Your say: British youth football '40 years out of date'

Since Club Website editor Dan Pope assessed the impact of England's World Cup exit on the grassroots game, a number of you have had your say with some strong and insightful comments on the subject.

You've highlighted many areas of concern, covering everything from the 'money culture' at the top of the game to the quality of grassroots coaching; from the size and structure of kids' small-sided football to the state of grassroots facilities.

Hampstead FC logoOne contribution really stood out, however: an email from Mike Powell of Hampstead FC sent in reply to last week's edition of The Club House.

Mike, who runs 36 youth football teams, emailed us his thoughts on the state of youth football in the UK and we thought that the questions posed deserved a wider audience than just us here at Club Website HQ.

So here it is - let us know what you think.


"40 years out of date"

British kids play good football, they have the same natural skills as all five year olds, but they just cannot practice as much as those more fortunate to live in a better climate. I have seen kids knocking the ball around for fun, doing tricks one associates with Brazilians and the like.

They do this without a great deal of coaching. By the time they reach eight or nine they have most likely been playing with a team on astro surfaces and still developing their skill level on flatbed surfaces.

The exceptional ones have graduated to academy set-ups and continue to play on decent surfaces which helps continue their development. The others, of which many have the talent to develop later, are suddenly catapulted into another brand of football, played on poor quality pitches.

At first they are fine, the pitch may be lumpy, but they get on with it. They don’t notice there is always a “big bloke” at the rear of the defence and a similar looking “big bloke” up front.

A muddy pitchIt only becomes apparent when the month of October drifts in like the tide. Winter, and the pitches change. The football changes and the reasons for the two big blokes become apparent.

The young developing starlets can no longer play football, all the teams can do on the thick mud is hoof the ball goalwards, bypassing the creative midfield and ignoring the skills of the wide men.

Weekend after weekend, year on year, thousands of games are routinely cancelled and both parents and players become disenchanted. Talented, skilful players are abandoned on the sideline, as the need for the long ball is dictated by the pitch.

Those with real talent cannot progress so we are left with the fortunate few who made the academy system early. Who knows what talent would have blossomed from within the masses, given fair playing conditions?

We cannot change the weather. What we can do is to change the youth football season to run from March to October. Let them play on good surfaces, let the coaches have the chance to teach skills, let them play flowing football, not watch in horror as the ball sticks solid in the mud.

The conditions would encourage families (not the lone parent) to go along willingly, rather than grudgingly stand, huddled together in six inches of mud. It would help the aggression, witnessed by us all from the sidelines, if more families support their kids in better weather and better conditions.

Another reason so many kids give up the game: no resistance from parents, they too are fed up with the outdated practise of playing during the “football season”.

Muddy pitchWatch a re run of a 1970s match with appalling pitches, football devoid of the skill we all witness in the Premiership today.

This is where youth football still lives. It is 40 years out of date. Our footballers learn their skills in an environment which is 40 years out of date! What chance do we have?

The youth leagues are frightened to challenge the FA. Coaches and managers within youth football, and even Premiership academy bosses agree, English football needs to give the young players a chance.

Change the obsession with the timetable of youth football. Then we can challenge the skills of the foreign players, but not until we give up the old fashioned belief, that youth football has to take place in the worst weather, and on the worst pitches, we can possibly provide.

Mike Powell, Hampstead FC


Have your say - keep those comments coming!

What do you think of Mike's comments? Do you agree that youth football should re-structure its season to run through the summer months?

We'd love to hear your thoughts on this or anything you've read on this subect here on Club Website, or any new argument you'd like to bring to the table.

Thanks to Mike and everyone else who has had their say on this issue so far, but please keep those comments coming. It's your Club Website so let us know what you think!

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