(Photo Credit OFC Media via Phototek)

The first OFC Player Development Workshop in nearly six years is being hailed as a tremendous success.

9 of the 11 Member Association (MA) Player Development Officers attended the three-day event in Auckland, New Zealand last week.

The workshop with the theme of ‘Play Like The Stars’ covered a range of topics from Player Development, Social Responsibility, Futsal, Goalkeeping, Alternative Football (Walking & Street Football), Women’s Football, weaving cultural origin stories into football activity design, Clubs and Leagues, Refereeing, and practical sessions involving local school (Mount Roskill Intermediate) and club (Papakura City FC) players.

The brainchild of OFC Player Development Officer Phill Parker, he emphasised it was crucial to build their network and their relationships with each other, “so we can find a safe space to information share the challenges we are facing.”

“There are similar challenges regardless of the landscape. We’re dealing with grassroots and youth participation level children. So we’re looking to deepen and strengthen our relationships with each other, so that we can open up channels of information sharing to be able to all help each other to face the challenges as they arise,” he said.

Parker says Football Development Officers around the Pacific faced similar challenges.

“There are three key things that seem to always surface, one is transport, okay, getting from A to B, or even having access to transport to get from A to B. And we’re talking about vehicles, motor vehicles. The second one is finance. In some countries, it’s a user pays programme and the majority of them, there’s no cost at all.

“It goes back to getting them to the venues to participate and to train. The third one is, in some countries we found – and there seems to be a similarity – is family or parental support. Sometimes it can be too much. Sometimes it can be non-existent. What we tried to do was to address those three key barriers to participation, finance, transport, and family support,” he said.

Lui Muavesi explained some of the challenges he faces developing players in Tonga.

“The biggest problem we face is rugby is taking most of our talented players.”

All Blacks flanker Shannon Frizzell was the Tonga U-17 goalkeeper while others like former All Blacks halfback Folau Fakatava and Wallabies Sione Timani and Sitaleki Timani both played football in Tonga.

“Well, I was quite happy when I saw in the TV and media talking about these professional players. It’s all through football, playing football back in the kingdom, starting from grassroots and going up into national teams for Tonga. I am thankful they’ve achieved a new pathway. They will go and help give money back to the family.”

Muavesi says they have a strategy to try to stop so many talented young footballers changing codes.

“To retain our players we are trying to get them involved in the clubs so they will have less time to think about other sports. Involving them in the team and giving them tasks as a trainer, an assistant, so they can stay.”

Parker says there are some key messages Player Development Officers would be taking back to their MAs.

“Grassroots and youth participation, non-talent is absolutely vital. The more kids that play, or the more young people play, the more likely we are to find those gems that can go on to be professionals and play for the national teams. But most importantly, if we don’t get our grassroots, our six to 12 landscapes right. there’s a lack of participation.

“And that’s where we can really find the motivated ones, ones that we can kind of group and go, right okay, we know we can keep a closer eye on this, these particular types, these ones here are happy to come and just be social, enjoy the social element of the game, make friends, kick the ball around a little bit, and enjoy football in a different way. But we also recognise that there are some young children, young people already turning up quite ambitious.

“We need to be able to detect which children are at what levels of motivation,” Parker concluded.