Thursday, 14 January 2016

Effects of Fifa gaming on young people. Can we embrace the game to get children active?

As a parent, a youth football coach and school sport provider, I am fully aware of the affects and influence gaming has on our children’s lives. #FifaRealDeal

As parents we know that we have always been concerned about the time spent on computer games. The effects it has on a child’s social skills, communications skills, the detrimental effects it has on our child’s education as we battle time spent on gaming or online versus homework or revising. The biggest concern of course is the affects on physical wellbeing due to inactivity. As parents, like many we questioned for years the effects on motor skills and the eyes looking at screens for hours on end. Of course much of this is hard to prove but our gut feeling is, it can’t be good for you. One thing that is perhaps more easy to identify is weight gain and the visual effects on our children. We can easily identify our children’s mood by their actions and we can see when they appear to become overweight. Sometimes we even turn a blind eye to it. 
The trouble is, this phenomenon is getting harder to control. Without any question obesity in the UK is an ever increasing concern with the government yet again committing its £150m a year school sports fund to try and tackle this and push increased activity across all children. So its clear activity has to be the primary factor. Well, along with the ‘fuel’ we put in our body. So leading brands like McDonalds bring so much to the country in terms of employment etc. But they are equally having such an huge impact on health. Of course, I don’t want to bash them. We have a choice. Why don’t we bash the grotty burger van or lesser performing fast food brands. Only because McDonalds is hugely successful we target them for criticism. So of course to tackle that McDonalds counter this by promoting the integrity of their produce and also by giving us a healthy option. Whether this sells or not in large volumes I don’t know, but at least they promote. Either way, we can’t stop our children wanting to go to the restaurant so for us it meant we just tried to reduce the volume and limit it to become a treat. McDonalds also invests heavily into Football by backing community football, providing kits for grass roots and supporting coaching. They also do work in education providing business training and food production education. So in fact, when you delve a bit, as well as the profit they take they do at least attempt to give something back and I of course support the football projects because it promotes burning off the fuel.

Trouble is, I don’t see this from the gaming community. If they do, then I stand corrected but perhaps it isn’t well marketed. In particular we are looking at Fifa here. As this is relevant to football which is of course the most popular sport in the world and my trade. If you look at the marketing and think about it. It typically uses the world’s most famous footballers and then puts them in there club kits and sit them in front of a screen playing Fifa. The messaging is almost like “play this and you could be like me”. It’s like it has become part of the development pathway. I’m sure those guys will produce some research figures showing how they increase interest in football. I don’t disagree with that but what I ask is this. You now have such an influence on the game through young children, teenagers and now adults due to the era, what do you give back? So, you employ a lot of people, you pay a lot of tax I’m sure. But two things have to happen for me. Your ‘superstars’ have to be shown to mention the importance of real activity and real practice if you want to be a footballer of any level and certainly if you want to be healthy. Secondly you surely have some moral responsibility considering the massive powerful influence you have on now a massive percentage of the population. Bearing in mind the Fifa product is promoted and deemed suitable to children aged 3+.

As parents we know that 3 hours could absolutely fly by for a child playing Fifa and it would be hell to play to get them off. Could the game or console manufactures create a parent area which gives parents the ability to create a time-limit? With today’s modern technology why don’t you give parents that control via an app? Parents sometimes lose track of the time they are on it so why not be responsible and give them more direct control and information. This would enable parents to even shut down the console remotely or set times breaks. Use a tool to control homework etc. I think as a parent I would buy that add on. Just a suggestion. If you make a gazillion dollars perhaps you’ll remember who gave you the idea?

