Adrian Bradbury is the founder and academy director of Football for Good, Uganda’s only full-time residential elite youth football academy and scholarship program. He has over 10 years’ experience in international coaching, education, and community advocacy and development. In this article, Adrian explores the unique obstacles impacting young footballers in East Africa, and explains that we all have ‘outset obstacles’ to overcome in our coaching.
Aubameyang, Mahrez, Mane, Salah and Wanyama are just a few of Africa’s growing list of global household names, rightly considered to be among the planet’s top footballers as well as flag-bearers for their continent.
Add those individual standouts to the fact that there are now eleven African nations in the FIFA top 50, and it’s not surprising that the spotlight now shines brighter when the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) rolls around.
There were definitely more eyeballs on the matches in Gabon in 2017. What they didn’t see however, were goals.
At just over two goals per game, AFCON 2017 was the second-lowest scoring event in the tournament’s history. However, as the academy director of one of East Africa’s only full-time residential youth football academies, that number doesn’t surprise me.
Now, I’m not here to drop a stereotype on a continent, but I have a theory as to why our players struggle to find the back of the net – which seems to be a genuine struggle for many current African players.
This lack of scoring ability, and even interest in scoring, shocked us in our early days, considering our youngest players would come to us at 11 or 12 years of age as already some of the most technically gifted players we’ve ever seen. The boys were technically superior but inept at scoring goals.
The two ideas seem at odds, but after years of rural youth events, identification and elite player development, it makes perfect sense that our players are magical on the ball, but prefer to sky a sitter than to curl it past a helpless keeper.
It starts from their very first experiences playing the game, as it does for every wide-eyed kid who dreams of professional stardom. Their first inspiration is to be like his peers. His street mentors. Good and bad, lets call them ‘outset obstacles’: local biases and unique cultural realities that shape the way we play the world over.
One ball, one mission
In rural East Africa, footballs are hard to come by. Games on rocky, cramped dirt patches often include one ball – even it’s the tied twine and plastic-bag version. And that one ball is likely to be the center of attention in a ‘match’ that will include 25-plus kids, with an age range from 8 to 18. So, if you are lucky enough to find yourself on the ball, guess what you’re not going to do with it. That’s right – shoot with it!
Once in possession, it’s time to enjoy the moment. Keep it on your foot. Take a chance at turning a defender inside out.
Shooting the ball means a small chance at glory, but a very high likelihood that you won’t see that ball again for the rest of the afternoon. And seriously, if that’s your ‘outset obstacle’, would any of us behave any differently?
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