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Con Boutsianis: We must fix youth development in Australian football

South Melbourne legend Con Boutsianis’ message is simple. As a nation, we are failing to produce enough players at the calibre of the Mark Vidukas and Harry Kewells of yesteryear.

In an interview with Soccerscene, the 48-year-old believes youth development across the board is suffering in Australia and the cautious approach that has been taken with talented young players is not beneficial.

“Mark Viduka at 17 played his first senior game,” Boutsianis said.

“At 17, I played my first National Soccer League game. Now, if a 17-year-old is good enough to play, we say ‘oh no we better not, he’s too young, he needs more time to develop.’

“It’s complete rubbish.”

Boutsianis concedes a national second division and connected football pyramid will be a positive for the game’s issues at a developmental level, but doesn’t think it is the panacea others in the game believe it will be.

“That’s not what the answer is,” he said.

“People are just shooting off the hip, of course it would be great to have a second division. Is it viable? We are struggling to get the A-League to be viable.

“Now, you want a second competition?

“It’s not working at the top level. We’re a mess at the moment. We don’t have any sponsorships, we don’t have any direction, we’ve spent one billion dollars in 15 years (on the A-League) and most of the teams don’t even have a home.”

In an effort to improve the youth footballing standards in Australia, after the conclusion of his playing career in the NSL, the former Socceroo has invested his time in creating a coaching business called Football First.

He uses his years of expertise and research to focus on the development of groups and individuals, coaching a range of players from beginners to professionals. Sessions are completed in person by him or online to those who are in other countries.

“Because I’m very analytical, I started to think (near the end of his career) ‘what is it that makes a soccer player? What do you actually have to do to become a professional player?’

“One thing that I realised, I was more a technical player and I was speaking about football with my friend Mickey Petersen who played for Ajax under Johan Cruyff.

“He said, ‘look, we are just born in the wrong country. They don’t value the technical players here (in Australia).’

“I said ‘yeah I know’; I can’t understand why they wouldn’t want to learn how to kick the ball properly and that technical skills are more important than physical initially.

“So, I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to teach these guys how to do it.’ I started off with a group of five kids, not getting paid a lot of money, but it wasn’t about the money.

“I said to myself ‘I’m going to start doing it’ and then from that I never realised where it’s going to go.

“20 years later and I’ve developed a really good coaching business that gives me the opportunity to travel around the world.”

With his years of experience, Boutsianis’ most important piece of advice for young players is to identify the real weaknesses and strengths they have as footballers and address them on a daily basis in a specified program.

His use of a grading system, which generates a tangible document for a player, similar to a school report, is important for the improvement of an individual.

“This is what the parents love, this is what the clubs love, this is what the kids love,” he said.

“It’s a grading system that says, here, you’re a beginner, this is your score for a beginner. You’re a semi-professional, these are your scores for a semi-professional.

“Unfortunately, in football, we generally don’t have a system that suggests this. It’s an opinion, your opinion against my opinion against that person’s opinion.

“You need something that you can physically see and understand. Is the passing good? Is it not good?”

Money should not be the overriding factor in whether a player coming through the ranks makes it as a professional, with the ex-Perth Glory player valuing commitment and hours spent instead.

“If you want to develop a player it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to spend millions and millions of dollars.

“What you need to get them to do is to start working at home on their own. Mark Viduka would be at the AIS and kick the ball against the wall for hours at night, no one told him to do it.

“Young players need to start understanding what it is they have to do to become a better footballer.”

According to Boutsianis, the perception is that to be better, we need to send youth players (who are not ready) overseas at a young age.

He believes this is a critical mistake.

“What’s the point of spending $10-50,000 on people who don’t really develop a player,” he said.

“We spend all that money to compete against the best overseas, when you haven’t done the work prior…you haven’t earned the right to go and play against the best.

“So, get your own backyard in order, make sure you are one of the best in your state, if not in the country, and then consider to go overseas. If you’re not one of the best here, how do you think you are going to be the best there?”

When quizzed on the possibility of becoming a coach of a side in the future, the man who scored the winner against Carlton in the 1998 NSL Grand Final claimed: “I will coach, no problem.

