Calls for increase in nine-a-side "stepping stone"

Club Website 9v9 poll resultThe step up from small-sided football to the 11-a-side game is too great for children to make, according to three quarters of the grassroots football community.

A recent Club Website poll found that 74 percent of almost 5,000 people surveyed think that nine-a-side football played on an intermediate-sized pitch should be used as a stepping stone from mini-soccer to the 11-a-side game.

Small-sided football is widely accepted as the best way for children to learn the game.  A small pitch and fewer players on each side allow more touches of the ball and a greater chance for kids to develop their technique.

A transition to the full 11-a-side game needs to be made at some point but when this change should be made is always a subject of debate in the wider football community.

Mini-soccer is recognised as the only form of football up to the under 10s age group in England, whilst in Wales and Scotland this form of the game continues until under 11s. Clubs in Scotland can also opt to carry on with the smaller version of the game for another year, should they wish to do so.

Regardless of whether the change is made at 10 or 12, it involves a dramatic leap for any child to make. One season you are playing football on a small pitch and with sensibly proportioned goals and then, just one summer later, you’re playing on a full size pitch in goals where most goalkeepers would fail to reach the crossbar.

This is a huge leap for any young footballer, particularly those that develop physically later than their peers. The sight of two strapping lads at centre back lumping balls up front to another big lad is fairly common in 11-a-side football at younger age groups – and who can blame managers for wanting to take advantage of the difference in size and strength that occurs at this age?

All young players will play 11-a-side eventually – this is the natural end-game of their football development. The question, however, is not where they end up but how they get there.

How can we best manage their development to create better players and, perhaps more importantly, how do we manage the expectations of the coaches and parents who have grown up playing 11-a-side and feel that kids today should follow in their footsteps as early as possible.  After all, it never did them any harm, did it?

The FA logoAccording to Nick Levett, the FA’s National Development Manager for Youth and Mini-Soccer, it’s about “changing the mindset” of those adults that resist such a change and saying to them “look, this is better for kids and if it’s better for kids then we have to consider it.”

Speaking at Grass Roots Football LIVE at the NEC earlier this month, Levett expressed a belief that the FA will “end up going” to a structure where nine-versus-nine football is used as a stepping stone but that such a change “will take time”.

A lack of 9-a-side pitches is seen by many as a hurdle in developing this form of the game but, if there’s no room to build these alongside existing mini-soccer and 11-a-side pitches, then why not just play across half an 11-a-side pitch?

The pitches are already there, it doesn’t take a lot to mark out a penalty box in different coloured lines and portable goals are getting cheaper each season, plus people like the Football Foundation can help out with grants for that sort of thing.

Despite the numerous hurdles, nine-a-side football is certainly on the increase – a number of leagues in England have taken up this option in the last season or two – and indications are that perceptions on the game are changing.

In October 2008, 56 percent of respondents to a Club Website poll said they would prefer to see under 11s take the step up to 11-a-side football rather than stick with mini-soccer, if they were the only options on the table.

Now, just two years on, and with the nine-a-side game growing – albeit slowly – it appears that the nine-a-side stepping stone could be just the answer that many people are looking for.

Have your say!

What do you think about the results of our latest poll?  Do you think ‘9 v 9’ should be rolled out more widely across the country? Get your thoughts off your chest in our comments section below.

Club Website poll result:

Should 9-a-side football (played on an intermediate size pitch) be used as a stepping stone from small-sided football to the 11-a-side game?

– Yes  73.72%
– No  26.27%

Total votes cast: 4,616

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Dan Pope
Writer at Teamer
Freelance writer, editor and copywriter, with a passion for grassroots sport. A right back turned football writer, Dan is the former editor of Club Website and has been lucky enough to work in the field of grassroots and community sport for the last 10 years.

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  1. paul davies on June 17, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    i am a coach ready to take my side to eleven a side and am very nervous that they will struggle not only with the size of pitch and goals but the expectation of them at this level , i would support every move to upgrade to 9 a side

  2. Tony Bezzina on June 28, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    9 a-side would be perfect and is what a lot of the academies use the bigger pitch is not my main concern as we have a lot of pace in our under 11s but more the size of the goals as it will be demoralising for any small keepers

  3. vince on July 16, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    This is NOT a sour grapes comment, but i was sadly recalling the England-v-USA game and i believe the officials (again not knocking them, as my son is a level7Ref) missed three handball offences committed by Tim Howard as he made drop-kicks on the edge of his 18yard box, i would love to know if anyone has a view on this, and yet again not knocking Tim as i still play and coach Keepers.

  4. Mike Lewis on July 18, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    I have been involved with both mini football and junior football for a long time now and i can not understand why Fifa and the F.A. sort out the change from small sided sides to 11 a-side football. We as a club are warned that if we train or play a 11 sided game in closed season for the players who are moving to 11 a-side. How do they expect these players to know the rules of 11 a-side when the coach involved with that group is not allowed to train or play a practice game. Where is the Welfare of the player then? We need to sort this out now. When are the F.A. AND FIFA NEED TO LISTEN TO GRASS ROOTS COACHES.

  5. Stacey Ellis on October 12, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    We decided to take the nine a side route halfway through our last season of mini soccer and have never looked back . The pitch and goal sizes ensure the games remain competitive and the players learn all the benefits of offside etc without the ridiculously large pitches and goals . If small sided isnt the way forward then why bother with mini soccer ? Everyone must support this as a step forwards for the players benefit and the good of the game

  6. Mark Davidson on October 12, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    Moving from mini-soccer straight to 11v11 is a bit like teaching your kids to swim by picking them out of the kids pool and throwing them into the adult one!
    9v9 is a wholly sensible transition from mini-soccer and really should be mandatory for U11 & U12 teams. It introduces all the technical aspects of the full game but means the players can concentrate on developing skills, techniques and team-play in an environment that is a logical progression from mini-soccer, rather than the “everything doubles in size” effect of going to 11v11. I’m sure it’s adoption could only result in more youth players staying with the game through to U13 and beyond.

  7. Lee Eichenbaum on February 15, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    9v9 for u11 and u12 players is good for the players, coaches, parents, spectators and referees.

  8. Tony Whitehead on June 28, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    we are at the stage of our u11 changing to 11 a side ,as a club coaches and parents agree that 9v9 would be more beneficial to the players development,however in the Oldham area there are no pitches made available for this and the council are’nt willing to mark out pitches,we are desperately trying to find an alternative,thanks Tony Oldham Rangers.

  9. Rob Poole on November 17, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    When the parents are taking the nets down at the end of the game, they need a stepladder. And we expect a goalkeeper to ‘fill the goal’. 9 a side is the way forward.

  10. Martin Wood on November 19, 2011 at 1:09 am

    I am not against 9 v 9 but its not the format thats wrong with youth football in this country. There is nothing wrong with 11 v 11 provided it is played on suitably sized pitches with suitably sized goals for the age group. The FA need to wake up and realise that its facilities we need not a change in the format or age banding. Playing football across or down the centre of a pitch used the previous day by adults will do nothing for youth football. Most of the worries about the step from 7 v 7 to 11 v 11 are down to the coaches not the kids, they are ready and able to make the step up to proper football.

  11. Tim on November 21, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    We’ve just played a 9 a-side game on a ¾ size 11 a-side pitch so it was extremely tiring for our team who like dribbling the ball and suited the long ball strategy the FA’s trying to move away from.

  12. Jimmy on January 5, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    All for 9v9, come on the FA , dig deep and find some money to Fund New goals, and playing surfaces, in this multi million pound industry where players are fined heavily for any indiscretions, Saurez for instance could pay for 20 sets of goals (for example) !

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