That was the slogan that we, as the Football Development Department of the Turkish Football Association, developed in 2008 for the Developmental Academy leagues that started in the same year. The pitches where the games were played were branded with this slogan. The DOC/Academy Directors courses explained the slogan to participants and how it can help their academy programs. Individual clubs were encouraged to develop a set of values for their club to reflect the slogan’s goals.
Have we managed to create a different culture in these clubs? The answer is a clear no. After I left the Federation in 2010, the slogan died out and was forgotten. Because I tried to force a culture change with a small group of employees in the federal government. Most employees, even most of the board of directors, didn’t believe in the message the slogan was trying to convey. We could not internalize the message of the slogan in the Turkish football landscape.
So today we see players who were academy players in those years trying to fool the referee when they feel a little touch on their face and pretending to get shot to get a card for their opponent or trying , a foul to simulate a penalty. The list goes on. They are not good people, although they could be good players. Only a few of them are involved in social projects, although they earn a fortune with football. So they are not good citizens, but they are good players. You grew up with a culture of winning at any cost.
This is not unique to a country. You can see similar scenes in our soccer landscape. In other countries, the pressure to win at all costs usually comes from the coaches and/or clubs, but unfortunately also from the parents in our country.
Yes, there are exceptions that seem to reflect what the slogan is trying to convey. Altinordu FC, a major youth academy from Izmir, Turkey, and a first division professional club later adopted the slogan. Altinordu FC has developed players like Caglar Soyuncu (Leicester City) Cengiz under (Marseille) and Burak Ince (Arminia Bielefeld). You can see the slogan on all their facilities and the owner Seyit Mehmet Ozkan gives vital importance to the message it conveys, which is evident in the actions and deeds of players on and off the pitch. This is a club culture that is imposed on the players by the club owner.
Another example: Turkish media were shocked when images of FC Kobenhavn players cleaning up the dressing room in Trabzon after their Champions League play-off game were circulated. It is clear that the players tried to be both good citizens and good players. It was in their club culture. Japanese MNT players did same after their last game at the 2018 World Cup. This time, I – having spent some time in Japan – can say that it is engraved in their national culture.
These are some examples from the professional game. The slogan is also suitable for youth sports. It can even be said that it is more appropriate in our football youth landscape than anywhere else.
What can parents or coaches expect from a recreational player? To play for the competitive team, to play for ODP, to play for the touring team, to play for one of the top youth leagues in the country, to get a college scholarship, to play for one of the age group national teams, to sign a professional contract. Climbing this ladder is very difficult and the chances of reaching the last steps of the ladder are very slim, less than 2%. For players, playing football is fun and a medium of socialization, but for parents and coaches, there should be another goal than trying to develop “good players” because most of them will never be the “good players” that the system expects and defines .
Parents and coaches should use football – or any other sport – to develop players’ characters so that they can be “good people” and “good citizens”. Parents should insist that clubs have the appropriate culture to develop their children’s character along with an appropriate player development curriculum. For parents, developing their children’s characters should be as important as giving their children a good playtime; then your investments will pay off.
There are many good examples of a positive club culture in our football landscape. One of them is Urban Leadership Soccer Academy in San Antonio, which focuses on the underprivileged group of children. Its founder, the ex-Mayor of San Antonio Ed Garzasums up the mission of the academy in the following words: “Our drive, our desire – if we had a magic wand – would be to influence the youth football landscape, including at a national level, not only to take on the lessons learned, to be closer to underserved communities and to be accessible, but to provide that too Value of enrichment and education programs that will transform their lives, even if they don’t make it to football as a professional player or play at the collegiate level.”
I’ve never been a “good player” but I think I’ve always been a “good person” and a “good citizen”. I attended some of the best educational institutions in Turkey and USA. I attribute my achievements in life to the values I borrowed from my parents and what I’ve learned through sport rather than what I’ve learned in different schools.
My advice to parents is that if you choose a club that encourages both character development and development, the chances of your children becoming “good people” and “good citizens” are far greater than they become “good players”. values player development.
Ahmet Guvener ([email protected]) is a Partner at The Game Planners, LLC and a former Secretary General and Chief Soccer Officer of the Turkish Football Association. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish Football Association. He has served as a panel member for the FIFA Referee Educators Panel and the UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a football consultant in Georgetown, TX.