SAO PAULO, Brazil — Writing these reports has suddenly become overwhelming (not that I am complaining). There is so much material/information to be absorbed, retained and then chopped and carved to see how best we can apply it (knowledge) to our particular situations.
The wealth of knowledge being received is so intoxicating that all of us participating on the course are assiduously absorbing all that we possibly can.
The lectures, whilst superficially not speaking to topics/concepts that are foreign to us as coaches, have all presented new, scientific, quantitative and qualitative approaches to the application of previously known knowledge. This is important, we believe, if we are going to affect purposeful and meaningful changes to football development, particularly coaching in the Caribbean and specifically Jamaica.
To see the science behind the performance of world-rated play and players is simply astounding. So much so, that the most common comment heard among participants is that, "we are magicians/miracle workers making blood from stones in Jamaica." This, against the comparison in physical infrastructure, human resources deployed, financial investment and scientific research application.
Since arriving at the Traffic Academy in Porto Feliz, Brazil not even blindness could obscure the disparity between football, broadly speaking, in the Caribbean and Brazil. At Traffic there are five full fields and two half-fields (for goalkeepers' training), accommodations for 200 athletes, 55 permanent members of staff and all the amenities that can be found at any five-star hotel in Jamaica. The playing surfaces all make our National Stadium field look severely substandard.
By comparison, Sao Paulo FC's (SPFC) Academy, where former Technical Director of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), Professor Rene Simoes, is the recently appointed Technical Director of Development, makes Traffic appear at an even lower level. The SPFC Academy facility has nine full fields and another nine sub-fields for various purposes (Goalkeeper training, Futsol, Beach soccer, employees recreation). Here, each age group team, for example U-14, has its own field and training room. There are also dorms separate from a hotel, restaurant and so much more. The SPFC Academy employs 181 persons and caters to approximately 400 players under 20-years-old. SPFC also has an equally super facility for their senior/professional players.
In addition to the permanent staff employed at both facilities there are numerous other persons employed in consultant capacities. These include university researchers in areas such as Motor Behaviour and Football, Psychology, Nutrition and Statistical Analysis.
In his usual inimitable way, Professor Simoes made a presentation to the group on "player recruitment, development and transition to professional careers". The presentation was simply mind-blowing. It revealed the science applied to recruiting players from as early as eight-years-old, developing them and forging the transition to full professionals. This is an extremely important aspect of a club such as Sao Paulo, which boasts the largest such academy worldwide, when the financial investments are taken into account and the profit margins calculated. According to Professor Simoes, it costs approximately US$2,500 monthly to develop each player in the academy.
A most noteworthy point made in the presentation was the evaluation of relative ages. Research scientists at SPFC have found that there is great significance in relative age. For example, two 14-year-old players — one born in the first quarter (January to March), the other in the third (July to September), or fourth quarter (October to December) of the year. There are significantly more professional footballers born in the third and fourth quarters of the year. The significance becomes even more noticeable when the data become position (goalkeeper, defender, midfielder, forward) specific. This kind of information is now being used to drive investments in players in a deliberate attempt to impact the profit margins.
Lest readers are lead to believe that Brazil is a panacea of perfect football structures let me hasten to clarify. Although we have been based at the Traffic Academy and have only so far been to the SPFC facilities we have seen and have been informed that these are the crème de la crème of Brazillian football facilities. We have on our travels seen fields comparable to those in Jamaica and we reckon that there are significant disparities between facilities, cities and states here in Brazil.
Notwithstanding, we are obligated to recognise the difference between what is crème de la crème in Jamaica versus Brazil, and for that matter other countries around the world including our CONCACAF counterparts. There is no doubting the fact that we all will return home, cognisant of our own reality and constraints, but demanding vast improvements in basic infrastructure.
Through the eyes of Laurence Garriques from UTech, Jamaica, the course has been "very informative thus far". Garriques also stressed: "I am very impressed with the Traffic Academy, the facilities, the level of development of the players compared to players of similar ages in Jamaica. I am also impressed with the scientific application to football and how various sciences are used in the development of football."
Trinidadian Jaamal Shabaz, current Head Coach of the Guyana National Team, exalted the benevolence and leadership of the JFF: "First of all I wish to state that it was a tremendous gesture on the part of the JFF to extend invitations to Caribbean counterparts to participate in such an enlightening and enriching course. The information that we have been getting is so necessary for us as technicians trying to chart a new course for Caribbean football. Hats off to the JFF for showing the way for the emergence of a new Caribbean in football, one that we hope will be focused more on the football on the field than on the turmoil that has grabbed headlines and traumatised us over the last year."
As the course draws closer to its conclusion we all are determined to be successful, first in the certification exercises and definitely in our future coaching endeavours. Certification for this course will be in two categories. Category one will see participants with a less than 60 per cent total average receiving certificates of participation. Those obtaining 60 per cent or more will be awarded certificates of accomplishment.
The course is being assessed as follows:
* Individual and group evaluations (participants are required to do didactic observations of training sessions and matches (televised and live) and complete set tasks, and write an essay — 50 per cent.
* Match reports — 20 per cent; and
* A final test — 30 per cent
In his parting shot, coach Simoes beseeched of me to extend warm wishes and kind regards to all the staff at the JFF and of course the Jamaican people. Using the 1998 World Cup qualifying campaign as his reference, he reminded us as coaches that "living our dreams should be the most important thing, Jamaica qualified for its first World Cup because the people believed in a dream".
Editor's note: Andrew Edwards is a schoolboy and national age-group coach and is among a group of Jamaican coaches in Brazil for instruction.