We have this assumption that Ugandan footballers are talented, we have the best football talent in East Africa.
According to the Cambridge dictionary, talent is defined as a natural ability to be good at something, especially without being taught.
There’s a very high chance that human beings misuse the word talent because, apart from reflex actions like blinking and breathing, almost every other action has to be learned or taught.
It’s animals that might be well suited to the word talent: Does a cheetah practice to have a high speed? Do ducks practice how to swim? Do dogs ever practice how to swim?
Football requires a range of skills categorized as releasing the ball, travelling with the ball and, gathering the ball.
According to the Cambridge dictionary, a skill is an ability to do an activity or job well, especially because you have practiced it.
When you see Lionel Messi dribbling, Christiano Ronaldo jumping to head a ball, Manuel Neuer making a save, Nemanja Vidic tackling an opponent, David Beckham passing the ball and many other professional footballers performing skills.
Those are football skills that has been learnt through DELIBERATE practice.
Before the 90’s it was possible to become excellent at football without a football academy. Youngsters played a lot of street football which made them skilled footballers.
There’s a high possibility that a Ugandan footballer in the 70’s could have played in Europe without a lot of difficulty because of the similarity in the way players learnt football skills across all continents.
However, all this changed with the introduction of football academies in Europe. The rest of the world followed the trend and, even some parts of Africa like Ivory Coast embraced the idea of football academies.
Football practice moved from the street to deliberate practice and nurturing football ability, something that we haven’t yet started in Uganda.
With all due respect to whoever operates a football academy in Uganda, they are day care centres in disguise.
Football ability (read talent) can make a difference in under age football.
At U-12 age category, it’s very easy to see a footballer that stands out of the crowd to be deemed as talented.
Research in England shows that between 13-16 years of age, there’s a 76% drop out rate from football. For them it could be due to many factors but what about in Uganda?
We don’t have figures to base on research but its likely that the lack of professional football, an amateur mindset towards football and the lack of domestic football role models leads to parents preferring ONLY formal education over any form of football practice.
There’s also a high possibility that most football drop out rates are due to the extra work that starts at 13 years of age in football training.
From that moment, if players have started puberty then speed, endurance and strength training is introduced.
The football dropout rate increases to 96% after 18 years of age perhaps due to the demands of football performance which is more than just talent.
Football statistics have also shown that in modern football, the average time spent on the ball is less than 2 minutes for each player.
Footballers spend most of the time on the pitch doing other activities that require a combination of speed, strength and endurance that are greatly affected by coordination.
They also require mental strength like the 5C’s of football which greatly help in decision making.
Being skilled is extremely important but it’s just a tiny fraction of the foundation required to be a professional footballer.
Being a skilled footballer (read talent) on it’s own is not enough to play professional football.
The lack of competent football skills coaches, managers capable of nurturing talent and genuine football academies means that expecting to have talented Ugandan footballers has a lot to do with mediocrity hence the comparison with other East African countries.
For us to keep thinking that talent is a big deal, indeed football talent is overrated in Uganda.
Thank you for reading.