Coaches paint grim picture for youth football as sport continues to be sidelined
Jamaica Football Federation’s (JFF) Director of Football, Wendell Downswell, and Grassroots Coordinator, Andre Virtue, believe the damage caused by the absence of local football activity for almost two complete seasons because of the coronavirus pandemic could have a severe and lasting impact on the present generation of youth footballers.
Downswell assessed that restrictions on the sport have stagnated the development of the nation’s present crop of youth players and labelled the situation as a major setback for players transitioning in local age groups or international football competitions.
“It (absence of football) will stagnate the development of youth football, especially those making the transition from Under-13 to Under-15 and Under-19,” said Downswell.
“Parish club competitions and regional tournaments were cancelled so they didn’t get to participate in these type of tournaments, so a generation of players would have been sidelined,” he added.
The wide-scale inactivity, he continued, will leave players far behind in their development compared to countries that have resumed activities and believed the Government’s approval for the sport to return is crucial in managing the fallout.
“As soon as we get the go-ahead, we will start because it has been one year there hasn’t been any form of football, and with this generation we will have to do a lot to get them back on track,” Downswell said.
He added that if the pandemic persists, organisers might have to do things a bit differently in order to present opportunities for players.
“We could have a scaling down of competitions like the Manning and daCosta Cup and have special competitions in parishes, like five-a-side. This will at least keep the players active and occupied,” he said.
Meanwhile, Andre Virtue, who founded the Ballaz Academy, insists football administrators must look at creative ways to get activities going again.
He pointed out that prior to the pandemic, Jamaica was already lagging behind in its youth development and will fall even further behind if ways are not found to give youngsters opportunities to play, train and continue learning.
“The success of any football nation hinders on youth development. Prior to the pandemic, we didn’t do a proper job of setting a good foundation. With the pandemic it has heightened even more, and we are dropping further behind when other nations are getting things done,” said Virtue.
“If we were five years behind, it has pushed us even further back. This is a national crisis. The situation is very grim because we didn’t have anything in place and all of a sudden, we are running up and down trying to figure out what to do and we don’t have solutions,” he added.
Nevertheless, he sees an opportunity for coaches and young players to focus their attention on other facets of the game that normally get scant attention during preparation for tournaments.
“So we have to be proactive, we cannot be reactive. It may mean a different approach, but we have to put a lifeline to it and that requires investment.
“However, there is no way we can accomplish this ourselves. So clubs, sporting associations, private sector and the Government need to invest if we want good return, as the cost of not coming together is going to be a lot greater for us to fix,” added Virtue.