What is your definition of success in high school sport? Sometimes we need to rethink our measure of success, particularly in the youth (13-18) space. What has happened in Waikato through futsal and transitioning into football is a prime example of this often undervalued and unnoticed work.
As we enter the final day of the National Secondary School Finals this week in Wellington, I want to examine college (high school) futsal in the context of the famous St Pats vs Wellington College rivalry and examine this theme of measures of success.
One of the great sporting events in New Zealand is St Pats Town vs Wellington College. There are annual ‘traditional’ fixtures for rugby and football, when the whole schools are allowed out in class time to watch, sing, chant and support. The rivalry is intense. It’s largely in good spirit, though sometimes a little too boisterous, which shows how desperate both schools are to get one up on the other.
In recent years, St Pats Town have dominated headlines in college sport futsal. After losing early tournaments, the senior boys team have not lost in a regional or national tournament since April 2013. They are the reigning 2016 Regional Champions and National Champions 2014-2015 (2016 in progress) without losing a game as at time of this post.
So, they must be better than Wellington College. Riiight?!
Well, let’s have a look at playing numbers. Wellington College had 250 boys playing in the College Sport Leagues this term. That is phenomenal growth; I remember celebrating when I lead growth in Wellington to 800 players across the region and all age groups.
Five years ago I had meetings at Wellington College, and twice turned up after ‘something had been put in the notices’ for a lunchtime meeting for interested players. Suspiciously, both times no kids turned up, so on my way out of the grounds I had a chat to a few groups of kids I had coached in daytime PE programmes and signed two teams up. To go from this to the full support of the school and 250 kids is incredible. Bridging the gap between the school and what the kids want, is a parent called Stuart Beresford who WC Futsal should be very grateful for. If growing awareness and participation for the sport is an objective, Wellington College are doing very well here.
St Pats have grown in recognition of the sport from that 2014 breakthrough title. I remember clearly some strong words been spoken by a senior player in pre-match semi-final huddle about the lack of recognition of the school as a motivating factor. From that, to having a ten minute presentation, speech and video to the entire school role and staff at assembly as they celebrated victory, St Pat has become a futsal school. These are two of my great loves combined so its great to see!
What about player development? This one is a little harder to measure because the sport is so young that most players haven’t matured yet. But one who is mature beyond his years is Luc Saker. He’s progressed through national tournaments, the men’s national league and into the national men’s team who were just one game away from the World Cup in Colombia this year. He has just moved to New Caledonia for a year playing futsal there.
St Pat’s haven’t yet produced a Futsal White, but do have Clayton Lewis who remarkably made his senior international football debut just 12 months after leading St Pats to their maiden national futsal schools title.
Jacques Cuccurullo has done very well in the men’s national league and has been a senior goalkeeper for a few seasons now, and won the Golden Gloves award for the league at age 19. Within the current squad I believe there is three players in particular who have the potential to go on and represent New Zealand in the next 2020 World cup cycle. If we won hosting rights we would qualify automatically. Either way we will only get there by creating more history as a young, small sport in a young, small country.
But most important to any chance of pushing on into success and men’s national teams is thinking about the age and stage of these kids. We must create an environment for them to feel comfortable moving up and training with adults, men, most of home they won’t know. Some have done this, some haven’t. But we must ease this transition and get to know them as individuals to give them a chance.
We need get to know them and think about why they play and why they are there (this may differ wildly from what we think or want for them). It may not be to represent their country, but just to play for fun with friends. If we are player centred then it is not worth forcing – we are there to serve the best interests and not ourselves. It’s similar to cultural differences I’ve examined in the past.
I hope St Pats can keep breaking new boundaries and catch-up to our great rivals in growing the sport, and producing the best players to go onto international men’s competition.
At the time of writing, Friday morning in New Zealand, the incredible unbeaten run is still alive and St Pats Futsal are chasing an extension of dominance into a third straight national title. Meanwhile Wellington College have seemingly failed by not qualifying for the round of 16 Cup knockouts after a last minute goal in the final pool game on Thursday.
On the surface if it’s a failure, if we only judge by results. But in this day and age we don’t judge a book by it’s cover.
Let’s think about what we’re trying to achieve with school sport and think of legacy, culture and future, as well as winning these tournaments today.
I’ve said it while St Pats are still champions, and long may it last. But growing awareness and creating players to become the best in the country in the future are important objectives and measures of success.
Here’s to many more Wellington College – St Pats Futsal matches to come, and more importantly, a continuation of the legacy and culture that both teams are leading in building for futsal in New Zealand.