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The Dearth of Kampombwa is leading to the decline of Zambian Football

Zambia losing 3-0 to Morocco may have come as a shock to some but expected to others. Those who expected it would say the Zambian game is not as good as it was say in 1993 when we narrowly lost to Morocco 1-0 in a game which made Gabonese referee Diramba famous and robbed Zambia of a deserved maiden appearance at the world cup in USA in 1994.

Whereas it is quite universally agreed that the Zambian game is on a downward spiral, reasons for this will differ from one observer to another.

One reason is that young Zambians are not taking to the game with love like before when people played the game at every street corner and indeed backyard. In the olden days, we heard of the “Kalukungu Stadiums” as kids played football in dusty patches. The ball of choice was a ball made of plastics from the rubbish bin and held together using strings or commonly refered to us “kampombwa“. We shall get back to the issue of the “Kampombwa” later.

The second reason is that technique, tactics and other vital aspects of the game of football are not taught at the correct age due to lack of football academies and a cadre of well trained and equipment youth coaches.

There are some footballers, like Andrei Arshavin of Russia who are late bloomers and so show their best form as they age. Even Zidane looks like such a player. However, many players learn their skills early in life and start manifesting their best form by the time they hit 18 or so. Players like Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi being good examples. It is the early teenage when players should learn vital skills.

Zambia lags behind because the players are not learning these technical skills early enough. We need to start early; Anybody emerging from the 5-11 age group has to be comfortable on the ball. And we are not talking of footballing age here by the real age of 5 to 11. If not done, by the time kids join academies, the skills they need later on in their careers have already been lost. We must start with the very young children and we must get the best coaches coaching these kids.

Apart from the skills, other aspects of the game such as the philosophy of the game should also be learned early. When kids are so young, it is not time to think about winning, to think only about winning as you do. They need to learn how to pass a ball, how to control a ball, how to control a game, how to cross, head and shoot. It is not important to tell the kids to win – they must be taught instead the skills that will help them to become winners. If winning is primary, they end up playing roughly and ugly just to win and this seriously affects their game in future.

Most of the time when football kids are young, they should be playing with a football. Give a ball to each kid to play with, look after and even sleep with! With the younger groups the philosophy is about fun and just letting youngsters play, we have to take away the pressure of results.

Kids play soccer because it is fun! Scoring is fun, dribbling and shooting are fun. Being outside with a bunch of other kids running around is fun!

If kids think something is fun, they will do it more. You have to struggle to get your kids to clean their room because it isn’t enjoyable for them. Do you have to argue with them to play more video games? Or do you have to ask them twice to eat more candy or watch their favorite TV show? No, of course not. They like to do the things they enjoy.

The development of the youngest players involves ensuring that they love the game of soccer. I want them to love to dribble, love to shoot and love to chase that ball around the junior sized pitch. If they love the sport, then tactics and technique will come in their own time and can be introduced bit by bit.

One of the most exciting things in soccer is to see a skilled player perform a dynamic soccer move in a game situation. Cristiano Ronaldo blasting down the line with his lightning fast step over moves, Ronaldinho smoking a defender with his elastico and Zidane twirling past his opponent with the Marseille Roulette all cause the crowds to jump to their feet with a roar.

There are dozens of soccer moves that you can learn and perfect, but it is smart to start with some of the more basic technical skills as a foundation for everthing else you do in soccer such as scissors/Step Over, reverse scissors, pull back, chop, stop and go and many more.

Players must be competent in all facets of the sport if they are to be a successful soccer players. They need to work on their skills by perfecting fundamental kicking, passing, dribbling and shooting techniques. They need to master a variety of soccer moves so that they can break down opponents one on one. Good players can instantly kill the ball (any ball), get their heads up and move it on accurately with any legal part of the footballing anatomy. And then move intelligently to find space to do it all over again.The best soccer players that I have seen also work on their fitness, conditioning and soccer speed with the goal being to be as good an athlete as possible. And finally, smart soccer players have an understanding of the tactical side of soccer as well, knowing their role on the field for the formations their team runs.