“But for me it’s not that important at the moment, I think developing people is more important than getting results and saying I won as a coach. Because, that’s not giving to the player, I’m more focused on making sure that player in the future becomes successful.”

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Philip Panas is a sports journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy and industry matters, drawing on his knowledge and passion of the game.

CrowdedVENUE makes stadium safety simple 

CrowdedVENUE focuses on visitor safety, revenue generation and user experience to create a secure stadium event for all.

CrowdedVENUE focuses on visitor safety, revenue generation and user experience to create a secure stadium event for all. 

They have become a unique combination of IoT hardware and a purpose-built software application that collects, transmits, analyses and presents the behaviour of pedestrian/crowd movement without any need for manual processing during or after study. 

CrowdedHUB sensors merge together the very best in physical identification, including Wi-Fi scanning, Bluetooth scanning, Thermal and 3D imaging of environmental sensing to create a valuable collection of unique data that is independent of any infrastructure. 

 

CrowdedVENUE’s boasts an incredible data gathering hardware system that is regarded as the most secure in the industry, with automated anonymisation at the source and a multi-layered security application. 

Crowded uses the very best in technology to offer an accurate and cost-effective pedestrian movement analysis solution that addresses the growing demands of both the private and public sectors. 

A network of independent sensors are able to accumulate over 90% of individuals in most areas. That information is then sent directly to Crowded who will automatically generate data relevant to the venue or location. 

The CrowdedVENUE software application continually accesses each sensor on their own to safely extract anonymous data and perform detailed analysis, maps and charts to display all the results. 

The following areas are covered in data collection extending to both inside and outside the venue: 

  • Volume per location 
  • Dwell times per location 
  • Most popular locations by visitors,  
  • Most popular routes by visitors,  
  • Top routes by direction with average journey times 
  • Safest route analysis 
  • Event-based predictive evacuation strategy 
  • Visitor heatmap 
  • 3D imaging 
  • Raw.csv Download 

CrowdedVENUE is related to the PoC’s belonging to stadia and other high-profile indoor venues. CrowdedRAIL and CrowdedCITY are two of the other sectors under the Crowded umbrella where they are predominantly utilised by the public sector as part of a multi-faceted range of consultancy services.  

However, CrowdedVENUE has been developed to help the end-user more directly in a manner that is extra simple, clear and easy to use. This approach enables the client to improve visitor safety whilst increasing revenue generation. 

 

The CrowdedVENUE service creates an increased level of value compared to its core function. By providing the stadium the means to transcend all current data collection and football monitioring solutions in favour of a real-world IoT “smart” service, it has everything required to become the global standard in crowd safety and visitor experience tools. 

“CrowdedVENUE is one of several services in the range that offers seamless integration into existing infrastructure via its API function.” they said.  

“Crowded is a fantastic solution for new works as a standalone service, but when a major venue already exists, such as a stadium, it is usual for that environment to be operating a proprietary app for visitors, usually based around experience.  

“The CrowdedVENUE API gives you the best of both worlds, allowing you to retain the control and familiarity of your current services, whilst seamlessly integrating the entire value proposition of Crowded.  

“For venues that do not have a current consumer-focused application, CrowdedVENUE is again the perfect choice for you.  

We will guide you through the design, installation and testing phases of installing a visitor app and the Crowded back-end analysis package, helping you to maximise value for both the venue and its visitors, with minimal operational impact.” 

Crowded not only tracks movement of crowd behaviour accessible, robust and cost-effective, but does it in a manner that is safe and secure, making sure that personal information of all visitors is protected. 

With Data Protection and Privacy Law being such a growing concern, Crowded was built specifically to protect the personal information of visitors alongside the integrity of the data the service gathers.” they said. 

“Any potential personal information is anonymised at source, by the hardware itself. This ensures that no personal information is ever in our possession. 

“In addition to this, Crowded provides the user with all the raw data gathered in .csv format. This gives each user the opportunity to observe the integrity of both the data set and the analysis performed by the application.” 

