While the United States Soccer Federation has reorganized and rejuvenated their football programme after assessing their past failures, the same cannot be said for the Jamaica Football Federation. After successive failed World Cup qualification campaigns for the men, not much has changed. The team is still not defined, with haphazard call ups being a constant, featuring a mixture of Jamaican and foreign-born players with Jamaican heritage. If Jamaica doesn’t want to end up being irrelevant in CONCACAF many changes are needed to get to the next level.
Firstly, Jamaica needs to set a target for the number of footballers that we want to produce and adequately plan for their development. We cannot continue to approach player development in the way we have over the years. Grass roots football in Jamaica is almost non-existent or poorly structured. The federation and the different parish associations need to assess how many youngsters they can get involved playing the sport from an early age and make plans for them in the form of more youth clubs, competitions, and clinics. Youth development is crucial to building a successful football programme. If the aim is consistent World Cup qualification at all levels for the male and female programmes as well as having our local players playing in the top North American and European leagues, then youth development must be prioritized.
Youth development aside, there is a need for highly qualified and talented coaches in the island. At the youth level, many coaches are untrained or unqualified to be nurturing talents at an impressionable age. The Jamaican Government and the Jamaica Football Federation should investigate the possibilities of signing a Memorandum of Understanding with a foreign nation that provides high level coaching qualifications and certifications. This will ensure that every year a set number of coaches begin the process to start earning their coaching badges. Another suggestion is for the JFF to partner with a local teacher’s college or university in collaboration with FIFA to develop a proper academic training course for local coaches.
The federation should see to it that we implement a particular style of play in the national set up. From the youngest age group to the senior men’s team, all should play a similar brand of football. Watching the Jamaica senior men’s national team, there is not much impetus to their play, and we have lacked players that can carry the ball forward. With our players tending to normally be very strong and quick, we are perfectly suited for a counter attacking brand of football rather than possession based. Jamaican players also tend to be very selfish and spend too much time on the ball, sometimes trying to draw a reaction from crowds rather than being productive, an issue that can be fixed with good coaching from an early age.
While speed and strength are commonly found characteristics among Jamaican players so is indiscipline and a lack of professionalism. Many of the island’s footballers do not live an exemplary life off the field like other successful professionals. This is clear to see when examining the physical state of many of the players in schoolboy football and the national premier league who look more like NFL line-backers than footballers. Local players from an early age are caught up in the hype of partying and alcoholism that is complemented by very minimal training and physical work. The mindset among Jamaican talents must change, especially from a young age before it becomes so much of a routine it is hard to break from. Coaching and teaching these very principles into the players from an early age can make a huge difference.
Another factor hampering the growth of football in Jamaica is the importance and priority given to schoolboy football by schools, coaches, players, parents, fans, and corporate sponsors. Many times, you will hear people say schoolboy football has more quality than the premier league and that schoolboy players should be in the national set up. I always find the notion completely laughable. The truth is schoolboy football is very low-quality football with regular lopsided results right throughout the competition. Our young talents should not be playing in this competition past age 16 as they should be trying to step up from the youth teams of the national premier league and trying to make their first team debut. Too many talented players are playing schoolboy football way into their late teens, some even repeating grades just to compete.
Most premier league clubs are deprived of their young talents until the schoolboy season ends. Some of these players do end up securing scholarships to colleges abroad and a few end up in the premier league but too many never really maximise their potential. While Ansu Fati is starting for Barcelona at age 17, Jamaican players are thinking of winning the Manning Cup, DaCosta Cup or the Super Cup and then we contemplate why we cannot compete at the highest level.
While I encourage Jamaicans to minimize the importance they attribute to schoolboy football, I also encourage more interest and priority to be given to the top flight league. The national premier league needs wide scale revamping, there is a need for more televised games to spark interest, the need for more community support and of course more young talents need to be involved. Too many premier league teams have overweight or aged players who have come back from overseas or have been long time league stalwarts. This has contributed to a steady drop in quality in the games and consequently a decline in fan support.
Lastly the JFF needs to get their house in order from a professional and administrative standpoint. There are too many conflicts between sporting bodies, players, coaches, clubs, and parish football associations. Far too often there have been conflicts that take centre stage before or after the Men or Women’s senior national teams play which cannot be a comfortable situation. However, their issues are so deep rooted and longstanding it would require an article for itself. The United States and more recently Canada have made important strides to grow the standard of their football and Jamaica needs to adapt quickly to follow suit.