As a football coach I have seen a complete change in culture as a result of this game. I’m of course a traditionalist. I used to go to the park with a ball under my arm. I used to be in the street playing football. But times have changed. Also there are so many alarming stories and disgusting crimes against children that perhaps we have also become so protective that in fact we take comfort that our child is inside safe and sound.
But I can’t help fighting it. I said to a child recently “You do know that you can’t get better at football by exercising your hands and fingers? You would be better warming up with a rubiks cube than a ball”. I recently had a full on debate about an Arsenal center back when a young Yr6 lad was suggesting you don’t have to be quick or fit to be a footballer. I was saying, I’ll think you will find that player is a lot quicker and fitter than you perhaps think. He laughed, shrugged his head. He absolutely didn’t buy into what I was telling him. I pressed further and then he told me. On Fifa he has only got 29 for pace. So that is his gauge of the player. What Fifa says goes. Not the coach!

I recently ran trials for teenagers. Now these were players serious about wanting to still become footballers. Again it’s my view that the culture has changed. When I was a teenager (I sound like uncle albert) we would meet up for a kick around in the parks. I remember one Christmas we all met up and played football in the snow. Loads of us. We needed to get out and play because all our games were off. But snow wouldn’t stop us. Now, its changed. Teenagers meet online. They play Fifa online. In fact, If, now as a parent of teenagers we didn’t bang on the wall at 2am in the morning I think they would play all through the night.
So, I went around these teenagers on trial and asked them what position they played. The replies were “CDM, CAM, LAM, RAM” etc. I thought to myself, wow, these guys all use “Fifa language” This is how they see the game now. During one of the games we asked why a midfielder had not tracked back with his runner and he replied “I’m not CDM, I’m CAM”. That was when it hit me. Times have changed. I can’t fight this on my own. The trouble is, the kids don’t believe me anyway. But I’m not going to concede to the challenge. I can do one of two things. I can keep fighting this challenge or I can embrace it and somehow use it.

There is of course benefits to the game. One of those being knowledge. Whenever I hear a player’s name I haven’t heard of before I just ask my teenage son. Now I work in professional football but my lad has got one up on me. He can tell me stats and history of seemingly any player in the world. Remarkable, how does he know that? Fifa. So to try to open my mind to change I took a bold step. Of course I played Fifa over the years, less recently as I don’t have time. So I know the basics. But I asked my son to show me all the new training sessions and drills. I recall doing some as you would wait for the game to load. I was shocked. Actually, some of these drills looked fantastic. Moreover they looked fun. They also looked like drills I would love to try myself. So I started jotting some down. Some also looked like a real good cardio exercise. Actually, overall, to me, if someone was exceptional at these drills in real life I suspect they would be absolutely fantastic! So, it was decided. I’m going to bring these drills to life.

In the last few weeks whilst coaching in schools I have now started to ask the question.
“How many of you play Fifa at home?” Nearly always all hands go up.
“How many of you would like to try the training drills in Fifa, in REAL LIFE?” The response was amazing, children jumping with their hands up, “me me me, when is it”.
So, my organisation has ran football holiday courses for years now. It’s always been structured within a learning syllabus typical of academy football. It’s I know, It’s what I was trained for. But I’m going to do something new. I’m going to completely change our approach. Try something fresh. We are going to deliver Drills that look like the Fifa training games. Including knocking down boxes and target rings for crossing. Shooting drills with balls launched from machines and dribbling challenges. The full works.

We will arrange a points and a prize for leading players in age range and maybe even talk to football club to see if they would like to invite a player in on trial as a result. Because these drills are tough!
I think I would also consider a late teens/adult competition. Purely because I think I would like to have a go myself!

Coming soon April 2016

Bedfordshire 4th & 5th April
Hertfordshire 6th & 7th April

Details will be at:
Twitter:               @2touchfootball @FifaRealDeal

Pre register or direct communication:

Could you be the #FifaRealDeal

Friday, 1 January 2016

Steve Gallen - The end of an era

Steve Gallen
So, with the reported sad departure of Steve Gallen it means that he is the last person out the door from the days of Raheem Sterling and beyond. Key people from those days like Terry O'sullivan, Paul Bruce & Fitzroy Lewinson plus more have all gone and were important people that took part in Raheem's and others recruitment and development. Good coaches, good scouts, good people, QPR people. 