With a variety of data capture services available, CrowdVENUE presents as the ideal point of call for the safe recommencement of fans to stadiums with COVID-19 slowly easing in Australia. 

For more information on Crowded, including extra details on each individual sector, pricing packages and contact, you can find it here. 

Caroline Springs George Cross FC: A historic club reborn and revitalised

Relocating from a traditional home will usually mark the start of a new era for a football club. Modern facilities provide dramatic improvements for players, fans and other stakeholders to enjoy, and a new environment can often create an uplift of atmosphere.

For Caroline Springs George Cross FC, the mid-2019 move to the state-of-the-art City Vista Pavilion and Sports Field has done all of the above – but also far, far more.

The club has used the transition to revitalise its football program and open an industry-leading hospitality precinct, increasing opportunities for income diversification and the creation of an intimate sense of community.

“Prior to the move we utilised three different venues. It has been enlightening for the club to amalgamate all of our teams and for the first time in a while, the club has been united from a participation point of view. We are now all at one venue where teams and families interact and watch each other play and train. It also means we can have community and NPL Juniors all at the one club,” said Mark Sultana, Caroline Springs George Cross FC President.

Formerly Sunshine George Cross, the club has a rich 74-year history and a deep connection to Melbourne’s western suburbs.

“We are a very old, but very progressive football club. In 2019 we had a change of name to match our new home. We have created a really special culture and are highly united across all areas,” Sultana added.

From a business standpoint, the hospitality precinct, dubbed Georgies on Vista, has allowed the club to build a sustainable income stream which is not solely reliant on traditional methods like sponsorship.

“It’s a full hospitality precinct including a bar, function room and restaurant. It’s a fully functional business but we also use it to give back to our community. We offer specials for members and players, while kids eat free,” added Liza Djuric, General Manager of Caroline Springs George Cross FC.

“Parents have a comfortable space when they are waiting for their kids and it really unites people during training and on matchdays.”

The precinct features two synthetic pitches and two grass pitches. Credit: Dorian Mifsud.

As well as the hospitality facilities, the City Vista complex features cutting-edge amenities for players and coaches. The $13 million reserve boasts two synthetic pitches and two grass pitches, with space for 4000 fans.

Although project was heavily funded by the Melton City Council, the Georgies also made a significant contribution of approximately $1 million.

While securing funding was an enormous achievement, the relationship the club shares with its council is very much a two-way street. The club has approached its relations with the broader community much the same as it has with its members, promoting inclusion and engagement to great effect.

“It’s a testament to our venue that Western United FC chose us to base themselves out of. They use our facilities six days per week to train, but we also support the local community,” Sultana said.

“The school across the road uses our facilities for their P.E classes and we support other local schools by hiring out our grounds. The public can also use our grounds when we aren’t using them and there’s times over summer where the grounds are booked out for tournaments.”

The club has a 20-year lease on the complex, with an option to extend another 20 years beyond that.

With the deal undoubtedly a huge win for the club, Sultana and Djuric emphasise that it was a result of hard-work and dedication from many past and present administrators.

“A lot of people over a number of years have sacrificed a lot to have this facility granted to us. People like Eddie Gauci, who was integral to our conversations with council. He has sadly passed away, but his legacy will not be forgotten. Countless other people including committee members, coaches, presidents and volunteers sacrificed a lot for our club to be where it is today,” Sultana said.

Importantly, in addition to supporting its members and the surrounding areas, the reserve was also designed in a gender-neutral manner, something which is increasingly important in the modern football ecosystem.

This has allowed George Cross to heavily promote female participation in the area and offer genuine career development pathways for women who are eager to pursue coaching or administrative positions.

Georgies on Vista has created a sustainable revenue stream. Credit: Dorian Mifsud.

“We have female-friendly change rooms and access and gender-neutral facilities. The club is committed to drawing female participation across the board. We have girls from all age groups and ensure our women’s teams train and play on our main pitch,” Djuric said.

“We are committed to this even across the board and committee. We have female coaches and self-nominated to the Change Maker Project, a Football Victoria and Vic Uni led program which is all about driving football clubs to achieve 50/50 participation.”

