Friday, 7 October 2011

English Grassroots Football - Time for Change?

This blog is as a post I tried to make on this website -
I felt the need to respond to a number of the comments that have been made on this site which seems to show that a number of people still have the view (and it's stated in a number of the comments to the article above) that 'if it aint broke don't fix it'.
Parents and volunteers do and are being commended for their work but also need to think about their contribution to the game as a whole. We can’t stand still, the rest of the world certainly hasn’t.
Volunteer or not, everybody has a responsibility to the boys and girls involved to make the game enjoyable first, listen to what THEY are telling us and make a positive step change to youth football and youth development in England.
We need to ask ourselves what do we want from the FA? Implement the changes without any consultation at all? Don’t change anything?
On my first coaching course a number of years ago the head coach said “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.” and I have heard this on a number of occasions since, usually in the context of youth development in football.
What we have done and what we have always got is players lacking skill, game sense, the ability to play under pressure with little time, the ability of back players to bring the ball forward comfortably, the ability to play football ‘through the thirds’, the ability to play without fear and ultimately the ability to totally enjoy and have a lifelong love for the game.
The coaching and supporting of the game is limited, restricted and controlled by adults who’s primary purpose seems to be the participation in a miniature, mirror image version of the Premier League.
Coaches, Managers and parents acting like ‘puppet masters’ instructing practically every touch of the ball – “pass it”, “get rid of it”, “row z”, “play it simple”. How are players going to develop their own game style, own game awareness and ability to play under pressure when they are being given constant (and mostly) negative, ill-conceived and ultimately incorrect instructions from the sideline.
The reason we don’t develop players who are as skilful as our continental counterparts and ultimately why England don’t succeed at major tournaments is as a result of the junior football structure that ADULTS have created and say isn’t broken!
The adult focus on league tables means the primary focus is get the ball forward as quickly as possible to the big, strong or quick lad up front. By the time the rest of his peers start growing also, the big/quick/strong lad will not know how to play the game with skill and will be lost to the game and for what reason? To win a league at U10′s and for the coaches and parents to be able to say “We won the league and little johnny got a (crappy £5) trophy for winning.”
Give me a break. Take a long hard look at yourselves and ask “Why do I want to coach/support/volunteer/run a league in junior football?”  The only answer(s) to this should be – fun, enjoyment, learning new skills and ultimately, football development for young people not for you.
This rubbish people are spouting about the lack of league tables is because the FA want to make it some kind of nicey-nicey non-competitive game is complete ignorance as far as I am concerned. Kids will ALWAYS be competitive when they play the game of football. They will still know at the end of the game whether they have won or lost, they will still know if they played well or not. The only difference is it won’t be recorded for parents and coaches to be able to say “We are top of the league ” in the pub or at work on a Monday. The FA’s proposals are ‘child-centred’ competition. That means they asked the children, not the adults and the overwhelming response was league tables were not a primary concern for young players.
I bet I can ask any coach of an U8′s to U14 where they are in the league and they could tell me in an instant. However, if I asked them how has your right back improved as a player, what are you going to do to develop your teams ability to counter-attack when they win possession, can all of my defenders use a skill to safely beat a marker, can my goalkeeper distribute from his hands and feet, short and long - could you as a coach/manager give an honest 'yes, I record and can prove the development of the players?'  Probably, the most important question should be, how is the lad who has been on the bench for the last four weeks going to improve AT ALL because the league position is so damned important!
Get a grip, get on with it and listen to the people who are most important – the kids, why they want to play, how they want to play and give them that life-long love for the game that will ultimately give us the next generation of coaches, parents, referees and other volunteers.
“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.” 

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