Football Federation Australia (FFA) Technical Director Rob Sherman visited Football Queensland (FQ) headquarters earlier this week as part of a number of visits to member federations across the country.
Sherman, who began in his role with the FFA in May this year, conducted a practical session on the field at Meakin Park, before presenting his vision for football in the country to Technical Directors from Queensland clubs.
As part of Sherman’s visit, he sat down with FQ to give an insight into the future direction of football in Australia, the current state of youth pathways in the country, and his time so far as FFA Technical Director.
On his visit to FQ (prior to session):
Rob Sherman: I’ll be doing a session on decision-making basically, highlighting the game constraints for the coaches, just so they’re aware of how they might support their players in improving their perception, and then we’ll move into a presentation which will outline some of the future direction that we’re looking towards and contextualising the game as a whole.
Rob’s thoughts on his recent visits to other member federations:
RS: I think in general, people seem to buy into the concepts that we’re talking about, and they seem to be enthused in the main by them. There’s some historical baggage that probably needs to be left behind at this stage, and that was raised a little bit in terms of things from the past but we need to move forward.
On his time as FFA TD so far v his expectations:
RS: There’s been no surprises, I mean obviously I’d worked in the environment before and I’d been at Melbourne Victory so I was aware of the situation in Australia. At the minute it’s a very fluid situation, obviously separation is going on, there’s the second division discussions, NPL review, training competition review so there’s a lot of moving parts and the challenge is coordinating those discussions so that they are related and not done independently.
That’s maybe where these visits help and the opportunity to catch up with boards and CEOs and things of that nature, so hopefully a little bit more collective discussion will move us in the place where at least we find the common ground moving forward.
On whether his views and approach to the role have changed since starting:
RS: No, they’ve probably become even more focused around the need for action. I think that the general overview is pretty healthy, I think you watch young players and you think, there’s an improvement without any shadow of doubt; but it’s the next step that is key, and there needs to be more work, not necessarily across the whole spectrum because the foundation’s there, but there needs to be more work of a higher level that would accelerate the players and put them in a position where they can transition to the pro game, and then transition into the top leagues.
At the same time if you raise the level, it makes the game richer because there’s a further resource to help the rest of the game, so it’s not just putting people on a rocket ship and in isolation, it’s making sure that they retain or connect with the game and help the game grow as a whole.
Thoughts on the biggest challenging currently facing football in Australia:
RS: Communication, shared vision. I firmly believe that unless we can come to a shared vision and each and every one of us, and that includes the federation, clubs, associations understand how they can contribute to that to the fullest and cooperate with each other, then things are very difficult and will remain very difficult.
Rob’s view on the current state of pathways for young players in Australia:
RS: Confusing I think. I think the reality is you know everyone says they’re doing a great job and they may well be, but we don’t know.
Obviously the two-star criteria was introduced, and some of the A-League clubs have that and that’s the idea behind the introducing of an academy criteria; it links them to the competition structures like the A-League and if there’s a second division, and then an opt-in basis for those who want to be accountable and see where they are in terms of that structure. I think that will lead us to a clearer picture of where the strengths are and where the support is needed.
How Australia can begin to develop more pathways for young players across the country:
RS: Well I mean they talk about the ‘ecosystem’ and in essence, you know everything’s linked, so ignition is a key factor in any aspirational activity, so where we talk about our young players, maybe in school or when they first join a club, we need to make them excited about coming back, and football is unique in the sense that just playing the game, and it can be played in many formats, is quite exciting.
So the focus should be on them learning through activity really, and maybe not so much coaching to start with and teaching; moving away from a teams mentality, because we tend to put children in teams straight away and then if you like categorise them, whereas if we could just have a much more open mix-up to a different player attitude, the likelihood is they will likely come back and then want to commit a bit more time to training and developing, so I think that’s one factor.
I think the other thing is getting that balance of training and play, and just play, so offering the two, and you know I may choose to play as a child and not train and play, or I might choose to train and play, but then at some stage I may transition over the verge if you like to the other one, and then you’re keeping people in the game and the key one is, keep them in the game.
Then as our clubs, you know we have appropriate clubs and competitions, then hopefully we develop the right club structures for the appropriate competition, then I think we have an opportunity then that those clubs will be the pathway for the ones who aspire to invest more time in themselves.
On the National Second Division working with/against the NPL competitions:
RS: In essence I think we shouldn’t really debate that as yet. I think there’s a long way to go in terms of modelling and what that looks like. I think we need to look at the principles first off of what the competition is, then if we establish those principles then you can have a further discussion.
So I think at this stage there’s speculation, and speculation’s not healthy, it would be better just to clearly ascertain what the consideration is about the competition, how long it should be, how many games it should be etc. as a starting point, and then you can do some modelling from there on the basis of it being more national, or on the basis of it being more regional. Until you do that then really you’re guessing, and that’s not healthy.
How member federations can support Rob to work towards his vision for the game:
RS: I think there’s a number of things; I think first of all, a slight shift in focus towards club development is a priority. So that doesn’t mean that all development stops, it’s just a case of where clubs are capable, we improve that capability, check that capability and give them the responsibility to take a lead on some of the development facets.
In essence, the stronger and better clubs are an asset we should use, so we’re not in competition with our clubs, and when I say our clubs that’s every club, not just the clubs that are affiliated within that federation. I think if we change that attitude a little bit, we’ll get more done more quickly with more cooperation.
Image: Paul Smith