Many football clubs have developed a unique “football philosophy” over the years, and AFC Unity is no different – but our own football philosophy is.
As an “alternative football club,” we have our own way of doing things to encourage an ethos of unity, inclusion, and positivity – and this means that just as we do things differently off the pitch, we also do things differently on the pitch; in matches and on the training ground. We believe this is why, even as an independent women’s team, we have enjoyed incredible success in two seasons already.
AFC Unity hold a commitment to playing with a positive sporting approach, with a dedication to fair play – and this includes an emphasis on bold, brave, entertaining, passing football, heavily focused on counter-attacking and scoring goals, at the fearless risk of conceding them.
For example, AFC Unity’s first season – in Division 3 – featured an average of 6 goals per game (three from AFC Unity; three from our opponents), and this reflects the promise we hold that watching women’s football is entertaining and full of action. The second season, in Division 2, consolidated the first team’s place with an eye on further progress once a second team is formed for players needing development, while solidifying the standards of the first team.
The particular emphasis on passing is part of “the beautiful game,” but is also a way to reflect the club’s ethic and focus on teamwork – collectivism over individualism. A common phrase is ‘defence starts with attack,’ but also ‘attack starts in defence,’ with an acceptance that all goals scored are, ultimately, a team effort.
The influence on players through coaching is a key way of ensuring the ethos of the club is reflected through the football played.
The training environment is also considered an alternative one, with specific changes from conventional football:
- As in many other areas of facilitation, authority-based approaches can lead to forms of bullying, which we oppose; leadership-based approaches are instead empowering – which is key, particularly in women’s football from a feminist perspective
- In coaching sessions, we break up segments and call them training exercises, not “drills”; it’s football, not an army camp!
- We use training exercises (!) that are simple to explain, and understand – and make sure players know why they’re doing them
- It’s been proven that berating players has a negative effect on their performance; we instead choose a “100% Positivity” approach, where the coaches are as positive as possible, all the time
- It’s also widely accepted that in football, team behaviour often reflects the behaviour of coaches and management; abuse at players causes a team to enter “self-destruct” mode, whereas positive encouragement influences players to stick together and stay hopeful and keep trying their best
- Coaches must give good feedback without singling players out for heaps of praise; instead, telling them aside on an individual level
- Coaches don’t pick out a ‘player of the match’; no one player ever has a good game without good players around them working hard as part of that team – this focuses on collectivism, not individualism
- If players all want to pick out a player they felt had a great game, they are encouraged them to go and tell that player themselves; it’s an important part of the social aspect of a football team, too!
- Coaches must never apply punishments for things done wrong in training sessions; mistakes ought to be encouraged as learning experiences
- Players can’t gain fitness through one-off sessions of off-the-ball action, they gain football fitness just by playing soccer regularly – the more time they have on the ball, the better, as each second counts in grassroots on-the-ball training, and has a great effect on the player’s confidence
- Coaches must never, ever, get on the ball themselves unless a minor demonstration is needed; for every touch a coach has on the ball, that’s one a player could have had, and developing them is more important than the coach wanting a kick-about
- We like coaches who don’t talk too much – words are better in quality not quantity; players came to play and have fun, so instead, sometimes throwing it out to them for their feedback works well, since they’re the ones out there in the thick of it, not the coach!
- We stamp out cliques at all costs – obviously, friendships are formed, and players have some things in common with some more than others, but when they play, they play as a team, and they’re there because they want to play for that badge
- We confront bullies! The whole is always greater than the sum of its parts, and AFC Unity is about the collective rather than just individuals. While most clubs nurture an environment of “survival of the fittest,” our high retention rates have been because we do not tolerate negative, aggressive, bullying behaviour – and we take great pains to retain team harmony
- Our coaches keep all criticism constructive, i.e., ‘Try and remember to do what you usually do best; you haven’t done that as much today’ and ask the players why – 100% positivity, no negativity whatsoever
- We don’t encourage, accept, or allow cheating of any kind, ever, even if the opponents are doing it: players must be encouraged to realise that if they play good football, they’ll win anyway
- We love Bill Shankly, but we disagree that football is all that important in the grand scheme of things! AFC Unity tries to stay rooted in the local community, utilising football for social good. We instead like to say, ‘If you are only about winning, when you lose it feels like you have nothing else left.’ At AFC Unity, we’re about results off the pitch as well as on, and no one game of football is that important