FA plans to stop 11-a-side until under-13 level

The English FA is planning to shake up youth football, as reported on Club Website last week. Here, Peter Lansley, Midlands football correspondent at The Times newspaper, takes a look at the FA's plans for a new approach to youth development.

The FA wants to give the game back to the children.

In radical youth development proposals targeted for the start of 2013-14 season, more youngsters would get more touches of the ball as England aims to get in line with the top European nations by banishing the outmoded notion of imposing an adult 11-a-side game on 11-year-olds.

A widespread consultation process has started - including a primary focus on children’s responses - and trophy-chasers need not apply. The emphasis continues to grow on the development of all young players to build up a broader talent base.

The enlightened proposals, formulated and taken on a national roadshow by Nick Levett, the FA’s national development manager for youth and mini soccer, have been favourably received in the counties and are ready to go before the main FA council. They would make mandatory more appropriate goal and pitch sizes as well as the increasingly popular nine-a-side game as a stepping stone for children progressing from mini soccer to the 11-a-side game.

If the FA council gives Levett’s plans the green light, under-8 children would play five-a-side before progressing to seven-a-side for two years; children would then get the chance to play nine-a-side for two years before going into 11-a-side at under-13. This format, with corresponding goal and pitch sizes, would become mandatory from the summer of 2013.

Over a coffee on Friday at the end of a week in which David Bernstein was officially confirmed as the FA council’s new chairman, Les Howie, the FA’s head of grassroots coaching, discussed the importance of increasing the number of touches available to each young player.

A new player to the 11-a-side game may receive the ball four times in a match; a seven year old starting in five-a-side will be integral to the action. Varying numbers on each side, in training and other games, would develop a player’s experience.

The FA’s Respect campaign has already improved children’s football, keeping mouthy touchline parents a reasonable distance from the action, for instance. There are discussions to raise the age at which league tables - at present introduced for under-9s - are permitted. “Professional clubs’ academies don’t have them,” Howie said. “So how do they help the grassroots player?”

There will be objections. Grassroots organisers will raise justifiable logistical issues for which Levett has pragmatic responses. You can have blue lines for the nine-a-side match inside the 11-a-side white lines and wheel on the 16ft x 7ft nets. “We know facilities are the biggest challenge, but then we never had mini pitches 13 years ago either,” Levett said.

Children’s football is about development and enjoyment. Ask Albert Benaiges, the co-ordinator of Barcelona’s youth teams, who has just seen three of his protégés named as the best players in the world.

He argues that the emergence of Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta could not have been guaranteed when they were leaving primary school. “No one back then knew they would be world-class players,” Benaiges said. “They offered something special or else we wouldn’t have brought them in. But anyone who says he knew they were future superstars is a liar.”

With thanks to Peter and The Times newspaper.


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