No one could accuse Zenon Caravella of not giving everything he has for his team every time he steps out on the park but you’d expect nothing less from some one who has lived and breathed football for most of his life. His passion for the game also extends beyond the park and in particular to providing kids in regional areas with access to quality coaching from an early age. Being a Cairns native, he can relate to the young players he now sees coming through his Caravella Coaching clinics in Newcastle and Far North Queensland and understands the importance of introducing them to expert coaching.
“For as long as I can remember I was always kicking the ball around in the backyard and just loved football,” the Jets midfielder told Football Central.
“When I look back growing up in regional Queensland (Cairns) there wasn’t a lot of access to high quality coaching and it was mainly volunteers and parents that gave up their time to help.
“While I’ll forever be grateful to my father and the other parents that sacrificed their time, money and weekends to train us kids – and their intentions were great – it of course wasn’t of the highest level. This was my football education when I was 6-12 years old which are very important years to learn the fundamentals.”
In 2006, Caravella headed abroad where he joined Eerste Divisie side FC Omniworld which has since been rebranded as Almere City FC. While there he was able to see firsthand how the Dutch approached junior development and then compare to his experiences in Australia.
“What I’m about to say is very broad but I’m hoping to paint a picture,” Caravella explained.
“If you mirror time and look at young players in Holland for example at 6 to 12 years old, they’re playing at a first or second division club where they would’ve been coached by ex-pros and current pros with a wealth of knowledge and experience to pass on.
“So if you look at the two different footballing educations during those years, in my opinion, we’re already a long way behind. That’s not to say they are destined to be better footballers than us but I believe this would give them a better foundation to grow from.
“Overall I think the standard of coaching has improved dramatically and a lot of effort is being put into the development of grassroots football, but we can definitely keep improving.”
Caravella believes the unique geographical and economic conditions football faces in Australia adds to the challenges the game’s administrators must confront.
“As a footballing nation the FFA and state associations are trying to implement pathways for young players from all regions to have the opportunity to be trained at a higher level but the problem is the sheer size of Australia and the shortage of qualified/quality coaches.
“So you can imagine what a task it would be to put something unified across Australia and the financial cost. We have a national curriculum that you have to follow to get your badges but at the end of the day coaches always teach what they believe is the right way. Every coach I have had has been very different and had different views on how the game should be played and taught.”
The former Adelaide United Club Champion sees encouraging steps by the A-League teams in trying to do their bit in bridging the gap with more established footballing nations.
“I think HAL clubs are doing a great job with trying to produce the next generation of footballers. The Emerging Jets program for example is great and gives a pathway for young footballers to ultimately reach the first team, though something like that is very costly to run and I think relies a lot on funding from the Jets and the government.
“Adelaide United I know is another great example where they have started an academy where first team players go down and teach the kids.
“This is a priceless experience for the young footballers and maybe Adelaide’s own version of La Masia,” jokes Caravella.
“I think a lot of clubs would love to have academies and programs but possibly don’t have the resources.”
Passing on his own experience as a professional to the next generation is what he hopes to do with his Caravella Coaching clinics. Under the tutelage of the legendary Frank Arok and Peter Papanikitas at Sydney Olympic, Caravella was shaped by their philosophy which promotes players to have the confidence to express themselves within any system of play.
“As for my own philosophy and what I try to bring to my coaching especially the ages I work with is simple – just touch the ball as much as you can inside of your feet, outside of your feet, laces, soles, knees etcetera,” explains Caravella.
“I had Frank Arok as a coach when I was fourteen at Sydney Olympic and I will never forget what he always used to say and that was ‘touch the ball thousands of times a training session, your feet have to become like your hands.’
“Which when you think about it, if you can achieve this it will give you every chance to progress to becoming a professional. But then of course comes football intellect – being able to read the game, having spatial awareness etcetera but that is a whole new discussion.”