Another great interview by Mark Seeto, this time with the new Futsalroos Coach
INTERVIEW WITH AUSTRALIAN FUTSAL COACH STEVEN KNIGHT by Mark Seeto
Congratulations on winning the National Men’s Championships with NSW Lightning.
Steven: Thank you and thank you for allowing me to share my opinions with the futsal community by answering your questions. I know we all have differing opinions about the game and we are all entitled to express them and I hope by answering these questions others within the futsal community will understand me a little better whether they agree or disagree with them.
Question 1: At what age were you introduced to Futsal?
Steven: In 1984-85 indoor soccer via YMCA’s was changed to Football de salon or futsal here in Australia and that’s when I was introduced to this wonderful game. I was 20-21 at the time.
Question 2: What was your first coaching experience?
Steven: My first coaching experience was in the 4th year of the James Hardie National Futsal League in about 1989 with the club team Sydney NIB Tornadoes followed by Kellyville Commodores where the team was successful in winning the 1991 National League. In and around those periods I was appointed NSW Men’s Coach for the National Titles in which we were also successful.
Question 3: Were you surprised when you were appointed by the FFA to be the National Coach?
Steven: Yes I was surprised to receive a call from John Boultbee about whether I could help out in the upcoming AFC Qualifiers. I understood that the FFA were looking for a more qualified and experienced Coach from Overseas and I believed that other candidates were also being looked at here in Australia so I was very proud to be asked and accepted to discuss the role of which my task is to prepare the squad to qualify for the AFC Championships in May. After that time my role will be determined on how successful the Championship has been which is understandable.
Question 4: Why do you think you were picked over other contenders?
Steven: I do not know what the thought processes were in which John made his selection – you will need to discuss that with him. I knew I had to have a minimum of a B license (at the time) to coach in Asia. So I have in the last 12 months continued to educate myself with relevant certificates.
Question 5: You asked Rob Verela to be your Assistant Coach. Why?
Steven: Rob and I have worked well together in the past and he was an instant selection as he has a vast in-depth knowledge of the game. During preparation and the tournament his experience to view the game with similar ideas will be invaluable.
Question 6: What are the challenges coaching the Futsalroos?
Steven: The challenge I see is the limited preparation time the team has before the tournament, this will require the players to undertake a fitness program that will require them to change the way they may normally approach the national program. Players without a high standard of fitness will not be considered as I believe this has hindered our progress in the past. All challenges can be overcome if the players take the right approach. Challenges like players not making themselves available or unable to pick players due to political decisions is out of my hands and this will allow other players to step up and be given an opportunity. Only players that have represented at this level know the feeling of listening to the National Anthem being played before they compete and if they are not prepared to put in some hard work then my role is to introduce players who will.
Question 7: You went to China as the Assistant National Coach last year. Was that your first international tour?
Steven: As a player I was fortunate to be involved in two FIFFUSA World Cups, tours to Brazil, Mexico, New Zealand and England, but never as a coach, so China was my first experience.
Question 8: Which teams do you consider the main threat to be at the AFC Asian Qualifiers in February? Question 9: Why?
Steven: Obviously Indonesia due to the home court/crowd support. Indonesia has a huge populace and futsal has developed with Futsal centre’s being built all over the country. I have travelled to Indonesia for my work and the growing interest in futsal is amazing. Indonesia is very hot and humid, so conditions and the chances of our players fatiguing quickly will be my major concern. The Indonesians will be fit and fast and even though they might be a little raw at futsal being fit and fast make up for lack of knowledge and therefore our players will need to be prepared to compete at a high level of speed endurance.
Question 10: Do you think Australian Futsal has improved in the last 10 years compared to the rest of Asia?
Steven: Australia has only been part of AFC since the FFA pulled out of Oceania to pursue a Football birth via Asia. Whether Australian Futsal has improved is really determined on past results against Asian Countries and I do not know what our results have been like or what levels of competitions we have been allowed (financially) to participate in. Going from FIFA ranking we need to look at where we sat ten years ago to now to fully understand if the development plan (if there was one prepared) has worked or not. In my opinion we need to develop a plan to allow us to compete at a higher level if we wish to improve our ranking at Futsal within FIFA. This plan will require the appropriate funds to develop futsal across Australia to allow all talented players to be identified and developed. This would mean that instead of each State pursuing different goals we appoint a National Futsal Manager to oversee the correct direction of where we are headed. This in conjunction with a National Coaching Director should improve the standard of administration and coaching that will be required to improve our playing standard in Asia to win a birth in a Futsal World Cup which is the ultimate goal – I believe.
Question 11: How do you rate the chances of Australia qualifying for the AFC Asian Finals in Uzbekistan in May?
Steven: Our chances to qualify will be good with the talent we have. The players just need to prepare properly or the talent will be useless if they can’t compete at a high intensity.
Question 12: FFA has accepted the invitation to play in the ASEAN Championships in March. Would you consider taking a different squad to this tournament?
Steven: The basis of the squad depending on each player’s contribution will remain the same depending on whether the overseas players make themselves available or not. Only those who do not contribute will jeopardize their spots and or players work commitments could change the make-up of the squad. Some A-League under 20 players who have a good understanding of Futsal have been contacted about their availability so I will take the best available squad. This creates a competitive environment which I am after.
