Olyroos failure shows elite youth coaching must be professionalised

After the Olyroos failed to qualify for the Olympic Games for the second successive time, Craig Foster analyses what must be done to ensure success at all levels.


The Olyroos after a 0-0 draw with Jordan that meant they failed to qualify for Rio 2016. Source: Getty Images

Failure to qualify for a second consecutive Olympic Games is extremely painful and disappointing to everyone concerned.

When there are consecutive or repeated failures there will naturally be increased scrutiny on those involved however, in my view, the main issues we face right now are evolution of the national training package and transference of knowledge from the professional level down to the grass roots and particularly elite programs.

To get to the next stage of evolution will require professionalising elite development, in particular, with a considerably increased investment. 


If you look at the game’s transition over time, our coaches started as part timers in the NSL. Those that prospered usually had external, private businesses or flexible jobs, often in sales, which gave them the flexibility to apply time to coaching. 

In the A-League era, they became professional, and this coincided with increased quality of education, increased competition, far greater levels of analysis and scrutiny, greatly increased brainpower through expanded technical staffs and the consequent acceleration in evolution of our game. 

There is no great secret to it. Professional roles demand higher compensation, which brings greater demands and expectations, resulting in higher pressure and those willing to work harder and recruit better staff in response prosper.


The same cycle of improvement is now needed in youth development.

The National Curriculum often gets a bit of a bum rap, however it is really just a basic package of exercises under a unified philosophy that has already proven successful at senior National team level, to allow any grass roots coaches the capacity to plan and conduct a sound session.

The secret is not in the exercises however, it is in the work within, the detail, the corrections and principles, the guidance of the players, the opening of the player’s understanding as a creative and efficient player.


This nuance is still missing and not being adequately explained to coaches around the country. As far back as the 2010 World Cup, I was making a strong case for the Curriculum to immediately evolve for these very reasons.

Many of the exercises are excellent, and you will see them being used in different forms in all of our National teams and the A-League, however they are not being broken down for the grass roots coaches to really maximise their effectiveness.

I know this having worked at FNSW as Head Coach of the Under 16 males and now Under 17 females for the past three years. I work with the best players, including most of the recent Joeys, and see their deficiencies whether technical or, most usually, in game understanding. These areas are simply not being taught well enough.

I see this is a natural progression. Each stage of the game improves one after the other and to change an entire system simultaneously is not possible, however we need more detail for the youth coaches now to keep moving forward.


What has happened is that the professional level has started to create these nuances, to find different ways to play, to import methods from abroad and adapt these to local conditions and players, and the play is becoming more flexible and adaptive along with the coaches.

This process now needs to be transferred downwards in the system to give greater insight to the elite program coaches and those below, particularly in the SAP programs where young, elite talent begins its journey.

The National teams have progressed quickly in their understanding and intention of play, along with the A-League, however the coaches below predominantly (there are always exceptions) have not kept pace with the evolution and this will place even greater pressure on youth National coaches in future.

In this environment, the Under 17 National team and AIS program is critically important, because it is the first level at which the players are housed in a full time environment and taught to play in precisely the same manner as their elder National team colleagues.

Given that A-League clubs have now, certainly in Sydney, started their own Under 16 and 18 squads, and the anticipated choice of some players to remain with these clubs rather than join the AIS, this places far greater pressure on the quality of coaches in the clubs to maintain the speed and quality of evolution of the style of play, and it’s methodological translation.

Perhaps this may be the key to accelerated improvement in youth development, the natural competitive rivalry between A-League clubs.

This should result in a fight for talent that is truly national, a determination to ensure the most talented coaches are appointed in a competitive race for success and the consequent rise in remuneration for the best educators.

The long awaited professionalization of youth coaching, to mirror that of the senior professional ranks.

That’s the key to the next step.

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5 min read
Published 23 January 2016 at 12:25pm
By Craig Foster