EVERY Jamaican football player grew up on a very healthy dosage of scrimmage. But what exactly is scrimmage? Can we refashion scrimmage for a greater good?
Locally scrimmage is a truly informal game, usually with very little or no rules. Teams can have as little as two players and as many as 20. The goals are usually very small (most times two or three footsteps, not strides). This makes goalscoring very difficult and even more so when there is a "defender" standing (almost permanently) in the goal.
From this melee evolves some psychological patterns that largely define our players. The star player (forward) is the one who develops the silky smooth skills to effortlessly get by opposing players.
For this player, scoring goals is a secondary function to the more pivotal role of "showmanship" -- bamboozling opponents with 'piles' (flicking the ball over the head of an opponent), 'salads' (dribbling the ball through the legs of opponents) and 'shifts' (getting by opposing players by trickery).
Next in order of importance is a cadre of less fleet-of-foot players (midfielders) who are able to successfully dribble opponents (sometimes), but are more known for their ability to supply passes to the players in front of them.
This type of player occasionally scores goals, but is more intent on being a provider. He hardly ever makes forward runs (taking positions ahead of the ball).
These are followed in order of importance by a group of "hard-men" (defenders) whose job it is to deny the opposing star player(s) from "showing-off" (this is achieved by any means necessary). Such players can be very brutal in their play and almost never get involved in offensive forays.
Of least importance is the player positioned in the goal (two sticks placed two to four feet apart). This player is usually lacking in basic skills, agility and general football acumen.
Internationally, scrimmage most often refers to aspects of a formal training session. Scrimmage in this sense is usually goal specific and is well organised with specified goals. Unlike the local variation, scrimmage in professional football evokes entirely different psychologies.
Consequently, professional forwards know their primary role is to get the ball in the back of the opponents' goal by any means possible. Midfielders understand their role to be that of a player who functions from goal line to goal line, plays in both attack and defence and supplements the goal scoring exploits of the forwards. Defenders learn to defend a "real goal" thereby developing acute awareness of angles, spaces, runs by opposing attackers and the importance of denying forward plays. These players also know that they are attackers once their team is in possession. As such overlapping wing backs and central defenders who dribble the ball are not too unusual. Goal keepers learn to play like outfield players but more importantly learn to protect a real (or close to) real-sized goal.
Just suppose that back in our informal scrimmages across the length and breadth of Jamaica we make a few adjustments to the way we play. Let us limit the number of players per team to a reasonable number proportional to the size of the playing area. Let us expand the size of the goals to about 9 to 12 feet wide by about three to four feet high; create an arc around each goal (similar to a netball shooting circle) within which no defender can stand (defenders would only enter this circle to make a mark or to complete a defensive play).
Sure enough these changes in and of themselves will not change much. Such changes will however, significantly impact both the psychology of our players and their modus operandi in the game. After all isn't it all our dreams to see a kid from our little community, known or unknown representing the national team at any level and competing effectively with the rest of the world?
Editor's note: Andrew Edwards is a teacher, national Under-20 and schoolboy football coach.