With a state-of-the-art facility now in place to complement the club’s passionate fanbase, the President believes Caroline Springs George Cross FC is in a prime position to compete in the highly anticipated National Second Division.

‘We have taken this club from being mainly comprised of part-timers into a professionally run organisation. When the Australian Association of Football Clubs (AAFC) put out the expression of interest for the working group, we took it upon ourselves to contribute,” Sultana said.

“We are an old NSL club with a strong brand and supporter base. We have one of the best facilities and believe we are in a good position to be issued a license when the time comes. The licenses need to be given on a criteria base and from a capability standpoint, we will have all of the components ticked-off.”

STATSports leading the way for GPS tracking

Big-name Premier League clubs have chosen to partner up with STATSportswho are industry leaders in providing GPS tracking systems and analysis. 

Up to five of the top six in the league have already made the switch to STATSports, including Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur – while the service is used by the majority of fellow Premier League sides.

These Premier League clubs have worked closely with STATSports as they developed Sonra 3.0 and Sonra Live which is the latest software upgrade that the Premier League will be set to receive – featuring marketing-leading analysis platforms and further improvement on athlete monitoring.

STATSports are widely regarded across professional football – in addition to their big-name Premier League clients, they also push further into the English FA and abroad across the world, venturing out to the likes of Paris Saint Germain and Juventus. 

STATSports were involved in the Project Restart by informing the Premier League with a Player Proximity Report, using their data to show which type of sessions would cause players to come to together more often. STATSports offers a quick and time-effective process, with download times four times faster than any platform. It means receiving results from a typical session for a squad of players would take under two minutes. 

For elite clubs, Sonra 3.0 is the ideal go-to solution and it further streamlines and enhances performance with a host of new features that will make a difference. Sonra 3.0 is the brand-new product launch by STATSports and the latest offering for anyone looking to acquire their very own GPS tracking and analysis. 

Among the key inclusions, session planning features have been added to the calendar, allowing club performance departments to map up training cycles for weeks in advance. Video integration in the Video Manager has been developed further while adding a full squad 2D positioning. There is also a Scientific Calculator, allowing practitioners to create bespoke custom metrics based upon their own requirements.

Users are now able to choose between ‘Light’ and Dark’ modes as they can customise their preferred theme when on the app. 

The launch of Sonra 3.0 has coincided with the introduction of a new iPad application called Sonra Live, enabling coaches to monitor training in real-time. 

Sonra Live’s real-time data has been independently validated to form a perfect correlation with downloaded data, making this the most accurate live-monitoring solution of its kind. Coaches can then make instant, informed and impactful decisions for anything they intended to achieve. 

Sonra Live features team-level reporting, detailed individual-player dashboards, drill cutting for precise session analysis, post-session reporting via PDF/CSV and synchronisation to desktop applications for further analysis. 

STATSports’ on-board metric processing means there will be no data drop-out and they are the only provider in the industry to give 100% identical live and post-session download data quality.  

With flawless results, this puts the power in the end users’ hands to make immediate decisions with confidence no matter what they want to do. Coaches can set multiple thresholds for individual players or full squads, while multiple coaches can each monitor their own iPads simultaneously. 

“This is an exciting day for STATSports and the many teams we work with. This is another major advancement in the level in which coaches and managers can monitor their players,” STATSports co-founder, Sean O’Connor said. 

“Technology is now truly integrated into the game and we have played our part in that. We have worked closely with those teams during lockdown and also used the time to finalise the development of our new Sonra platform – we’re confident that our clients will further benefit from working with us through the introduction of this.” 

The creation of both Sonra 3.0 and Sonra Live reaffirms STATSports’ commitment to being the industry leader in GPS tracking and innovations for this space, supplying this resource to world-renowned clubs. 

“We have really enjoyed developing this new software platform. Time is a key commodity for clubs,” STATSports co-founder, Alan Clarke said. 

“The quicker they can make decisions with reliable and accurate feedback, the greater the edge they have on their competition.  

“We will continue to push the boundaries of what is possible and ensure athletes can do the same on the training pitch and the competitive environment.” 

For more information on STATSports, you can find it here.

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