enough as it is. Now we start bombarding them with music, instructions and criticism. Why?

Perhaps I'm just miserable and don't like fun, but really, it's not that fun for the kids. The most important thing in youth football is the kids, and they have all stated that playing, seeing friends, learning new skills, scoring goals etc. are their number one priorities. Winning is on that list eventually, but is not their first and foremost thought. All the academies and top clubs have a silence rule for their parents and spectators, and that needs to be enforced here. There would be a lot of "That's Mexico" being said when first suggested, but if you want to achieve something you have never achieved before, you have to do something you have never done before. Just applause, please. It allows the coaches, players, and referees to focus on the game. If this is what the best clubs do, and we want the best for our kids, why aren't we doing it? Allow them to play in a pressure free environment. This will allow kids to experiment and try things they can't do without fear of failure.

A young kid asked this question during some FA research;
"Why do I have to defend the same sized goal as Petr Cech?"
What is the next thing that we have to change? The best countries play smaller sided games. Even in England we are slow to do this, with the changes coming next year. Ten year olds are playing with size five balls, 11v11, on full sized pitches. Why? They are not adults. We should not be applying the same demands and expectations on kids that we do on adults. Why don't we teach three year olds calculus? Why is astrophysics not a subject available to kids to study? It's too much for their brains. With more players on the field, the game becomes more tactical. It is too tactical to understand for a kid to work as a unit, when their technique is still too poor to achieve the demands set upon them by the game. At too young an age they are trying to maintain a defensive line, rather than improving their ability to control the ball and pass to a teammate. With such large pitches, only the stronger and faster kids succeed. Keepers can't take goal kicks out of their areas. Corners never reach the box. It just becomes boot it and run. With goals too large for the kids to adequately defend, it becomes easy to score. We need to play smaller sided games in Mexico, with more appropriate sized goals. U7s should not be playing more than 5v5. U10s should not be playing 11v11. Personally I'm not sure that 11v11 should be played until kids are around fifteen or sixteen years old. With smaller sided games, most teams can be cut in half, providing two teams; one with the more developed players, one with the weaker players, thus allowing like minded players to revel in an environment more suited to themselves.

Coaches on the field of play. A very common sight.
What else? The leagues need to be better. First, simplify the rules. Two equal teams play two equal halves. The team that finishes the season with the most points is the winner. All age groups are designated a day on which to play on, rather than random fixtures throughout the week. If a team does not show up, they are deducted points and fined. Coaches should be provided with a database of contacts and will be encouraged to engage in communication. The option to play a friendly should be a mandatory suggestion if a team does not have enough players to field a team. Playing smaller sided games will actually make it easier to field teams. The referees have to play the full amount of the half, and not cut it short because they feel like it. For every minute that a team is late beyond kick off time, that is one goal awarded to the opposition. Finally, standardise the rules. Are we playing throw-ins or kick-ins? Corners or no corners? Offsides? Sin bins?

More ideas of things to implement here are ideas that are lightyears ahead of Mexican thinking. First, rolling subs should be standard across all age groups and leagues. With my girls, sometimes it's seven, sometimes it is unlimited, sometimes they can't go back on if they came off. We have no idea what is going on. As long as a player is registered and named in your matchday squad, they should be allowed to leave and enter at the discretion of the coach. In a lot of countries there are retreat lines which are to be utilised at goal kicks. A lot of keepers, or even defenders taking the kick, are instructed to boot the ball as far forward as they can to bypass the risk of losing the ball in front of your own penalty area. With a retreat line, defenders are able to receive the ball without immediately being closed down, and keepers are able to pass to their teammates in space. This teaches young teams to play out from the back, rather than kicking it long and hoping that it gets to one of their players. Let's teach them to protect the ball, and show them that it is the most important thing on the field.

And then, let's educate the coaches. Provide a national curriculum of best practices, and provide a development centred philosophy that all clubs have to adhere to. Belgium did it a while ago, and look at the wave of talent they now have. Germany, Spain, France, Netherlands, USA all have this in place. And so does England now. What's helping us back home is a new generation of coaches who have been educated in best practices. We are slowly phasing out the coaches with old style thinking. Let's educate some teenagers and young adults and get them involved. Provide coaches clinics, educate the parents with Ray Winstone videos, make free and online content for those who can't attend or afford a proper coaches education.

The home of Cruz Azul. Football in this country could be amazing.

All this will eventually filter up to the professionals as these players progress, having been taught the right way. The US has done it. It's the fifth biggest sport in the country, and yet now, due to their hard work, the revolution has paid off as their league, players, clubs, and national team are better than their Mexican equivalents. How could Mexico let that happen? Their biggest rivals are now better. Mexican football has been sleeping. Then you won't have morons doing overhead kicks in the middle of the park for no reason, diving, cheating, bribes etc. More players who are capable will be willing to take the risk of moving across to play in Europe.

If we ignite a football revolution in this country, in twenty years time, Mexico could be one of the strongest nations in world football. Up there with Brazil, Spain, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Argentina, Uruguay, France, England (when we get our act together), and the USA, who will also be joining this group in the future. Imagine the euphoria that would be experienced if Mexico was to win the World Cup. We have to do  the simple things right, as they are being done so horribly wrong. The grassroots must be done well, or else players are too flawed by the time they reach professional. It's going to take patience and time, but it's not impossible.

Is this noise necessary? It seems only to distract
and add extra pressure onto the players. The coach and
players struggled to communicate effectively. Is that helpful?

So why is it that despite all the flaws, Mexico still produces some good players? Simply because some players respond well in this environment, are driven, or have encountered good coaches along the way. It's not inconceivable. Though these players are not up there with those of Brazil, Germany, nor the Netherlands, all of which have a long history of producing world class players. If we want to see Mexico become successful, we need to include and appeal to all of it's footballers, and engage them in the way that is most appropriate to them.

I hope that you, the reader, do not mistake my ramblings for that of a hate-filled ungrateful imbecile. I have loved my time here in Mexico. It has given me a house, a job, a girlfriend, a new challenge, opportunities to learn and to explore. I am frustrated by the many things that are wrong here, though I vow to do my very best to play whatever part I can in improving the football of this great nation. If you have the time to complain about it, you have the time to do something about it. One must always remember when working and living abroad, it is not your right to live there, but a privilege.

Think all this is bollocks? Here's some further reading for you:

Competitive Sport Puts Off Schoolchildren - BBC
Jason De Vos: How Parents Can Look To Develop Young Players - ESPN
Survey Reveals Poor State of Grassroots Football: Poor Facilities and Lack of Funding To Blame - Sky Sports
Survey Says Soccer Moms Overwhelmed By Pressure Off Kids In Sports - My North West
Parents Ruin Sports For Their Kids By Obsessing About Winning - The Atlantic
10 Things Not To Say At Your Kids Soccer Game - Chicago Now
Silent Running Soccer League Tells Parents To Pipe Down - The Globe and Mail
The FA Votes For Smaller-Sided Matches For Young Footballers - The Guardian
Optimal Youth Development In Football - The Beautiful Game

Still bollocks? Check out these videos.

Ray Winstone shows how it's done.
Les Ferdinand and Barry Evans play with no ref.
Imogen shows adults what it is like to play on big fields.
Lord Triesman, Sir Trevor Brooking, Robbie Earle, Stuart Pearce, and a whole load of kids tell you their thoughts.

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