To set the scene for the following discussion on socio-cultural constraints, we start with Ruben Jongkind’s comments made during May 2016’s NextGen Talks. Ruben is the former Head of Talent Development at Ajax Amsterdam, and after working with Johan Cruyff on ‘Plan Cruyff’ he is regarded as a leading authority on Johan’s philosophy.
Ruben Jongkind’s comments give a clear example of how socio-cultural (macro) factors influence player development within academies. While most of us are well aware of the problems with a ‘win-at-all-costs’ mentality, Ruben’s comments provide a deeper insight, highlighting why the need to win is still impacting player development in some academies. He points out that the problem starts when the focus is placed on the team and not balanced with the needs of the individual.

“When the team is the focus within the academy you start to run into problems: The first is the economic incentive within clubs. For example, the salary differences between youth coaches working in academies and coaches working with the first team are huge. The difference is maybe 10 or 15 times more to work with the first team.”

Ruben explains that this extrinsic economic incentive taints the coaching process, leaving learning secondary to winning:

“I can imagine that if your first passion is football and helping or developing children is secondary, then it could be that you want go where you can work in football and earn more – this makes sense. So how do you become visible to make this progression? Well in a fixed culture, with a fixed mindset, the only way to do this is by getting results. And if you get into this cycle you will put the best players (or the most effective) players on the pitch to increase your chances of winning. If those results are rewarded by media, peers or most importantly club management then this is an incentive for other coaches to do the same thing – then we get into a vicious cycle.”

Ruben said that he and Johan Cruyff tried to remedy this difficult challenge, explaining, “Johan Cruyff was really a champion of trying to bridge this economic gap (between the academy coaches and the first team coaches), or at least do something with human resources in clubs to filter people who are really passionate about developing children into the right positions.”

These ideas were discussed in even deeper detail at the AIPAF congress in Bilbao 12 days later and we will now explore a particular session relevant to these themes. In an attempt to stay true to the live discussion at the AIPAF conference, I have again aimed to keep the language used in the discussion and limit my interpretations to a minimum. The links to PDP and my research are in italics.

The following discussion aimed to address ‘Self Questioning & Learning’ and figure out ‘What (as coaches and leaders) do we need to learn today?’. Echoing Ruben’s comments, this discussion highlighted the need to understand the role society and culture play in our lives, how they limit our development and the development of our players.

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James Vaughan is a Co-founder of Player Development Project and currently based in Barcelona where he is working towards his PhD in Creativity & Motivation in Football.
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