532 Words on: The FFDP

Future Ferns Development Programme (or whatever FFDP stands for this week) manager Gareth Turnbull has taken the unusual and probably somewhat ill-advised step of utilizing that notorious communications tool of scoundrels and cads – The Northern League Forum – to extol the virtues of his work, and announce that he’s quitting.

It will come as absolutely no surprise to anyone reading this that I love a good rant, and this one is no exception. If nothing else it’s an interesting insight into not only the sort of thinking but also the attitude that underpins both the FFDP and New Zealand Football generally. I do hesitate to pass comment because I like Gareth for the most part and have good friends both at NZF and involved with the FFDP, but this is too juicy to resist critiquing.

I support the FFDP. I think it’s a net benefit to our sport and I have said this directly to both its supporters and detractors alike. But I have also said that I don’t think it’s without its drawbacks. As with absolutely everything in life, there are trade-offs.

Yes, it has improved the performance of our domestic Ferns and future Ferns. Yes it has led to more professional contracts for our up and coming players. Yes the players seem to like it. But it also sucks good players out of the regions, disrupts and devalues our top domestic leagues and weakens the next crop of players behind the FFDPers by denying them the full experience of training and playing with next level footballers.

I don’t think it does anyone any good to simply defend one’s own thinking as the one and only way, truth and light. If you’re not seen to address the drawbacks inherent in what you’re doing you are unlikely to inspire any confidence that you’re doing anything to mitigate them.

The ‘all players in New Zealand are amateurs, not owned by anyone and free to choose’ kind of worldview, along with falling back on surveys and conversations with players about where they want to train is all well and good if you only care about individuals and your patch. While I’m at it, the Football Ferns coach shouldn’t, in my opinion, only be selecting “those players he feels give the team the best chance to win today” either. The bigger picture and the future beyond the here and now are “incredibly important” too.

I see far too much patch protection in our game – on all sides of most arguments from NZF right down to grassroots. This unfortunately breeds a culture of talking past each other and a penchant for winner take all mentalities rather than working together to look for win-win solutions.

I accept that New Zealand Football do the best they can with limited resources, but I also think they could do a better job of working in collaboration with important stakeholders and bringing them along on the journey rather than just taking and imposing. This might seem a bit of a tiresome luxury for a peak body with FIFA as their role model to look up to. But it’s better than burning people off and killing the geese that lay the golden eggs…