Benny Sip


Fundamental Transformation: Youth Football Metamorphosis NZ

Definition of Metamorphosis: A profound change in form from one stage to the next in the life history of an organism, as from the caterpillar to the pupa and from the pupa to the adult butterfly.

The New Zealand youth football development life - cycle is in dire need of a metamorphosis. A profound, exciting and entirely new way of thinking and doing in regards to curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment around youth football development in NZ needs adopting i.e. the way the beautiful game is played (and taught). All NZ youth football development schemes need uprooting and redeveloping from the foundation. A fundamental transformation is in order. 

Imagine the current life - cycle of  football development in NZ as a caterpillar with the potential of metamorphosis to butterfly. Crawling at the bottom of the FIFA World Rankings (#112) to possibly taking flight. A profound and fundamental transformation is more than possible in NZ. This is exciting and should be inspiring for the people in charge of shaping NZ's football development landscape.

Just as a caterpillar does not achieve metamorphosis overnight, neither does the youth football development landscape of a country. First, there must be a set of conditions in place for the metamorphosis to occur, a life cycle stage - chrysalis / cocoon - in which the caterpillar is given the opportunity to become something fundamentally different and new. A stage where the organism's energies are spent entirely on growth and development. From lowly worm to winged beauty does not happen so easy. It's not that pretty of a process either; however, feats once thought impossible, become possible and real due to this ugly (read random vs. block training) stage. 

It is this life cycle stage, the chrysalis / cocoon, of football development that NZ has failed to create for a number of reasons. NZ players bypass the chrysalis going straight from caterpillar to butterfly without having spent nearly enough time developing under the "correct" conditions. Thus, half developed caterpillar - butterfly hybrids emerge too soon from the incubator and are asked to take flight on the world's stage. It's no wonder so few NZ players take flight and remain in top flight football.

The NZ player has not spent enough time in an environment with a sole focus on development and growth. Thus, top NZ football talents emerge on scene unequipped with the necessary skills to succeed in a wild, challenging and ruthless football world. Weaknesses, half developed football bodies and brains, are quickly exposed. Despite the evidence provided by hundreds of Kiwi test subjects, the false perception prevails that NZ football "talents" and NZ football development are further down the developmental track than they really are. It is a top quality masquerade, smoke and mirrors. Perhaps more football people need to be thinking in biological terms. 

Are there people and organisations in NZ with a genuine and vested interest in creating the conditions for football development metamorphosis to occur? Of course, but not enough. Guardians of the beautiful game in NZ are in short order, particularly those concerned with development. Patience is a rarity. Few football people understand or desire to understand growth, learning and development at the core. "Rug-ball" mentality, a predominantly physical game, rules the roost. Little in the way of structural change seems to be happening on behalf of the "big trout" in charge.

Perhaps the most discouraging thing about youth football development in NZ is the ongoing mindset of perceived metamorphosis, over the past thirty years, caused by successive Youth World Cup entries via Oceania. Due to numerous qualifications since the late 1990’s the perception is that NZ is a country rich in football knowledge with a successful youth football development programme, when in actuality, little to no development has occurred in nearly three decades of football. 

Perceived success is a massive problem in NZ. Not only from a WC qualification standpoint. Big trout small pond syndrome is rampant on the islands, and loads of Kiwi footballers are infected. Why do the fish grow so big in NZ? Simply put, they have no natural predators and zero competition (they also thrive due to an incredible environment suited for maximal growth and development: cold fresh water, lots of food, etc., but that part of the analogy does not really support this argument...) The NZ football landscape is no different. Kiwi footballers become big trout fast, too fast for their own good. Most Kiwis fly straight to the top of the NZ football mountain, while other players in their respective countries swim the long, challenging and windy way up the football development river.

Ben Sippola