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's proposals for young players will encourage smaller-sided games, where more touches of the ball will aid enjoyment and 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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Dan Pope
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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. Northop Hall GirlsFC on February 2, 2011 at 11:48 am

    We’ve been championing these standards for years at our club and in The North Wales Girls League in general.

    U6: Play 4 a side, no keepers (30 x 20 yd pitch) 6×4 goals
    u8: Play 5 a side, with keeper (30 x 20 yd pitch) 8×4 goals
    u10: Play 7 a side (60 x 40 yd pitch) 12×6 goals
    u12: Play 9 a side (70 x 50 yd pitch) 12x 6 goals
    u14: Play minimum 9 a side (80 x 50 yd pitch) 16×7 goals, or will play full 11 a side where numbers allow, they play full laws of the game regardless of pitch size.
    u16: Play 11 a side on full pitch, full laws.

    These were brought in several seasons ago and were felt to be a nice gradual way to take young players right through to the full 11 a side game as they develop both in age and ability.

    We always felt it was ridiculous to see a 4′ 8 player stood between a 24 x 8 set of goals.

    Neil Robinson
    Northop Hall Girls FC

  2. msb03 on February 2, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    in an ideal world i agreee with the proposals, in the practical real world we live it won’t work unless a lot more money is available to grass roots football. I know most junior clubs suffer with appaling facilities, very few are lucky to have their own and if they do, 3 or 4 different sets of goals, different colour lines for different size pitches. Where do you store it all?
    Most junior clubs struggle to raise the funds to keep the club running with high rents for poor pitches, is the local council going to send out a groundsman to remark the same pitch with 3 different colour lines each week and keep the rent the same – i don’t think so. These guys in their ivory towers need to get down to their local club struggle to make ends meet and see how it really is; 1 days wage from Torres £155,000 per week is more income then my club sees in 2 years.

  3. Matt Miller on February 3, 2011 at 12:37 am

    About time too.

    Though why The FA don’t champion and put money into the excellent form of the game in Futsal, I’ve no idea. A game that the likes of Lionel Messi were brought up on.

    I coach an Under 8s team and we play it once a fortnight, it does wonders for players’ touch and their awareness in tight areas.

    Its benefits are massive and hugely applicable to all forms of the game – we need players (at all levels) in this country comfortable with the ball at their feet rather than bred on the kick and rush game that is often instilled at youth level due to the introduction of 11-a-side far too early into a young players’ “career”.

  4. G Fraser on February 5, 2011 at 11:49 am

    I wonder why they scrapped the u11 junior three quater size pitch a few years ago – surely going back to this is the answer.
    6yd x 6 ft goals at u11 and 12!

  5. Rob Brassett on February 5, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    futsal is the answer to the youth football future, the fa know this and are trying to increase the popularity of futsal.

    Check out the National Futsal Alliance we are sancioned by the FA and are run by the leading futsal clubs in England.

    Futsal is the way forward for youth development. I shall be contacting Mr Levett and getting his views

  6. R. Peers on February 11, 2011 at 10:56 pm

    Your ideas would only put more expence on to the small clubs who are already finding it hard to manage with idea differrent colour markings will only add more cost to hire a pitch, the councils will put up their fees for the extra work and materials.

    Will the F.A foot the bill I think not.

  7. Gary Taylor on February 13, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    Still think eliminating the competitive element is asking for trouble – has anyone looked at drop-out figures & considered the consequences ?

  8. Mike Powell on February 15, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    it doesn’t matter if it is 2 a side 5 a side or 11 a side. Until we change the season, kids playing in 3 inches of mud will never learn the skills the FA are talking about unless there is a huge investment in 3/4G pitches. Congratulations to Durham FA and Scotland for leading the charge in this area and switching to spring/summer. The 9 a side issue will be a cost worry for most Youth Clubs, new goals, who pays? Markings who pays, smaller squads(?) less income from fees generated to pay what will be the same overhead for pitch hire, referees will they be cheaper for 9 a side? Unlikely. Most pitches play more than one game per Saturday, or Sunday to make it viable? How would this work out as not likely to be the same age group? Not sure about playing across the full size pitch either, 20 outfield players suddenly condensed to 16 on half the area? Fixed goals on one side of the (full) pitch would mean new goals with wheels, or an even narrower area to play. Mike, Hampstead FC, London.

