The FA’s proposed changes to the structure of youth football in England are designed to “enthuse and excite” children so that they want to stay involved in the game.
That’s the view of Sir Trevor Brooking, the FA’s Director of Football Development, who spoke to Club Website at the FA’s Your Kids Your Say roadshow in Dartford, one of 16 consultation events taking place around the country.
The governing body want to get the grassroots football community’s views on the most radical proposals for youth football since the introduction of mini-soccer over a decade ago.
The changes, which include the introduction of 5v5 and 9v9 formats, delaying 11-a-side football under under 13s and the banning of league tables for all children of primary school age.
“If you speak to the youngsters, all they want to do is have a fun, enjoyable experience of football and some of them aren’t at the moment,” Sir Trevor told Club Website.
“Whether you think they are or not, they’re not, and we’ve got to make sure that’s changed. We’ve got to encourage them, enthuse them, excite them and make them want to stay in the game.”
The roadshow provides the chance for people across the country to “feed in their views” to help shape the structure of youth football in years to come, building on the foundations already laid in the youngest age group.
“We’re doing a lot of good things in the five-to-11 group. We’ve had the [Tesco] skills coaching scheme which should be expanded nationwide over the next year.
“We want to take the intensity away and get them passing the ball. It doesn’t matter about losing possession and conceding a goal in the under 8s, although to some it does so we’ve got to get the message further.
“The biggest challenge for me is the 11-to-16 age-group. That is, to a certain extent, where we’re falling off the cliff. Kids go from mini-soccer with smaller goals and smaller pitches to these massive great pitches where it takes half an hour to get from one end to the other.
“The manager thinks ‘I’ll stick two big lads at the back who can whack it the length of the pitch and that will get us out of the danger area.’ The transition from mini-soccer has been detrimental to kids making the next step, so I think the introduction of 9v9 is important.”
Brooking has banged the drum for improving young players’ technical ability since taking up his FA role in 2004. He believes the latest proposals would not only improve kids’ enjoyment of the game, but would benefit English football in the long term.
“It’s an exciting time. It’s taken a while to get here but I think the momentum is there. It’s time for a change if we want to get to a competitive level in international football.
“Arsene Wenger said that, with the English youngster’s desire, hunger and physical energy, if you could get the technical level the same as the better Europeans, he’d pick the English youngster every time. But the gap is too big.
“What we’ve got to do is get our English youngsters much better technically and give the clubs a difficult option. At the moment it’s too easy to go abroad and bring in half a dozen youngsters. So we need to raise the bar right across the grassroots.”
FA proposals receive “very positive” welcome
Princes Park, home of Dartford FC, was the venue for the fifth of 16 stops on the FA’s roadshow and, according to the man in charge, National Development Manger for Youth and Mini-Soccer Nick Levett, the proposals have been welcomed.
“Feedback so far has been very positive,” Levett told Club Website.
“The three major things around formats of the game, competition and the relative age-effect seem to be pretty well supported and understood, but we’ve had some really good debate about the rules of mini-soccer, which is great.”
Each roadshow is split into two parts: a presentation by Levett on the detail of and reasons behind the FA’s proposals, followed by a session of debate providing the opportunity for the audience to offer their views on the changes.
“If I look back 16 months ago when I started this, it’s hugely different; from asking should we play children down a year if they are little ones to summer football being something that we discussed as mandatory.
“All of these things we’ve discussed and they have evolved from the feedback from the grassroots world. I think it’s important, as a governing body, that we listen to the feedback and we try and put in place something that will work practically for them.
The feedback so far has included concerns around funding, particularly in relation to the proposed new 9v9 format.
“We openly discuss the challenges as part of the consultation – facilities and goalposts is the big one. We’re certainly making sure that there’s a funding package available to pay for goalposts, or a percentage towards goalposts, and doing our best to try and make sure we can overcome some of those challenges.
“The big thing is making sure that we support the needs of volunteers and clubs that are putting in place something a bit different to what they’ve always done.”
For those people don’t yet feel a part of the consultation process, the message from Levett is clear: get involved.
“This is the chance for grassroots people to really have their input. There are another 11 roadshows around the country, so I’d advise people to come along to one of the events and play their part in a discussion on youth football.
“We’re not going to reach every club and league in the country, but we can certainly make sure we’re as widespread and as open and accessible to them as we can be.
“If people can’t make an event, they can still email their comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will read everything on there. We won’t necessarily respond because there will be lots of comments, but we will certainly make sure we listen and take on board their thoughts.”
To view date and venue details for the Your Kids Your Say roadshow, click here.