Jamaica’s football needs a sound base
Despite the relative success Jamaica's football has had so far this year in terms of our commendable showing at both the Copa America and the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament, I still don't believe that Jamaica's football is at a very good place.
While we are probably a step or two ahead of the teams in the English-speaking Caribbean, which, except for Trinidad & Tobago, is really nothing to write home about, once we step out into the wider CONCACAF region to include Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mexico and the United States, it is a totally different ball game.
While we might be able to win the occasional game against the US or Mexico, one is always of the impression that, once these teams are ready and firing on all cylinders, the best we can hope for in a tournament in which they are competing, regards of the age group, is a third-place finish.
To be honest, when it comes to raw talent, I am of the belief that we are just as good as our United States and Mexico counterparts, even some of the big guns in Central America. However, when it comes fine-tuning the talent, we have been falling flat.
While the US, Mexico and even Canada, have solid youth programmes, where their youngsters are taught the basics of the game in a structured way, our approach is haphazard in nature.
Before getting into the high school system, our football is quite informal, causing our youngsters to develop bad habits, which are sometimes very difficult to correct later in life.
Even at the high school level, rather than helping the youngsters to develop their game from a technical and tactical standpoint, the emphasis is primarily on winning the daCosta Cup, the Manning Cup or whatever trophies are at stake, not on producing good players.
While the schoolboy games can be very exciting at times, if one wishes to be honest, when it comes to the display of real quality, it is usually the teams parading the top coaches, who generally comes out looking very organised in terms of their understanding of the game and their capacity to consistently perform well.
As a consequence, when these youngsters graduate from the high school system and are drafted into the local club structure, they are usually way behind the Mexicans and the Americans counterparts, who by age 18, would have had four to five years experience in a professional set-up.
I think our track athletes are able to move seamlessly from the high school to the senior ranks because unlike the footballers, they are exposed to high quality coaching back up by high quality competition from a young age. It is therefore no wonder that, having passed through our competitive basic, primary and high school system, some of our athletes are ready to conquer even while they are still in school.
I am of the view that we take the same approach to football as we do to track and field, in terms of proper coaches and regular high class competitions, as we regularly see at development meets across the island, our footballer will be better able to realise their full potential at the same age level as the track athletes.
Unfortunately, the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), which should be planning programmes to keep our bright young talent in active competition all year round, has delegated that responsibility to the Inter-Secondary School Sports Association (ISSA), whose four-month football season is just not enough to foster serious development.