  9. tony mitchell on February 15, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    I think its a great idea and the way forward. I think it should have been done sooner. It saves having to release kids at the age of 10 under the current format and if you stick to the 2 game format on matchdays in the 9s version, it will increase opportunity and maintain their interests in the game for a longer period

  10. S Thomson on February 17, 2011 at 11:47 am

    In principal it has to be the way forward to improve the standard of football at all levels in this country.. but it will need heavy investment if its to work. We are luckier than most at my sons club as we have our own facilities but many clubs rent council pitches which are not a great standard and to impose the maintenance of a junior pitch within a standard pitch would be logistically impossible for most setups. In the current financial climate the councils will have no funding for this, so it will be up to the clubs, schools to find this extra revenue required or are the FA going to start taxing transfer fees and put the money back into grass roots football.. now theres an idea but don’t hold your breath !

  11. Paula B on February 21, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    My son joined an u11 11 a side team in the summer & he struggles to get a game. League tables mean managers pick the “best” players every time, leaving the subs to hope for 10mins at the end. 9 a side teams with no tables would give the less able more chance to get on the pitch & be part of a team that plays for fun. Consequently they would improve their skills. We need to encourage children to get out away from their consoles, not prevent enthusiats like my son from doing something he loves.

  12. Norman Utton on February 22, 2011 at 1:46 am

    My Granddaughter has been playing football in a team since she was 9. She started off playing in a boy’s team on the small pitches, and despite all the negative comments – from the opposition about a girl in a boy’s team, she soon became recognised as a strong player, and in the end several local clubs were desperate to sign her up. Eventually under FA Rules she was no longer allowed to play for a boy’s team at the age of 11 / 12. So she signed up for a girl’s team, but she really missed the rough and tumble of playing with the boy’s. However, eventually the side she joined started to get other strong players, and for the last two seasons the team have won both the league, and the Cup in the Central Warwickshire League, and it looks like they could pull this off for a third time this season. They play on full size pitches with full size goals, and she covers the ground easily, and in fact when they play the end of season six a side tournaments she moans, because she finds the whole small pitches too small. At the end of the day the FA need to decide if their objective is to get lots of average girls playing football, or do they want to bring forward talented players who could play for England. I suspect that the FA just want to get lots of average girls playing football, which in my view is wrong. It is not wrong to promote the desire to win. Please will the FA stop this desire for the strong to be winners, because whatever the FA think it is this desire to be the best that will promote the best results.

    My granddaughter will this year be going to America to join an academy selection with a view to be chosen for her skills, not just her ability to play the game. It seems to be that the American attitude of only picking winners is right, and the FA namby pamby approach is wrong.

  13. Rob Bailey on February 27, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    The FAW have implemented most of these changes and are trying to find a way to help clubs put the U11 proposals into practice.After initial opposition to the minifootball changes clubs are actually enjoying it as the FAW helped fund the changes ( with pop up goals & portable goals ).They are also championing Futsal as a great way to develop technical gifted footballers – Welsh football leading the way,who’d have thought it…..

  14. Mr Colin Keighley, on April 16, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    manager (7 years ) at De La Salle, Salford

    The cost of runnin ateam is hard, the smaller the team, the bigger the cost.
    Tryed 14players at 7aside it can work with perents help the kids playin every 2weeks,
    Now more small teams, more trainers, more CRBs,more level 1 and 2s, were do we get the money from, fundin, the Big clubs, No we again have to dig deep again, All the Volunteers, yes unpaid Volunteers, that will never change
    thank for your time.
    Colin Keighley

  15. Terence Bates on June 15, 2011 at 11:13 pm

    It is all very well looking at ways of developing better coaching and strategy for improving football development in the UK. But the glaring issue overlooked is the lack of funding at grassroots level. The English game in particular is awash with billions of pounds so little of it filters through to grassroots level, it is crumbs. As others have said without the unpaid unheralded volunteers there would not be a game in this country. the hard work is often done by these volunteers. We then get the professional clubs picking off what they think are the best players and then spitting them out further along the road, there is absolutely no consensus or willingness to pump money in at the lower levels. In my view there should be a tax applied that can be filtered into where football really has its heart and that is at grassroots level and the likes of Arsenal, Fulham, Tottenham, Newcastle or any other professional club kept out of taking on kids under the age of 11.

