Todd Beane

Curing the North South Syndrome

Todd Beane
Curing the North South Syndrome

A delightful day in Christchurch led to a stark realization of how far emerging football countries have to go to compete with their European counterparts. 


“Get Back.”

These were the most common shouts of one team’s coach for most of the match. The other comments mostly had to do with his displeasure of particular decisions by the linesman. Thankfully the lineman was a volunteer father from his own team so the complaints were more subdued than I imagine otherwise.  

There is so much packed in the language we use as coaches. So much we say that reveals how we view the game, and by extension how we teach it.  

By “Go” he meant run forward. North.

By “Get Back” he meant retreat. South. 

Over and over again imbedded in the brains of his 13 year olds. 

The “North South Syndrome.”  

These young players have already come to believe that the way to glory rests in booting it and getting stuck in.  I am not sure when that ever really worked for this coach’s beautiful native country of Ireland, but so the syndrome is spread like a plague across the seas to New Zealand. 

It does not surprise me that these impressionable players view the game as a vertical highway to be traveled by land while the ball travels by air above their creative midfielders’ hopes. All are obliged to trudge a vertical corridor from box to box.  

If we are to nurture creative players who see solutions, we must allow them to find those solutions in a multi-directional context in which the game at the highest level is played. 

The solution may indeed be north; it may be south. However, it may also be east and west on a journey to the back of the net. 

I know that many coach with fear. The fear of mistakes. The fear of losing. The fear that another may get the best of us. The fear of failure as we define it. The fear that our children may make poor decisions that cost us dearly. I sense the fear in the voices from the sidelines. Parents screaming. Coaches trembling. 

But football is not a game of fear. Football is a game of courage and resilience; the very qualities we hope to nurture in our children. 

“Courage is the most important virtue as without courage you cannot practice any other virtue consistently.” – Maya Angelou

What if we nurtured 360-degree vision? What if we encouraged players to find the angles between the lines and had the courage to play those choices. What if we did not wait to do so rationalizing our contagion with youth victories won by the physically premature? 

What if there were more positions to found than the ones running forward and the ones in retreat?

“Before implementing position play, we must explain what I mean by this. Its final purpose is that the player passing the ball enjoys two or three possibilities for playmaking.  ” – Johan Cruyff

The only way that these young New Zealanders will understand the game in ways that their counterparts in Catalonia already do is to play it differently. It would be nice to think that knocking it on and hoping for the best will produce a World Cup qualification at a minimum but it rarely does. Both New Zealand, and my native country the United States, will be training from north to south while the World Cup is played just east of Western Europe. 

“The position game consists of dozens of variants, from the most obvious to the most difficult. However, everyone, regardless of his or her talent, can train them. Getting started is difficult. The best way to train this skill is proceeding step by step. ” – Johan Cruyff

Playing a more vertical game is not a problem. Playing it by default is. If we only pave the pathway from box to box, the greener pastures from east to west remain unexplored. And that belies our interest to elicit multi-directional solutions coming from our multi-dimensional players. 

I hope that upon my next visit to the Garden City, I may witness young players finding solutions by exploiting the most pertinent space. There is a cure to the North South Syndrome. And when healed, the Kiwi players will realize their full potential on the world’s stage. 


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