Courts Media Roundtable discuss raising standards in youth football development

Providing a viable platform where the stars of tomorrow can grow and follow their heroes’ footsteps was the central theme in an hour-long discussion during the Courts and Liverpool Football Academy 2014 media roundtable at Meridian Junior College on Monday morning.

Chaired by FourFourTwo's Andy Jackson and attended by Courts Asia CEO Terry O'Connor, the roundtable also included Liverpool International Football Academy head coach Fraser Ablett, Football Association of Singapore's General Manager of Youth Development Varatha Rajan Subramaniam, Hong Kah Secondary School teacher-in-charge of football Ng Han Liat, as well as members of the media.

Liverpool International Football Academy head coach Fraser Ablett. Photo: Weixiang Lim

Ablett shared how the process of producing future talents at Anfield had evolved from primarily instilling values and traditions to delivering the best modern practices to prepare them for the unique demands of professional football.

“We have come very far in how we have trained our young players,” he told the roundtable.

“It’s different from when I was at the academy from the age of 13 to 18 where now there is specified training plans and tailored individual diets.

“And also getting our young boys to be comfortable at playing with the ball at their feet and playing at different positions, as we adopt a more globalised approach to the game.”

FAS General Manager of Youth Development S. V. Rajan. Photo: Weixiang Lim

Former Singapore Sports School football academy manager Rajan felt that before the modern practices could be applied in the local football context, there was a need to have a look at local coaching education programmes to ensure more effective and relevant teaching was passed down to youths.

“From my personal observation, many of our local coaches tend to talk their way through during matches, which I personally feel is a huge problem,” he said.

“The over-coaching I had observed during training sessions tended to impede in how our players learn their games.”

Courts CEO Terry O'Connor. Photo: Weixiang Lim

Courts Asia Chief Executive Officer Terry O’Connor believes this can be addressed with an effective management programme to help the coaches deal with the day-to-day challenges on and off the pitch.

“The future of football management evolves where the manager has to provide both the arts and sciences of the game, as well as instil human character and leadership,” he said.

“To hear (present Liverpool manager) Brendan Rodgers and the way he talks about his players as individuals – as both players and human beings, it brings forth the unique elements of the relationship and personal qualities of the leader.”

Hong Kah Secondary teacher-in-charge of football Ng Han Liat. Photo: Weixiang Lim

Ng, the teacher-in-charge of football with schools powerhouse Hong Kah Secondary School, believes more football-niched schools can be created to provide a wider range of specialised focus in the local game.

Hong Kah have hired Mohamed Zainudeen as their full-time football head coach and a goalkeeper coach, and Ng believes that mainstream schools can likewise complement the Singapore Sports School in helping raise the standards at this level.

“With more emphasis on training and having the right personnel to guide our boys, we can help beef up both the technical and tactical level in their games,” he said.

“In a football-niche environment, you create a platform where you can inculcate good values and habits they can apply on and off the pitch.”