Rest is critical in schoolboy football
There shouldn't be a debate about incorporation of rest and recovery time in the schedule of our schoolboy football. Despite improvements this year, the schedule is tight and, when October rains fall, it gets tighter still. It can't be that there is anyone who feels comfortable with student footballers playing three times in eight days and sometimes twice in four days.
The truth is that with almost 90 teams playing the daCosta Cup and more than 40 in the Manning Cup, the Christmas term is full to the brim with football. The schools that progress to the later stages of those competitions and into the Walker Cup, the Ben Francis Cup, and the Super Cup can run their best players ragged. Those with deep squads can survive, but tiredness often affects the results.
There is, of course, a far more important reason to incorporate rest into the schoolboy football schedule. Whether we care or not, history indicates that few of the boys we see in the Manning Cup or daCosta Cup will become major income-earning footballers like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Given that history, their best bet is to attend to their schoolwork and to follow many of those before them to scholarships and tertiary-level education few families can now afford. The schedule must also allow these students to be rested enough to attend to their homework and studies.
That's straightforward enough, but the next step is to create space for extra recovery time. Some advocate an early start, with the season beginning in August when teams are already in camp. They believe that this would spread the season out and allow for rest.
That's one way. The other is to play the Super Cup in January, on Friday evenings, under light, perhaps at venues like Jarrett Park, the National Stadium, and Sabina Park. In this age of specialisation, few boys do both football and track and field, and in any case, only the Super Cup teams would be playing in the New Year.
The benefits would be twofold. The quality of play would be more consistent, and the student footballers would find it easier to attend to schoolwork.
As things stand, if star schoolboy footballer Hubert Lawrence Jr was falling asleep over his homework on any repeated basis, his father would pull him from the team until he got his academic affairs in order.
To be fair to the rule makers, schoolboy football now allows for the use of five substitutes. That both gives more boys a chance to participate and promotes rest. However, in big games, the coach's best eleven is likely to stay on the field as long as possible. Sprinkle some October rain, and those starters could be playing regulation and extra time in back-to-back-to-back games.
Big games come thick and fast as trophies come into view.
While August football would take place before CXC examination results are published and before school opened in September, a January staging of the Super Cup would make that tournament even more of a showcase and would ease the football logjam often seen in the Christmas term and would give more time for rest.
The Super Cup qualifiers, especially from schools without strong past-student sport, might need financial support for training camps before school opened in January. Hopefully, that wouldn't prove to be a hurdle too high.
In the past, schoolboy cricket was played on a two-tier basis, but that is no more. Some still believe that that might be a solution for schoolboy football. I'm not so sure, but happily, all are agreed that rest is critical. Surely, progress can be made.
- Hubert Lawrence has made notes at track side since 1980.