2011 in review part II

In part II of his year in review Tom Sermanni talks knee injuries, the Young Matildas and W-League.

In part two of the year in review, Westfield Matildas Head Coach Tom Sermanni looks at the development of the Westfield Young Matildas, talks about those pesky knee injuries, and rates the Westfield W-League both on and off the field

The U17s and U20s National Teams have failed to qualify for WWCs since 2006. Is this a worrying development? How can we rectify the situation?

The two aims we have for our underage teams are: first, and most important, to develop players for the senior Westfield Matildas; and second, to qualify for WWCs. Both of these aims are intertwined.

Three factors need to be considered when assessing the qualification chances for our underage teams: opposition; preparation; location.

We-re not just competing against the best teams in Asia. These teams are also the best teams in the world in these age groups, e.g: In the 2010 U17 WWC, South Korea defeated Japan in the final and DPR Korea finished fourth. It is impossible for us to compete with the preparation of our opponents for several reasons, including time, e.g. the Chinese squad at the recent U17 WWC qualifiers had been together full time for the 12 months leading into the tournament.

Compare that to our six four-day camps and a seven-day tour to New Zealand. All our qualification tournaments are played in Asia, in most cases China. - the environment on and off the field requires greater adjustment for us than it does for our opponents. This also includes longer and more arduous travel.

Under current circumstances, qualification for underage WWCs is going to be a significant challenge for us. To help us better prepare these teams, we are revamping our programs to target our younger players, as opposed to our present structure, which primarily targets our senior Westfield Matildas.

It is essential to have solid national team programs for our younger players if we intend to adequately develop these players for the Westfield Matildas. This would entail bringing our best young players together as often as possible in national team camps and giving them exposure to travel and international competition.

The positive result of sound preparation can be highlighted with our 2010 U20s squad. Despite just failing to qualify for their WWC, they had a solid 16-month campaign. The outcome (an illustration of a successful youth development strategy) is that eight of those players went on to play in the 2011 WWC in Germany.

Unfortunately our underage programs in 2011 were less than satisfactory and, frankly, I feel we did a disservice to our young players involved in these campaigns. Our lack of preparation virtually ensured qualification failure. We-ve also failed to give them the international development opportunities required to help these players push through to the senior national team in the near future. We must do better in the future.

We-re now into Westfield W-League Season Four. How would the report card read so far?

The on-field report card would be a straight ‘A-. From year to year the level of football, recruitment of players, team preparation, and expectations of clubs have continued to improve. Season Four has taken these components to a new level.

The Westfield W-League is the most critical element of the domestic women-s game in Australia, providing players with the platform to play in a high-level national competition. It allows young, aspiring players to see their heroes perform, and it is a great advertisement to encourage women to play and follow football.

It is the vehicle we should be using to challenge the dominance of netball as the most popular female team sport in Australia.

Players of the stature of Megan Rapinoe and Ariane Hingst have added to the profile and reputation of the Westfield W-League. It is now recognised worldwide and becoming more and more popular with high quality overseas players. Foreign players who have graced our competition are surprised and impressed by the quality of our domestic players, especially our younger ones.

It-s not just in the playing ranks that the league is attracting high quality people, though. We are now also attracting quality overseas coaches and high profile local coaches with impressive backgrounds in professional football.

Games have become more competitive and the quality of football continues to improve. The ABC Match of the Round has been a great success, with impressive viewing numbers and positive feedback from those who tune into the matches.

In summary, those who have either attended matches or watched the TV games have been overwhelmingly impressed with what-s been on show.

The off-field report card is more of a mixed bag, and there are things we can do better.

We are still playing an insufficient number of matches and need to strive to return the competition to eight teams with a minimum of 14 matches.

It-s disappointing that, after four years, we-re not at that point. At the recent women-s conference in Kuala Lumpur, FIFA stressed the importance of having a strong domestic national league. All serious women-s football countries have a significant national league.

We must also be prepared to consider interest from standalone clubs (that is, teams without a Hyundai A-League association) to join the Westfield W-League. I am a firm believer in the potential advantages of having the connection between Hyundai A-League and Westfield W-League teams; however, that should not be the only model. The great success on and off the field of Canberra United illustrates that we can be open to different options.

After four seasons, relationships between the Westfield W-League teams and Hyundai A-League clubs could be better. Greater inclusion of the Westfield W-League team and players, without extra cost, could bring benefits to everyone.

I recently attended a Hyundai A-League game where the club advertised their upcoming school clinics. Hyundai A-League players and coaches featured in the promo, but no Westfield W-League players did.

What a great, albeit missed opportunity to use some high profile Westfield W-League players to attract young females to attend the clinics. The women-s game is the fastest growing arm of our sport; in fact, the fastest growing team sport in Australia.

Off the field, we need to view the Westfield W-League as an asset, a vehicle to propel our sport forward, as opposed to an inconvenient expense.

We seem to have endured a spate of knee injuries in 2011. Can we put anything in place to halt this apparent epidemic? Knee injuries, especially anterior cruciate ligament tears (ACLs), are the scourge of women-s football, and over the past year we have witnessed a significant number of them among our players.

This group includes Kate Gill who missed the WWC due to the injury, Sam Kerr who missed Olympic Qualifiers, Elise Kellond-Knight and Victoria Balomenos who suffered this injury just before commencement of the Westfield W-League, and young Brisbane player Ashley Spina, who succumbed to the same injury in an early season game against Melbourne Victory.

Sarah Walsh, Thea Slatyer, and (just a few weeks ago) Caitlin Munoz have all suffered knee injuries over the past year that have considerably impacted their selection opportunities for major tournaments.

The biggest issue is that there is no common denominator regarding this injury. Body type isn-t a factor. It doesn-t reflect a lack of strength or fitness. It occurs in training and matches early and/or late in the session or game, sometimes transpires through contact, sometimes with no contact at all.

Our medical staff has initiated a range of exercises that research has shown to have helped reduce the frequency of this injury. Our aim is to get these exercises into the broader and younger football community so we can hopefully reduce the number impacted by this injury. All or any theories, thoughts, or answers are welcome!