Every season we will here of managers getting sacked. That’s part of football but when it happens we often here and see many people in the game and in the media showing great human sympathy for a man losing his job and so we should. However, many that do are rewarded in a way far removed from us mere mortals with contracts paid out in full resulting in many multi-millionaire former managers. 

With this in mind I was truly shocked to see Steve Gallen seemingly ushered out of the back door at QPR after it being reported that he was removed from all duties at the club. QPR is a club that publicly reports its family feeling, culture and togetherness but this to me seems to be an action in contrast to that. Steve Gallen has been employed at QPR in a multitude of coaching roles for around 18 years. Most of which were working in the youth centre of excellence where he later became the head of youth and Academy manager. He was then moved out of that role to coach the U21's and later promoted to work with the first team. Of course things happen in the first team and people get sacked with new people coming in and with the introduction of Jimmy Floyd Hasslebaink Steve has been deemed surplus to requirements I guess. I don’t see issues with that and I’m sure if Steve was asked, he wouldn’t either. That happens. However since the news broke I have seen lurching opinion on the overall value of Steve to the club and also questions of his ability and results working in the youth structure. This is such a shock to me and its when the 'only at QPR' term came to me again. Why can’t this gentleman be given the just reward and appreciation he so deserves? Instead it’s debated by certain quarters as to his success. One comment I read was. 

“It is an inconvenient truth...however...Steve Gallen has been a fundamental part of a youth system that has grossly failed for 20 years

Being in football more than most industries means that you are open to criticism and I can take that. Steve certainly can I’m sure and he wouldn’t want to respond. However having worked for this guy and seeing first-hand the challenges I felt I want to tribute him and show the details of what he actually achieved. Knowing that if I was a chairman I would be currently hunting him down to come to work at my club. Criticism is ok but I think it’s fair if people know the details facts and truth as some either comment without the depth of knowledge or else have hidden agenda's which is unacceptable, damaging and disrespectful to someone that has given so much to his role and i'm guessing, doesn't walk away a millionaire for his family. 

Looking at the comment above I read the words 'fundamental part' as being an overall decision maker. Or a key person at least. Let’s put that in perspective. Steve was not in charge of the youth system for the last 20 years. He was to the best of my knowledge in charge of the youth system for 4-5 years up to 2012. Post 2012 was the era that Tony Fernandes came in as did Mike Rigg and Steve was almost immediately stepped aside. Since that date a further four people have been in charge of the academy and as many placed in the role of Head of Coaching. Steve has had no decision making responsibility during that period. I accept that Steve Gallen bleeding hoops doesn’t mean he is owed anything or that he is owed a job. He would never want that either. Hes a proud hard working man. So let’s examine the second part as indeed Steve was in charge of the Academy for the period leading to the influx of investment.

If we firstly look at the numbers. Steve was in charge of a ‘center of excellence’ under owners that seemingly didn’t focus too much on the youth. Investment was minimal and I estimate it to be around no more than £150k per year. At that time it had 3 full-time staff. It’s not up for debate the major influence Steve and coaches like Fitzroy Lewinson had on Raheem’s capture, development and majorly, keeping him at the club as long as they did as he gained approaches from the local ‘big guns’. Sterling’s recent move to Man City netted QPR £9m in a payment clause. I’m sure it’s clear that I’m a fan of Steve Gallen as a great coach and a great person. But were not debating his values, kindness and integrity here, were debating what he did for QPR. If his responsibility lasted 5 years that would equate to a circa cost of £750k. To ease the argument lets round it up and stick another £250k to the cost and that still leaves a profit to QPR of £8M for his term. I think that’s worth a thank you. Since then the investment was massive and now the academy has around 20 full-time staff and a cost of circa £2M in my estimation. Around a third of that could be recouped from the Premier League’s EPPP system but it still leaves the club paying out an estimated 8-10 times the investment under Steve. The same pro rata return would see the club profit circa £12M per year.

