Your say: British youth football '40 years out of date'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“40 years out of date”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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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. J Hedgecock on July 21, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    As a proud mother of a 14 year old who has played local club football since the age of 6 I am prone to agree with a lot of Mike Powells comments. I have spent many hours freezing cold and caked in mud, watching boys kick the long hopeful ball foward only to see it stick in the mud. My son is lucky enough to play on home pitches that have had many hours of volunteers lovingly care for their upkeep, however the worst injuries always happen on the dry hard pitches with no muddy cushioning to prevent the gravel rash. I agree it would be lovely to be able to picnic in the park so to speak whilst watching the football but what would happen to the Cricket, another fine sport my son enjoys playing and on whose ground his team shares and trains in the football season?

  2. Mr Timms on July 21, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    Never even thought about playing games from March onwards, what a fantastic idea, common sense if you think about it. The points that Mike has made are all very valid but, why have these points not been raised earlier & more importantly why have these not been implimented? I personally cannot see there being a downside to playing during these months? Perhaps because it will clash with the Cricket season maybe!

  3. chris on July 21, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    In march 2111 ALL FOOTBALL UNDER 12 in Scotland goes to summer. Scottish football is doing this to help young footballers unlike England. Pity.

  4. ollie read on July 21, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    Don’t agree at all with what mike has said.The thing that is 40 years out of date is the ridiculous spectacle of u11s playing 11 a side on full size pitches.That coupled with poor coaching leads to the hoofball football described.Kids should play 5v5 then 7v7 graduating to 9v9 on smaller pitches at u11s.They should not play 11 a side til at least age 14 when they are properly developed physically and technically.The idea of playing football in the summer would not work the injuries sustained on bone hard pitches would finish a lot of kids by their late teens.

  5. msb on July 21, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    nothing will change whilst all the money goes into the top level of football – a days wages from one of the premiership players is more than my club with 8 teams spends in a year and there would still be change left!!

  6. nigel on July 22, 2010 at 12:20 am

    Have been supporting these view for years, Summer football on small sided pitches.

    Why it will not work !
    It is to easy just to turn up at a full size pitch and play, nets r already there and pitch is marked out, who is going to set up the mini goals and mark out the small pitches ? the council’s will moan this is extra cost and it will restrict the use of the pitch for senior football. Also the FA’s r not prepared to lead the way.

    How it could work.
    bring small play areas into housing estates, it doesnt have to be multi million £ projects just a dedicated area that kids can play. stop making football so structured let natural talent develope in local areas before selecting kids to attend academy football.

    Football is becoming an elite sport for those who can afford it,charging kids £ to attend county session is selection by £. I know lots of kids who r good enough but parents cant afford it, thats reality and a shame. Where did George Best, Gazza,Dagleish, learn to play. Compared to Beckham and todays manufactured players.

  7. Dave on July 22, 2010 at 9:06 am

    unfortunately, those soft lumpy pitches in the winter turn into rock hard cobbles during the summer. I’ve had more injuries in my U11’s in the last two weeks of pre-season training than we sustained in the whole of the 2009-10 season. (gravel rash, turned ankles, twisted knees!)

    and spare a thought for the poor goalkeepers, they need body armour!

    I think a long winter break and extend the season later into the spring/summer is more sensible.

  8. Peter Standhaven on July 22, 2010 at 10:04 am

    As a proud Granparent of two 8 year old who has played local club football since the age of 6 I am prone to agree with a lot of Mike Powells comments. I have spent many hours freezing cold and caked in mud, watching them kick the long hopeful ball foward only to see it stick in the mud, however the worst injuries always happen on the dry hard pitches with no muddy cushioning to prevent the gravel rash. but the grandkids love to play football in the rain or when it is muddy and it is for the kids to enjoy football.

  9. lee addison on July 22, 2010 at 10:57 am

    Basically it all comes back down to the money pinching of the government.

    If they want home grown footballers, who work their way through grassroots football then they would develop the areas that need it.

    me and my team have been waiting 7 years for the council to put up changing rooms after they were burnt down by vandals, still to this day, there has been no development.

    Why dont the FA get involved and put some cash upfront.

    I cant apply to get a grant as i dont have a development team (Youth through to adult) this is only because i dont have a pitch with changing rooms, therefore catch 22.

