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Future of youth football under review

Why is the pitch much bigger than last year when we’re only a bit bigger ourselves? I’m tired – are there really 25 minutes left? How am I meant to save shots in a goal that’s so big the adults need a step ladder to take the nets down? These are just three of the questions asked by young players during The FA’s review of football’s lower age groups.

A formal consultation is underway to scrutinise proposed rule changes which could be phased-in from the 2013/14 season and Essex’s chance to put youth football under the microscope came at the East region’s ‘Your Kids, Your Say’ event in May when club and league secretaries, chairmen, coaches and other volunteers convened at the County Hotel in Chelmsford.

The Youth Development Review, led by Alex Horne and Sir Trevor Brooking, is a vital component in the future of English football and The FA are currently hosting consultation events across the Country. The East region date was hosted by Nick Levett, National Development Manager for Youth and Mini-Soccer.

Amongst the proposals was the incorporation of 5v5 and 7v7 football at the mini-soccer age groups, progressing to 9v9 for Under 11s and 12s. This would be used as a stepping stone to 11v11 at Under 13s upwards. Subjects such as the implications of new pitch and goalpost sizes were assessed and the thinking and research behind these ideas was relayed.

English football faces a number of challenges, highlighted by the National Team’s disappointing record in recent major championships, and building from the grassroots upwards is a popular subject on radio phone-ins when the Three Lions make their eventual exit. The FA have listened, and one initiative already in place is the FA Tesco Skills Programme for 5-11-year-olds to get them active and encourage them to have fun whilst learning how to play the game. Comparisons have been drawn with other more successful nations and this consultation is another facet of a long-term process. The FA propose to put together a modern and child-based approach in England, developing formats that allow children to play in structures that give them the best opportunity to reach their potential and stay within the game. Guidelines need to be driven by what is best for the child and their technical development.

There is a need to reappraise formats and competition structures whilst young players should also have increased exposure to quality, age-appropriate coaching as well as support if they’re entering or exiting the elite game. It has been found that children are playing formats too large, too early and that the jump from 7v7 to 11v11 is widely unmanageable. These proposals would give players more involvement and a better understanding, thus reducing dropout.

Nick Levett hosted the discussions at the County Hotel and started with a special recorded message from Gareth Southgate about the importance of the consultation roadshow in gathering opinions. He then presented a summary of the extensive background research which had taken place to get this far, allowed opportunities for the audience to discuss the talking points in groups and staged a question and answer session with leading FA figures.

So, as the roadshow continues to tour the nation, perhaps now is the time to really start asking the questions ourselves here in Essex. With the best of intentions, we all believe we’re doing what’s best for the children, though this research has provided sufficient startling evidence that that’s not always the case. Think of things from the child’s perspective; this is a chance to start from a blank piece of paper for their future benefit.

Is the job of painting new pitch markings as huge as we’d first imagined? Do we, as parents, want the league points more than our kids? Are children always unhappy when they’re losing or do they just enjoy playing? Do parents truly understand what player development is? How can we get the rest of our club’s officials to really sit down and think about this?

Chris Evans

Is this for the good of the game? The Essex County FA are keen to hear as many views as possible from the individuals involved in our sport on a regular basis. Send your thoughts on the future of youth football to info@essexfa.com. The full presentation from the ‘Your Kids, Your Say’ consultation, including the proposals for the phased approach to rule changes from the 2013/14 campaign, is available to view on www.essexfa.com.

This article is the main feature in the latest edition of Row-Z, which is distributed every month to thousands of clubs, referees, players, competitions and enthusiasts, publishing grassroots news and information from across Essex. Readers can enjoy special features and interviews with star names and local football figures, information on the latest projects and classified adverts to encourage people to ‘GetIn­to­Fo­otball’.

 Other features of Issue 8 include the monthly columns from Chief Executive Phil Sammons and international football freestyler Billy Wingrove, who is currently working with AC Milan. There are details on how you can register your nomination for the annual Volunteer and Website of the Year Awards to win VIP days out at the FA Community Shield and there are coaching drills from Colchester United Manager John Ward courtesy of Elite Soccer magazine.

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