Football talent is overrated.

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.

Coordination: A challenge for most Ugandan footballers.

Coordination is the interaction between the brain and the muscles to successfully carry out a movement of two different body parts at the same time.

Most Ugandan footballers lack excellent coordination. 

This is one of the reasons why most of our footballers struggle to play high-level professional football.

Coordination is responsible for three of the four factors that affect football performance. 

This means that coordination affects 75% of football performance.

Coordination is responsible for all the physical attributes of football performance like jumping/leaping, power, physical speed (pure speed acceleration and deceleration), agility, flexibility, and endurance.

Coordination is responsible for the footwork required to execute football skills (passing, shooting, heading, traveling with the ball, throwing the ball, catching the ball, and tackling) with quality.

The five factors of coordination are; 

Orientation: The ability of a player to position themselves correctly in terms of both space and time. 

Changing and readjusting the position of the body on the basis of the perception of a given situation.

An example of orientation in football is heading the ball. 

The player heading the ball has to time the flight of the ball then move the head to make contact with a particular area of the ball. 

Having poor coordination would end up with the ball hitting the player.

Rhythm: The ability that allows the player to execute movement rhythmically. The alternation between speed and slowness.

An example of rhythm in football is dribbling past an opponent. The player on the ball has to slow down as they approach the opponent then accelerate past the opponent as soon as they get favorable conditions. 

Differentiation: An ability that allows the player to deal in different ways with the information that they perceive with their sensory organs.

An example of differentiation in football is knowing how to weigh a pass according to the distance of your teammate and the position of opponents. 

Equilibrium (balance): The ability that allows a player to maintain balance during an action or while executing a technical move.

Being able to regain balance after a duel, a body charge, after feinting and executing the fast footwork required in technical moves.

Almost 90% of football activity happens with one leg off the ground hence football players need to have excellent balance to execute football actions.

An advantage of having excellent balance is that it enables the player to be comfortable using both feet.

Reaction: An ability that allows a player to respond extremely quickly to signals and to match situations, not merely executing the right technical move, but also doing so very quickly.

In football, the stimuli to respond to are; ball, space, teammate, opponent, area of play, and state of play. 

Footballers with better coordination will be stronger, have better endurance capacity be more flexible and have better football speed. 

It’s true that some Ugandan footballers show signs of good coordination but it’s not DELIBERATELY PRACTICED which means they would struggle when competing against opponents that have excellent coordination skills.

It’s also true that Ugandan footballers can execute football skills but the quality of football skills is not at the standard of high-level professional football. 

Coordination is best mastered when taught between 8-13 years of age and can be improved up to 25 years of age then maintained for individuals above 25 years of age. 

Football coaches and players in Uganda need to start deliberate coordination training because of its major influence on football performance.