Ronald Koeman, the Southampton manager, is so concerned about his young
players cutting themselves off via headphones and social media that he holds
special training sessions to make sure they at least talk to team-mates on the
The Dutchman, 53, has become convinced that even basic communication on
the field of play has been negatively affected by modern lifestyles.
He now requires Southampton’s squad to take part in a weekly ‘life
kinetics’ session. In such exercises players typically carry out two tasks
simultaneously, such as passing a football and catching a tennis ball, while
communicating with a team-mate.
Koeman, speaking at the Return To Play conference in London, said: “The
whole lifestyle has changed. One of the problems you see now in football is
there is not enough communication on the pitch. That’s all about social media.
Everybody goes on it straight away.
“When I was playing we played cards on the coach, we talked and had
communication and now everyone just puts on his headphones and is in his own
world,” Koeman, who played for Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Barcelona, added.
“That is maybe
one of the reasons they don’t talk any more on the pitch.
the pitch is so important even if it is just to help your team-mates and say ‘time’
or ‘turn!’. That’s so difficult. We do sessions in training called life
kinetics every week which is all about focus, communication and concentration.
“We do different
exercises every week on this, they need to talk on the pitch. For young players
it is all about themselves and less about communication with the rest of the
My generation are generally pretty confused on the issue of
social media, as you will know from your own parents’ reaction to you being in
front of a screen much of the time. It
is not our fault; we did not grow up with it.
The benefits of being as well connected as your generation is are well
rehearsed: a bottomless source of friendship – you can stay in touch with your
friends despite great physical distance; you have instant access to almost any
information you need – train times, weather forecasts, how to make chocolate
brownies, medical advice. Indeed 11-15
year olds nowadays are apparently less vulnerable to drugs, alcohol and smoking
than 10 years ago; they eat more healthily and exercise better; there is the
lowest rate of teenage pregnancy since the 1960s. And of course, it goes without saying that I
got all this information online. However,
just as with real live people, its strengths are also its weaknesses: being
contactable all the time puts immeasurable stress on those who are slaves to
it; freely available advice is great, so long as it is good advice, and yet
there is a vast array of unqualified advice out on the internet there too.
The most confusing thing for both of our generations is that
it has been here essentially all of your lifetime. The historical context from your parents’
generation is that, even though it was developed over a period of many years,
it grew almost overnight into a worldwide phenomenon. Facebook only came into existence 12 years
ago. The mobile phone only really became
a mass product at roughly the same time – the Blackberry came in in 2003. And what happened was that they were
introduced without any rules of etiquette or manners, and yet they became
almost instantly addictive. I remember
well a deputy head at the school where I was teaching at the time. He was in deep conversation with someone on
the side of the cricket boundary; if I had interrupted him, it would have been
rude and I knew he would not take it well.
So I borrowed a mobile, walked around the other side of the pitch, and
called him instead. Despite being in the
middle of a conversation, he picked it up straightaway and started
chatting. It was almost as if the mobile
overrode any basic human manners, just because it was a mobile.
This is a huge topic, and one with no resolution, but I
would like to offer some advice and some school etiquette today. You will not be surprised to hear that I go
back 2000 years for advice: there is so much about us as human beings which is
timeless. The Ancient Greeks had a
favourite motto which they carved into the walls of the Temple of Apollo at
Delphi. It simply said “meden agan” –
“nothing in excess”. It is a worthwhile
phrase to remember; and certainly in the context of social media, for which the
great strengths are matched by potentially very harmful weaknesses, “meden
agan”, “nothing in excess”, seems perfect.
The etiquette is also relatively simple. Don’t let the mobile phone get in the way of immediate
human contact. Ronald Koeman has
introduced special sessions for his players to talk to each other, but really
there should be no need. It should be
basic politeness not to have your headphones on when you are sitting next to
somebody; it should be basic politeness not to choose to be on a phone when you
are sharing time with someone. The phone
can wait; but that human contact, which is immediate and in the moment,
cannot. Please do think of that as you
make your way around school. For me, the
absolute minimum that this means in a school context is an absolute no on
mobile phones in the dining hall – please be strict on each other on this. Human beings have shared meals for millennia
– we will uphold that tradition here.