Considering all the challenges that were faced in these years and low budget it’s a miracle that any players of any level were produced and it’s that remarkable equation that always left me scratching my head as to why Steve was never given the reigns when the investment arrived. admissions were made about the many mistakes that were made and the ‘type’ of people that came in. But with the message and focus returning to youth as a clear strategy I feel it’s a huge mistake again to allow Steve to be pushed out in this way. If you went on a recruitment drive you would have to break the bank to gain the incredible capabilities of a Steve Gallen that produced players against the odds. Tony Fernandes has one under his nose and surely must reverse this decision if taken out of his hands.

"Steve [Gallen] was great. He always had such confidence in me and that gave me more confidence in myself"
Raheem Stirling

Its been much reported as the chairman having the wool pulled over his eyes and as part of that maybe he was told the same stories about what I read and what’s implied. The club hasn’t produced players over Steve’s term. Well, Let’s investigate that further. After some quick research of the football league and beyond it became very apparent that I would be able to put together a very decent team and squad from current players that all came through under Steve’s guidance and responsibility. Here it is….

These players are a mix of current QPR players, players sold and players released. The point is, they all make a reasonable living. Some higher, some lower but it’s a great testimony to Steve’s work. Imagine if he had been given the opportunity to drive the improved investment bus? This was on a shoestring compared to now.
As well as these players, most of which are still young and developing with therefore a great chance of making a higher grade, Steve led the U18's to 3 x league titles in his term and 1 x national cup. He was runner up in the U21 final in more recent years. In a New York tournament QPR beat Inter Milan and Liverpool to win an international trophy. Against all odds they had reached a quarter final of the FA youth cup beating level one class leading Southampton on the way to losing at Newcastle at St James Park. Clubs that had been investing millions in their academies for years. 

For an Academy to work properly there a simple equation in my book.

Recruitment (People)
You cannot turn a bull dog into a greyhound derby winner. You cannot turn a shire horse into a winner at Aintree. There is a starting point of talent and it’s the most crucial part. The trouble with a club like QPR is its competitive. When real talent presents itself you have to compete with clubs around you. You walk the player around the facility. In the days of Steve this was clearly tough to sell. Then it’s the people. You prove to the parents that you actually care and have good morals and transparency. Then you show them the proof of the pathway making it clear they have a chance. In the past of course this was again tough to sell.

Coaching (People)
Of course development is vital. You don’t take your new Mercedes to a back street garage. You want it cared for by the best. No doubt the coach has more contact with the player than anyone and could truly break a player as well as be pivotal in developing them. That’s also mentally as well as technically. Coaches like Fitzroy were great examples of that. He cared, you could feel his personality and he had the knowledge to back it up. In 20 years of being in professional clubs, Steve is the best coach I have seen and Ive worked with many high profile names.

Facility (Investment)
Its home. It’s the place you spend most time. As well as the bricks and mortar it’s the holistic science that now has been introduced to the game. The support of medical teams to keep players fit and protect them as well as pitches and equipment that gives the player the tools as well as the feel good factor

Pathway (Strategy)
All of it doesn’t matter if the club doesn’t have a strategy to bring the players through. In the past its obvious that this was not happening. Of course the players have to be good enough, but they also need a chance.

With those four pillars ticked you will then produce players for the first team. Mr Fernandes, you are frighteningly close to getting it right this time. But you need the right people. If you don't reconsider than I'm sure Steve will be back in work soon and everyone moves on. 
Knowing Steve he wont thank me for writing this, but its got to be said. I'm sure I speak for many when I say I thank you for all you did for the people you came into contact with and I'm sure fans that understand the depth of work, dedication, professionalism and value you brought to QPR they will also join me in showing their appreciation!