    I wish the government and the FA would actually take the time to visit the pitches that our young lads and lasses are playing on and see what we have to deal with.

  10. barry mc gonigal on July 22, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    totally agree about the idea of playing football in the summer, only stands to reason that playing on good pitches will allow kids to develop their skills better. We also need to get kids out playing the game a lot more, i live in the north of ireland and ive noticed a dramatic drop in the numbers of kids out playing with friends around their estates, i play myself in local amatuer football and even the decline in standards there are bad. As for injuries dont think thats a problem we have the gaa here which is played through summer and the training is a lot harder than football.

  11. Lyndoncolts Boss on July 23, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    Brilliant and true picture of our kids that are abandoned by The FA. Can club website pass this on to the FA? Maybe start some sort of campaign.

  12. Dave Morey on July 23, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    Unfortunately, those soft lumpy pitches in the winter turn into rock hard cobbles during the summer. Resulting in gravel rash, turned ankles, twisted knees, bruised backsides and elbows.

    And spare a thought for the poor goalkeepers, they need body armour!

    I think a long winter break and extend the season later into the spring/early summer is more sensible.

  13. chris on July 23, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    just read my comment it is not 2111 its 2011.4 4s is the way forward .why dont you all just tell the fa your are moving your football to the summer if they dont like it what can they do to u

  14. Lomond Rock AFC on July 27, 2010 at 11:27 am

    Can we really expect to get any better? With the cut backs the goverment are enforcing in local councils money is going to scarce so grassroots football will suffer.

  15. Paul Hayward on July 29, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    I stumbled across Mikes artical in a local paper and it echos my thoughts exactley. Ive also had the pleaseure of talking to Mike. After Englands debacle of 2008 I undertook a little task, by writing to 120 local teams asking them for their thoughts on moving all U12 football to March through to October citing the subjects Mike has raised. Every side was given stamped address envolopes with simple forms to fill in. I knew everyone would not agree however i wasn’t expecting what i recieved. Ten replys from 120 was a disappointment to say the least.

    I have had the pleasure of coaching youth football for the last four years and have secured 7 trophys in that time and have seen 3 of my players move on to pro clubs. So there is no sour grapes in what i suggest. However we are so behind in youth development in this country we have to be dramatic in our next step forward. Glenn Hoddle has set up training camps in spain for youth players that just fell short making it at pro clubs his task is to give them a second chance, his reason for Spain the climate. Begining of Change.

  16. Dave Clarke on August 13, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    Without making this personal, I became local footballs parai for suggesting most of what you gents have indicated, which culminated in a letter to Trevor Brooking and the GiveUsBackOurGame campaign. Do agree though that Mike’s change of season would be a nightmare for injuries, the small pitches are the answer as Ollie indicated. With respect to the coaches with badges, they should be ripped up and reconstructed Spanish and Latin style – too many drills and structured football. Yes totally agree that the game is becoming a sport for those who can afford it, in Colchester so many kids just can’t afford to play. Success governments, councillors & developers have driven our children to the games consoles.

  17. Matchap on September 9, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    Anyone who has played football on park pitches during the winter knows that this report is all true. It’s only a problem for those not bright enough to consider the conditions. The winter UK conditions conspire to produce poor football. Not just mud but water logging, ruts,divots. The hoof it approach is a British invention bourne out of our damp climate. In the summer our damp weather evaporates away and pitches are wonderful to play on. All football in the UK should be played through the summer. The light balmy evenings would increase attendance and encourage flare. It’s win win. Unfortunately too many stick in the mud (pardon the pun) would not approve. Clash with cricket etc- or some rubbish. Actually Cricket would go down the pan, not football if they overlapped.

    I don’t buy the injury rubbish people are spouting. How an earth do they go in everywhere else if this is an issue? How did Spain become Euro and World Champs with their dry climate? What crap… Anyway thats besides the point. If the quality is the problem and I believe it is really becoming a problem for Scotland, Wales and the rest of the UK, then governing bodies should concentrate on grass roots and the quality rather than their own self interest which is the real problem especially with the FA. England is doing ok but only because of it’s greater supply of resource. At the end of the day if the football is rubush and the home nations are going down the pan, who cares about the calendar! Wake up and smell the cheese, FA.

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