The Football Association today outlined their plans for a new approach to youth development in England, including some “radical” changes to the structure of the grassroots game.
The FA’s Young Player Development Review, established after England’s failure at the 2010 World Cup, includes 25 recommendations to improve the game from top to bottom.
Building on the playing and coaching philosophies outlined in the Future Game documents published last year, the proposals involve changes at all levels of the game, from grassroots mini-soccer teams right up to the Club England setup.
The proposals – already approved by the FA board and council and set to be ratified in April – will herald changes to formats and facilities within grassroots youth football, make coaching more professional at all levels and strengthen international team development.
Changes to the grassroots game
Central to the proposals are major changes to the way youth football is structured at grassroots level, including raising the minimum age for competitive leagues, extending the use of small-sided football and introducing 9-a-side football for the Under 11 age group.
Full details of the proposals are yet to be published, but it is understood that the minimum age at which children will be able to play competitive league football will be raised to Under 12s, three years higher than the current minimum (Under 9s).
Sir Trevor Brooking, Director of Football at the FA, admits the changes are “pretty radical”, but firmly believes that they are essential if England is to produce better, more technically adept players in the future.
Brooking told the BBC: “It’s pretty radical really. [In 2008] we stopped league tables at Under 8s and there was quite a lot of outrage in certain parts of the country [but] we got that through and everyone has accepted it now.”
“We did a lot of research on the back of that. We asked a lot of youngsters to choose from 16 possible reasons why they played mini-soccer. League tables and trophies were hardly selected at all from these choices.
“Any game you play in is competitive, but the youngsters weren’t even bothered where they were in the league. They didn’t even know most of the time. It’s the parents telling them ‘if you win today, you’ll be second in the league’.
“We want to get away from that because we want to get them passing the ball and making them better players. You’ve got to have the fun-factor for individual techincal development.”
Brooking also outlined potential changes for Under 7s and Under 8s to 5-a-side without a set goalkeeper and “rotating the back person” to ensure players get more time on the ball and encourage playing out from the back.
He also expressed a desire to implement 9-a-side football for Under 11s, following a “very successful” pilot scheme in two parts of the country.
Such changes will not be introduced immediately but will be subject to further consultation within the game. However, Brooking is adamant that this is the way forward.
“These things are a challenge for some but we’d like to think that, with some forward thinking, we’ll introduce them pretty quickly. It might need a period of consultation, gradually phase-in [their] introduction and seeing the benefits of it over two, three, four years.
“We’ve got to start somewhere and everyone agrees this is where we have to do it, so hopefully we can get it over the line.”
The full list of 25 recommendations, which also feature major changes for the professional game – including the mandatory release by clubs of any player for international duty at any age group – can be found here.
Dan Pope, Club Website editor
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