Kenny Thompson’s recent Royal Gazette essay on the BFA’s plans to rejuvenate Bermuda’s football scene and develop young football players suggested that a freshly invigorated program will start with teeny-weenies, progress through teens, and then move on to adult players. The article said that there’d be emphasis on fun and enjoyment, team play, ball skills, human interaction, and other bits that would help form a more skilled player.

Fun is important. But one critical idea was missing. Despite using more than a thousand words, there was no mention of ‘discipline’. Not by Kenny. Nor by Chris Furbert who had been interviewed the week before.

The recent fuss over Rio Ferdinand and the response by England Captain David Beckham showed an element of discipline that’s present in highest level soccer and missing in the level of soccer that exists in Bermuda.

Discipline! Personal, human, individual, ordinary, everyday, humdrum, discipline.

David Beckham, despite his world celebrity status, still practices his ball skills every day. Still works on his cardiovascular fitness everyday. Does not ‘hang out’ six days a week and then try to play a top level game on the seventh. Our own Shaun Goater does the same. Above all, big-name players like Beckham, Owen, Goater… still turn up for practice every time.  Each big-name man knows that if he fails to attend for practice he’ll get tossed off the team – whatever team he’s on!

That’s where Bermuda football first begins to fail. Failure starts at the lowest levels where players with excellent ball skills but poor practice and preparation records get rewarded by being played as star players in every game. The seed of future failure is sown by not playing those youngsters who are disciplined ‘practicers’ and who do turn up for every practice and who do try, steadily, to improve their ball and team skills.

The result? The disciplined practicers, unrewarded for their discipline, drop out of the game. The skilled but undisciplined ‘stars’ stay on and get rewarded with lots of crowd adulation.

But the undisciplined stars never acquire the habit of disciplined practice, thus they never really improve on their basic skill levels. They never reach the higher levels of cardiovascular fitness required. They never develop their skills potential. Thus they arrive as young adults who are both undisciplined and undeveloped. Still, effectively, only as good as they were when they were ten year old ‘stars’.

But with all these undeveloped ‘stars’ playing against one another in our little Bermuda, they can make themselves – each other – look good. Even impressive. It’s when these Bermuda ‘stars’ come up against other more disciplined players that they don’t look so good. This is what happens now in Bermuda football.

To get out of this deep rut, Bermuda football will need the basic discipline to climb out. Bermuda’s footballers will have to develop the habit of disciplined preparation in order that they can do their best. Day in, day out, practice after practice: “Practice, develop, grow… practice, develop, grow…, practice,….” That’s what it will take.

If we won’t do simple basic stuff, there’s not much point in the fancier stuff of international tours. Nor is there any point in getting more money for the development of football, because any money poured in will be squandered six days a week with ‘star’ players attempting, as they do now, to play the Fourth Commandment in reverse.

The people who hold the master key to success in Bermuda football are not the players. Not the spectators. Not the people and organizations that can pump in the dollars. Instead, the people who really hold that key are the coaches and team managers.

Working for the game, coaches and managers carry the real task of setting the real standard of discipline that will encourage and demand disciplined and thorough preparation. If, or when, coaches and managers lower their standards of discipline in trying for cheap team wins, they cause deep harm to all young players and, ultimately, to the game itself.

If all of Bermuda’s football coaches and team managers agreed and maintained a simple policy that required that all players attend all required practices in order to get on any field of play, Bermuda football could start a real comeback.

Without that basic human and then team discipline, bringing with it the reward of better developed potential, Bermuda’s game of football will stay stuck in its current deep rut. Without such a fundamental change, the game cannot – and will not – change.

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