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Trinidad and Tobago defender Joshua Figaro (left) tries to wrestle the ball off a Canada attacker during Concacaf U-17 Championship action at the Estadio Pensativo in Antigua City, Guatemala on 11 February 2023. (Copyright Miguel Gutierrez/ Straffon Images via TTFA Media)

“[…] That the USA and Canada did not steamroll the young Warriors showed we possessed that fighting for all-the-marbles, attitude… But truly, is it only ‘about attitude’?

“We showed the right attitude in all four games but did not win a single game—not even against Barbados whose only goal was against Trinidad and Tobago… The young Soca Warriors and other failed teams appear to be lacking in Ability and Application…”

The following guest column on Trinidad and Tobago’s showing at the 2023 Concacaf Under-17 Championship was submitted to Wired868 by former national senior team and youth team coach Dr Hannibal Najjar:

The 2023 Under-17 Concacaf Tournament just wrapped up in Guatemala. From four games, Trinidad and Tobago returned with zero wins, three losses and one draw against Barbados.

While “it’s about attitude”, as stated by coach Shawn Cooper—and this truly showed to be the case with our young stars—it is truly never only the case in the larger scheme of things. Attitude by itself cannot stand alone. It cannot be all that is required to be a winner or a champion.

The young Soca Warriors demonstrated a resolve to prove that they were not to be counted out. That was very evident and the score lines in all four games reflected this: 1-3 to USA, 2-3 to Canada, 1-1 to Barbados in their Group B encounters; and 2-3 to El Salvador in the knockout stage.

That the USA and Canada did not steamroll the young Warriors showed we possessed that fighting for all-the-marbles, attitude. Cooper called it right.

But truly, is it only “about attitude”? We showed the right attitude in all four games but did not win a single game—not even against Barbados whose only goal was against Trinidad and Tobago.

Though vitally important, we must never overplay chest-thumping antics, self-talk, or sensationalise visualisation and mental rehearsal techniques. For example, the USA went to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar with their expensive pre-tournament TV advertisement and mantra: “We Believe”.

They thought that fervent belief would round out what was needed to win the World Cup—the most revered title in all of sport.

However, USA are one of three nations hosting the 2026 World Cup and, at home, maybe they could get further than the Round of 16.

“Attitude is everything” or, “It’s about attitude”, is a great start to begin training and preparing for everything that is challenging. As a coach-learner I firmly believe in the 5 A’s.

We do begin with Attitude. It is the foundation of sturdy and successful structures. It is healthy and pushes to and pulls from one’s vision.

Then comes Awareness (Game IQ). One always needs to be attuned and stay astute to all surrounding and potentially impacting elements and play.

Third is, Ability. We all know exactly what that means: “Horses for courses”, and rides for surfaces. We take each player’s natural ability and their skills for executing the tasks before them and harness and develop them to their highest levels.

Our fourth ‘A’ is Application. Knowing what to do when, and where—which pass, shot, trap, run, etc, to execute. It requires quality techniques, tactical functionality, and strategic understanding.

The fifth and final ‘A’ is Appreciation. Do we have an appreciative spirit for the game, the officials, our teammates, coaching staff, the spectators, families, our country and all of its contributions spent towards your holistic development? Do we show humbleness in a win or loss that was undeserving? Do we appreciate our Creator in all of this?

Pele did and so did Messi. They lead the world in all 5 A’s. I marvel at their flow and glow as they “played” with this set of “skills and abilities”—symptomatic of all successful leaders regardless of endeavor.

Trinidad and Tobago and other failed teams appear to be lacking in Ability and Application. All teams that did not advance beyond the group stage had a minus goal difference. And only two teams—Group C’s Cuba -2 (6 goals scored and 8 conceded) and Group B’s Trinidad and Tobago -3 (4 goals scored and 7 conceded)—advanced despite conceding more than they scored.

Despite the final score lines and trailing in all areas of their games except against Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago showed a great deal of “class”—as, in the past, we generally would lose by wider margins.

As Cooper stated: “we are starting with SSFL school boys coming up against professional teenagers.”

True too were his implied comments on the critical importance of nutrition, rest and relaxation, and the science of the Beautiful Game.

The SSFL is truly our only bona fide youth program alongside those players involved in club football. The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA), run by the Fifa-appointed Normalisation Committee, should take notice.

We need sustainable training of ALL aspects of the game but especially Ability and Application. We need this now and fast, given the successes of this tournament. We need to build on it immediately.

Recruiting and retention, along with a comprehensive holistic development plan (which is available, though not fully completed) are the keys to this growth. Sustainable rollover planning is the only option. All areas from the TTFA, business, government and the media must be selfless in their resolve, if we are to reap the benefits and continuously compete in the future.

I have known Shawn Cooper for a very long time. We know each other well. I know that he’d welcome these comments just as we did share as coach and player.

Shawn is a formidable coach, and his growth continues—his style, humble demeanor, and results show this. But there is a lot still to do and it must be done with no break in programming.

Shawn, I hope you persevere and marshal the troops to and through the under-20 phase. Our goal should always be to make better that which is given to us, whether people or project.

We have tremendous potential in this group and considering those that were on the fringes, as Cooper had to fast-track his selections. But those that especially caught the eye included Derrel Garcia, Lindell Sween, Rio Cardines, Jaden Williams, and Ailon Panton.

To the players, I add this self-drawn message designed only for the True Champion, and hope it sustains your efforts: he is “one who gets up when lame; one who shares the fame; and one who always takes the blame” (hn ’94).

But this only comes at the end of thorough preparation.

Well done, Shawn Cooper and the Trinidad and Tobago Under-17 Team! Proud we are—and reread the 5 A’s.