  16. justin hine on July 24, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    this is the future of football for our youngsters. What they need at these young ages are more touches and more game time. i think eliminating the competitive side of the game until they go eleven aside would be a great idea, let them enjoy there football without pressure from coaches and PARENTS piling pressure on them to win at any cost just for a piece of shiny plastic. But we do need extra funding otherwise we will lose many youngsters out of the game. so its down to the F.A to pull your finger out if you want grassroots football to grow and succeed .

  17. Dave Lewis on July 27, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    A step in the right direction with the 5, 7, 9 and 11 a side set up with progresion as the players get older.

    So many times I have seen, as a coach, players not getting a game, standing on the line until the game is “won”… as well as many players not being involved in games on large pitches having 3 or 4 touches of the ball. Minimal involvement !

    I’m from the North East, a so called hot bed of football (soccer) however too many people are embroiled in “winning at all costs” and looking to their son / daughter “becoming the next Shearer”….where has this got us? We are father back than where we were in the 70’s / 80’s & 90’s in comparison to our European & ROW colleagues !

    I hear current professional players, past players and current coaches saying you need to be competitive, no need for change, they say “I loved the 11 a side at an early age, the competition, it done us no harm”. maybe not but let’s be honest the vast majoriy of people saying this are ” average at best”. There are far too many average players playing at the top level. Yes you do get the odd quality, technically gifted player ? but again that is not good enough.

    The issue, in my opinion, is how the FA bridge the gap for change and enure the facilities and funding is in place to support the proposed 5, 7, 9 and 11 a side set up. Don’t tell me there is no money to do this…football is awash with money from TV, major sponsors, billionaire owners etc Being involved in the game it is actually embarrasing seeing grassroots struggle when you talk about £100k+ a week salaries.

    Good luck to professional players who can receive £100k+ a week, we would all accept that wage if it was offered to us.

    It is how things are regulated that needs to change…it does not take a rocket scientist to work it out that, it is Grassroots that requires the help, assistance and funding to kick start this revolution.

    Gareth Southgate should widen his scope and look at the overall situation on how to bridge the gap. Previous posts have highlighted some excellent points which should be listed and discussed at the top level

    One other point is why do we have the best coaches all coaching at the top level….surely they should be involved lower down the age groups to ensure the basic fundementals are taught to our future internationals as many coaches, god bless them, are not technically proficient in delivering good quality technically focused sessions to young players as young as 7. Something has to change and this could be the catalyst to improvement in the technical ability of our kids.

    Food for thought and I’m sure many opinions will differ due to this proposed change but I for one believe it is a step in the right direct

    Remember it’s about the players enjoying the game…the stronger and more technically gifted will develop and move onto the 11 a side game where others will enjoy participating in football

    Dave L

  18. David Broadhurst on July 29, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    Most people are saying the same thing… The English game is awash with money but none at grassroots level, so who pays for the FA’s ideas? answer.. the parents do
    The FA are only interested in generating money for themselves. We pay or the qualifications, literature,Kit.. everything. You get absolutely nothing free from the FA at all

  19. Alan Greenwood on July 29, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    Here we go again, I have in the past made comment about the FA proposals for u14s down to play small sided games and noncompetitive.The FA should look as a first instance at Scudamore untouchables in the Premiership and wanting to create the next Beckham, grass roots is what it says on the tin the Academies / S of Excellence are the ones who take players from grassroots teams at great rate of knots without in some cases with no contact to the team manager of parents to try and find the next Beckham etc, the youth team is left to pick up the pieces and replace the players have left the Club Team. Grassroots football is about enjoyment played in a friendly environment without to much pressure to prove how good the player is, headphones on and listen to the views of the FA and we will all be daleks.
    It is no good saying that the FA will listen to views from grassroots, in November 2009 the LFA had a youth league meeting attended by Nick Levitt who at the meeting confirmed that in the 2013 14 season the format for football will be small sided and noncompetitive the resounding view in Lancashire was NO, I am aware from several youth leagues / Clubs that if the proposals are mandatory then there could be an exodus of long serving Committees and non paid volunteers who view the suggestions as a step to far no doubt we will wait with baited breath to see what happens.