Well, we all know that to get good at something, you have to practice at it. You need a lot of repetitions. If soccer isn’t fun for the kids, then they won’t want to play or go to practice. If they don’t play, they won’t get any better.

But how do kids in Zambia get to learn the skills early in life and have a chance to practice day in day out to became better? What did the kids of the 70s, 80s and 90s and earlier practise in ways different from these days.

The answer is they played “kampombwa” which kids of nowadays don’t do that often. The “kampombwa” helped hone vital techiques and other vital skills which kids playing the full-sized football these days cannot benefit from.

Many of the skills and apects of the game mentioned above need very good coaches to teach. The lack of good coaches and indeed training for coaches is well documented and so will not be discussed here. In Zambia, the best coaches are in the Premier League and in Division one. However, we need the best coaches at the youth level and in the academies. In earlier days, it was not that we had better coaches teaching the game better. It is not about teaching players to play football. This is best done spontaneously, out in the street, the way it has always been done. Kampombwa. But for all the technological progress, today’s generation lacks the same opportunities. The sad fact is that, though old fashioned street and wasteland football can still be found in Zambia, it has come under sustained attack. There is urban expansion and real estate speculation eating up the areas where previous generations used to play. Play packs and backyards have given way to construction as land becomes scarce.

What is needed right now is providing a space where the kids can play, spend time in a healthy and productive manner and hopefully turn into better people as a result.

Can we get back to the kampombwa days or can something be done to help us develop skills for Zambian players? Can we learn from such great footballing nations like Brazil?

Why does Brazil produce so many great players? Many people argue that futsal is the great Brazilian secret.

The term Futsal is the international term used for the game. It is derived from the Spanish or Portuguese word for “soccer”, FUTbol or FUTebol, and the French or Spanish word for “indoor”, SALon or SALa.It really took off in Brazil where the love of creative football is most manifest.

Pele, Zico, Socrates, Bebeto, Ronaldinho, Robinho, Rivaldo, Ronaldo and other Brazilian superstars developed their skill playing Futsal. Whereas many brazilian footballers start by playing Futsal before playing football, some, like Falcao, the world’s best Futsal player, continue in the mini-game without going to the full game. Whereas the argument that Futsal helps Brazil be world beaters makes sense, the answer should be elsewhere because even before the days of Futsal were with us, Brazil always produced great players. In part, for the same reason that Australia is such a production line of wonderful cricketers and South Africa great rugby players. It is part of the cultural tradition. One generation inspires and sets the standard for the next. If Zambia is number 1 in Africa on FIFA rankings this year, children will grew up knowing they need to maintain that position for Zambia in Africa. As for Brazil, Leonidas inspired Zizinho, who inspired Pele, who inspired Zico, who inspired Ronaldo, who inspired Alexandre Pato, and so the dance goes on.

The important thing to remember is that this tradition was established long before the rise of futsal. And more than anywhere else, it was established in the streets and on the wastelands where boys honed their skills in endless games.

Football in South America was introduced by the British. It was then re-interpreted by the locals, the hard running musculinity of the English approach giving way to a more sinuous, balletic game, ideal for the guy with the low centre of gravity. This re-interpretation led to international triumphs and recognition for a region starved of both.

Yes Futsal greatly attributes to getting better players in Brazil but there are other reasons Zambia can learn from. Trying to attribute the success of this process to futsal alone seems to me to be hopelessly naïve.

One other big reason is that millions of players and trained every year as football becomes a global game and means for poor Brazilians to make milions of dollars. Lots of little clubs have been set up all over Brazil in recent years. They compete at youth level only, have top facilities but are not trying to win titles or attract supporters. They are hoping to groom players to be sold to Europe. Promising players – like coffee – are a commodity to be sold to the First World.

This is taking place on an industrial scale like never before. An immensely strong cultural tradition, a huge population, millions willing to take the risk of becoming players, others with money prepared to invest in them – it’s no wonder that Brazil is a conveyor belt of footballing talent.