Question 13: With the NSW Thunder team competing in the AFC Club Championships in Iran in March, some players will obviously not be available to play in four tournaments in four months. How much of a problem would this be for you?
Steven: I think with good communication between the players and staff we will over come any issues. We are all part-time participants’ and the program will be based on trying to accommodate the players’ work commitments. As long as the players prepare to their best that’s all I can ask. I am not going to ask the players to forgo work for weeklong camps as they need to be comfortable in their ability to feed their families.
Question 14: How important is hard work and repetition in your training?
Steven: I think I have already answered this question in above answers.
Question 15: What quality or qualities do you look for in your players?
Steven: Loyal, hardworking, coachability, technically sound, game intelligence and above average speed are all the qualities I look for in any players I coach. I am also not after players who believe there’s an “I” in team.
Question 16: would you prefer a player with more individual skill and flair, or a player who worked harder at set pieces and positioning?
Steven: A good balance of workmen and artists is what I look for to make up a team. To have a good balance with all having a hunger to win at all costs. (This is at senior level only).
Question 17: What quality or qualities do you want your players to take from you?
Steven: I know that I am passionate about this sport. With passion the players are the authors of their own destiny. They can make their last game their best and hence improve at every practice at every game and then achieve the ultimate out of the game. I have seen a lot of talented players without passion not make the levels they maybe should have and then to say I wish I had. All players have the same chances some are lucky some are not, however, the ones that make it are usually the ones that want it enough not the ones necessarily with the most talent this is my message to them.
Question 18: Can you explain your coaching preferences and philosophies?
Steven: Try your best at all times – that’s all I can ask.
Question 19: Do you have a favorite formation that you like to use? If so, why?
Steven: I think we kid ourselves about formations. Formations can be developed over a long period of training time. We as part-time coaches can instruct on different formations, however, to actually infuse this into the players minds takes multiple years of repetition training which is not possible here in Australia due to the lack of facilities to train. Given a minimum 3 nights I would say it would be years of work to have a solid player understanding formations. We as coaches can brief our current players however at Senior Level to change the playing behaviour is difficult as there is an already perceived level of understanding. We need to develop players and their understandings at an early age which means the emphasis is on development and player understanding and not on winning, to allow our players to fully develop especially between the ages of 9-16 years. Here in Australia winning at the cost of understanding is the biggest problem in my opinion, as I believe players are not fully developed as Senior players until between the ages of 18 and 22 and junior players should be allowed to experiment and make mistakes. This is why we have more robots than artists!
Question 20: Did you have a Futsal mentor?
Steven: Not a Futsal mentor, however, a fantastic life and football mentor who taught me about having face. A Yugoslavian coach who I met whilst playing. His name is Luba Goychovic (not sure of spelling)
Question 21: Growing up, was there an athlete that you admired and wanted to be like?
Steven: My dream as a young boy was to play for Leeds United, however, as I realized later as I developed as a footballer I did not possess a dual passport and the introduction of Futsal changed my desire from outdoor to indoor. There was never any one player as the levels of media weren’t available at the time I was growing up.
Question 22: What are your interests outside of Futsal?
Steven: Spending the limited spare time I have with my family
Question 23: How have players changed in the years since you first began playing and how have coaches changed in that time?
Steven: The present players have a sounder technical base now – I would like the present players to achieve the same levels as the past players, however, this will only come from the present coaches changing their perceptions of how the game should be played. The game can be played with more intensity and structure if our coaches’ education can increase. Our obvious issue with lack of coach education comes from our isolation from the rest of the world which will hamper our progress. We need to educate ourselves as coaches’ and always learn more to pass onto our younger players.
Question 24: Who was the best Futsal player you ever played against?
Steven: Best player I played against and with was Siska (Raddy) White Eagles/Commodores. Best player to have played this game past or present.
Question 25: Do you think Futsal can be a sport in it’s own right, or do you think it will always be seen by the football community as a training tool for football?
Steven: At present I don’t think training one night and playing one game on Saturday can stand on its own. If the players want to achieve more out of the sport they need a minimum base of training, once that happens and the administration can provide the necessary change comp structure then the game will change from a summer sport to a sport on its own under the banner of FFA & FIFFA
Question 26: Do you think Vikings have done more good or damage to Futsal in Australia?
Steven: I think the Viking/FFA issue is about player registration money and where it is spent. As a father of a 12 year old, I would like to see registration money from football/futsal being spent at the grassroots level so as for him to develop his passion for football/futsal so to enjoy the sport for the rest of his life. I cannot comment on whether Vikings/FFA can achieve this for him.
Question 27: What do you think Futsal in Australia will look like in the future? Will it ever become a fully professional league?
Steven: The level at which futsal in Australia will achieve will depend on how the administrators perceive its benefit to the outdoor game. If the current coaching director Han Berger can convince the administrators to change their view on futsal then the whole way we look at player development will change. We as futsal fanatics need to open dialogue with Han and discuss how our sport can work in the overall development of our football players and then have access to all the most talented players to work hand in hand at the international level. We do not have sufficient playing stocks or numbers to allow a divide between the same codes. I believe if we structure a professional league we need to make it viable enough to support itself or we will be asking the grass root/community futsaler to fund an exercise that should be self sufficient. If a professional league is set-up then the junior footballer can make a choice of which sport he or she wishes to pursue, which then would mean that the game can stand on its own.