  20. Alan Greenwood on July 29, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    What happens if age groups are small sided? can they still enter the County Cup Competitions suggest not but know doubt rules will be changed.

  21. Mike on March 14, 2012 at 7:19 am

    kudos to neil from NHGFC and the futsal commenters – spot on.

    These new standards don’t go nearly far enough imo.

    IN western aus at least, they’ve had the progressive approach from 4v4 (u7) to 7v7 (8s-9s) to 9v9 (10s-11s) to 11 v 11 (12s up) for a few years now, and while better than before, just doesn’t cut it for most kids. I find here at least, we get loads of kids trying football (or soccer as i’m forced to call it) for the first time at around 8 or 9, where they get launched into 7v7. It can work out ok but often is just too much for them to handle. It forces positional play before most can play well enough, never mind encouraging lumping the ball up, reducing touches, goal attempts, choosing “better” players, winning over participation and playing etc etc etc

    Perth Glory i know have rejected this approach and train all their young players in 4v4 up to 11, so is a more futsal-like approach.

    What is the evidence from research that progressing side numbers helps in any way? Maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t -it makes sense on the face of it but does it /really/ make a difference for children? I’d rather have a group of kids who can actually play through proper SSGs, with technique and confidence, before even thinking about 9v9, never mind 11.

    Age 14 or 15 for 11 a side i think is about the right age, when they are nearing adult sizes and are close to being able to cope emotionally with what is after all a pitch size and team size designed for ADULTS.

    tuppence worth over – ta

  22. john on April 12, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    under 11 is the right age for children to progress to 11 aside i have noticed this season at under 10 lvl the pitches are looking way to small. 11 aside would be good but on the old junior school size pitches and goals

  23. peter on April 19, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    under 11 football should stay 11 aside not 9 aside as all the kids who take part train hard work hard and enjoy the game and regardless of how many aside the F.A introduce how many of the millions of kids taking part will actually make it big. if the accademys out there would work closer with the local teams and leagues instead of taking the so called gifted and talented players away from youth leagues and let them enjoy the game with there mates may be this would be the way forward.if there is no league format in the under 7s, 8s 9s and 10s then why take the kids away from there teams as in the case with some accademys.

  24. SUFC Coach on April 19, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    These proposals of the by the FA have been around for years with the onus being on the individual leagues to take up 9-a-side if they want to!
    I agree with the 9-a-side game in principle. Players moving from a small 7-a-side pitch to a junior or in some cases adult size pitch does not make sense at all. As I understand the FA plan to introduce this ruling for up to U12s for the 2014/2015 season.
    However there are issues facing small league clubs around the UK. Lack of funding and poor facilities are the norm at grass roots level.
    The new 9-a-side game will require new pitches or at the very least playing across existing adult pitches with portable 9-a-side Samba Goals.
    The plan is a good one though and can only go towards improving players.
    Players will get more touches and the games will be faster with the ball played on the ground a lot more.

  25. marc gorman on August 11, 2012 at 8:12 am

    Sounds to me like the fa’s idea is for the boys and girls, to have more touches on the ball.
    Well, don’t leave it to coaches like me, training them for an hour during the week, then playing for 30 mins during a match (if they’re lucky)……… Get their mums and dads off their bums and take them to the park more often.
    Ball skills are learnt more often than not when the player is not under any guidance, or pressure, being able to learn from their own selves.
    The best coach cant create magic in an hour and a half each week, and having an extra 10 touches per match isnt the answer either. More touches?……..more mums and dads who take ‘more time’ out for their children. simple.

  26. azeem on June 12, 2013 at 11:18 pm

    today i have been told by my club that my son cannot play for the under 11 teams anymore as he is too young he turns 9 in a few weeks but has played for the under 10s league for over a season. I have been told this is a new FA ruling but cannot find it anywhere. Any help would be appreciated

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