In Zambia, producing players is almost an accident. We have not developed serious soccer academies that churn out good honed players despite seeing benefits of academies. Manchester has been known to produce great players from youngsters such as the class of ’92 which had Beckham, Scholes, Giggs, the Nevilles, Butt etc. Ivory Coast has produced many good players due to academies like the one at Asec Mimosas. But in Zambia we are not taking this root seriously.

Even though we can teach techniques via Futsal like Brazil, we are yet to have enough futsal picthes in Zambia to seriously use this route. Futsal is played between two teams of five players, including the goalkeeper. The Futsal court is not separated by walls, instead the court is lined. The Futsal ball is smaller than a standard soccer ball. The emphasis is on ball control and passing in small spaces, as well as improvising and technique. Futsal introduces kids to a smaller Futsal ball which is easier to control. Part of the success of the sport is due to the fact that it can be played in a small space – anything from a sports hall to a tennis court, a car park to a side street. A futsal pitch can be squeezed in almost anywhere. Though the official surface is a gym floor or wooden floor, any surface can be used. Futsal is gaining popularity because of the fast pace and the fact that goals are frequent and can be scored in a variety of ways and techniques which is motivating for the players and entertaining for the fans.

For the first time in Zambia, we watched The Futsal World Cup on DSTV. Brazil have regained their crown as world champions of Futsal. It went to penalties in the final against Spain, but even if the result had gone the other way the tournament would still have been a triumph for Brazil – the squads of some of the other leading nations were full of naturalised Brazilians. There is no doubt that Brazil is the leading country of futsal.

In Zambia, we have a Futsal league, registered by FAZ and sponsored by Parmalat. It has a division 1 and Premier with interest for expansion being there. The fact that the league is only for Lusaka teams and the players are mostly adults who have since stopped playing football, for instance, I founded a Futsal team called Blackboys Sports which players in the second tier and is comprised of players who work and so have no time to play football, It means that in the current set-up we cannot use Futsal to develop the technique of our young players but may do so in the future.

But it is clear that the kids playing in the futsal teams in Zambia have better control, technique and other skills that those we see in the academies and lower rungs of the football leagues. With the 2011 All Africa Games coming up, Zambia has included Futsal on the list oif the games to be competed against and with Zambia having taken part
in the African Championships in Libya this year (2008), there will be need to take the sport to other parts of the country and for investment into equipment and pitches to be made. This all therefore means we still have a long way to go better Futsal can be utilised as a path for developing our football and for to return our dizzy heights of 1994 when we were the best footballing nation in Africa and among the best 20 countries in the world.

The only viable alternative is “Kampombwa” on the streets and in the backyard. We cannot yet afford to build pitches for Futsal in communities and in schools. The poorer kids and young men of Zambia often can not afford to buy a proper ball and make do with cheap, plastic balls or even tennis balls. But they play for hours, honing the skills that make footballers so good at the game. Short players can also become good enough in street football as the game where good balance, explosive speed and the ability to twist and turn quickly are ideally suited to the wiry and agile physique. In Kampombwa, like in Futsal, young players learn the art of total ball mastery, as well as moving the ball using the sole of their foot, the inside and outside, the heel and the ball of the foot to gain control and mastery of the ball, feints, moves, turn stops/starts to get away from your opponents. They also learn how to use their opponent’s lack of balance against them by maneuvering the ball with quick turns and change of direction. Kampombwa will develop the players dribbling, foot speed, touch, field vision, shooting power, defensive stance, and overall of the ball movement through drills and one on one training. Eventually, kids also learn player formations as well. For kids, this is a great way to continue to develop their game and get touches on the ball. Remember, the main goal for the young soccer player is to have fun and get touches, touches & more touches.

But we cannot teach kampombwa that much. Even the making of the plastic ball was an art most kids learnt and cherished which also came spontaneously and was not deliberately taught. All we need is to provide the space for the game to take root like it did in the 70s, 80s and 90s.

It is interesting to note that the madalas leagues in Zambia are more vibrant that thekampombwa leagues. This is because the current madalas were kampombwa players when they were young in the 70s and 80s and their love for the sport, which comes spontaneously with playing in the streets and backyards in guaranteed. We allow and indeed entice kids to get dirty and play kampombwa.

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