Grassroots Upheaval

The F.A have done something. Yes I know it’s shocking news but bare with me. They’ve actually voted to change youth football in this country. So I imagine there will be a fair bit of back slapping and congratulating now that they’ve passed “revolutionary” rules forcing kids to play on smaller pitches with smaller goals. Trouble is, this is nothing new and the fact it’s taken so long for this to be implemented shows just how unhealthy some aspects of football are in this country.

I played a lot of youth football. I didn’t start until I was 9 and I was thrown straight in at the deep end, playing for my local village youth team on massive pitches in eleven a side games, two age groups higher than I should have been because of a lack of teams. My experience of football before then had mostly been running around a field in a long line chasing after the kid who had the ball at school.

Needless to say it was a bit of a shock and a step up, but I gave it a go and despite our team being terrible and losing almost every game by a double figure scoreline I really enjoyed it. That’s the important part, I enjoyed it. Even though I played as a right footed left-back with no positional sense in a five man defence that frequently got ripped to pieces.

I loved playing, I got myself onto a Coerver coaching football workshop and got some good coaching. We only ever played five or six a side, were told constantly to work on our touch, technique and skills. I went on a football in the community course with Norwich City and got similar coaching to good effect. I got good coaching at school where 5-aside was encouraged and predominately played in lessons.

I played a lot of football. The eleven a side games I played for my local village club on Sunday morning were a laugh. As soon as I got more serious about my football I got better coaching, it was always available and although we were put into eleven a side games, that was never the emphasis of the coaching I received. It was always technique, technique, technique, listen and learn. Try to improve as a player, positions aren’t important.

The problems started to come later. At 15 the culture was that we should start to play like adults, you needed to have a position. The fun was gone, now suddenly it had become more about winning. Some kids had shot up in height, were twice the size of me and playing eleven a side had lost its charm. So I don’t really think these reforms will have much impact. When you are young you just need to enjoy it. The difficulty is going from youth football into adult football. That’s where things like the Norwich District League’s development league have a real role to play.

The problems we have with youth football usually come from a poor footballing culture. The rejection of skill in favour of strength. Unpredictability being coached out of kids. In my experience these are often reinforced by parents, who tend to know far less about what’s good for their kids footballing wise than the kids themselves. It doesn’t matter how many players are on a team or how big the goals are or how long the pitch is if the parents on the sidelines are screaming to hoof the ball forward to the big lad so he can score and your team can win.


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