Where next for grassroots football?

How would you like your FA to nurture the grassroots this season?

The start of a new football season is a time to look forward. The summer break is drawing to a close and the season stretches out in front of us full of opportunity.

Whether you are a striker hoping to beat your goal tally from last season or a manager looking forward to trying out that new formation, the start of the season offers a wonderful combination of anticipation, excitement and possibility.

It is also a time for reflecting on our wonderful game of grassroots football and how we might be able to make the game even better.

With that in mind, we want to know how you would most like your FA to improve the grassroots game this season.

We’ve posted a poll across our club and league website network asking that very question, with five options covering some regularly suggested areas for improvement.

Take a look through the list, have your say in our comments section below and then cast your vote in the poll. We want to hear your views!

Club Website poll: How would you most like your FA to improve the grassroots game this season?

1. Develop more/easier ways for people to get into football

While 5-a-side football is more popular than ever, the number of registered 11-a-side football teams is down on levels five years ago, as is the number of people playing regular football.

The FA and SFA this season launched their Just Play initiative in a bid to arrest this decline, but is there enough being done to attract more people to the game and retain those already playing?

2. Invest in/improve standards of coaching for young players

If developing young players is fundamental to a healthy grassroots, then coaching the coaches to develop those players is essential.

There is much to be positive about on the coaching front. More people are getting into coaching – there were over 35,000 Level One coaches in England in 2009/10 – while St George’s Park is set to become the new home of coaching in England from next season.

More kids have access to good quality coaching – including the 1.8m who have passed through the Tesco Skills Programme – and resources such as the SFA’s Developing Talent programme offer valuable support to budding coaches out there.

Our home nation FAs offer a clear route into coaching but qualifying can cost hundreds or, depending how far up the UEFA ladder you climb, even thousands of pounds.

Could our FAs do more to support coaches and invest in the next generation of players?

3. Raise standards of behaviour on the pitch & by parents/spectators

One of main topics of debate throughout grassroots football over recent years, raising standards of behaviour on and off the pitch was identified as the English FA’s number one priority following their 2007 Your Game Your Say consultation.

The Respect programme was duly formed and has now become a familiar name not only in the grassroots game but also within the professional arena.

Despite the increased profile and progress in some areas, tackling poor behaviour still came out as Club Website members’ number one priority in a similar poll this time last year. So how do things stand in this area another 12 months on?

4. More small-sided football and/or fewer league tables for kids

When the English FA announced their proposed changes to the structure of youth football earlier this year, it ignited a debate on Club Website like no other topic.

The main talking points included an increase in small-sided football and raising the age of both 11-a-side football and competitive football, bringing the English system more in line with the game in Wales and Scotland, where the National Player Pathway was launched in February.

With the FA’s proposals still undergoing consultation, does developing the youth game in this area represent the most important work for your FA this season?

5. Make it easier to run a club or team

Here at Club Website we know all about the headaches club secretaries and managers have to put up with to run a team.

We’re familiar with the tales of red tape, league meetings and endless paperwork that drive people up the wall, which is why we try to help  make running your club as easy as possible through our club website service.

We want to banish mountains of admin to history. Do you want your FA to follow suit? If so, in what ways could they make it easier for you to run your club?

Have your say – we want to hear from you!

It’s you lot out there who are the grassroots game, so we want to hear your thoughts on the direction you’d like to see grassroots football take this season.

So please have your say in our comments section below. Of course, the options listed above are just some of the more common points raised but you can comment on any aspect of the game that you want to. Let’s get the debate going!

And don’t forget to cast your vote on your club or league website now. Alternatively, visit our demo club – Parkside FC – where you will find the poll on the homepage.

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Dan Pope
Writer at Teamer
Freelance writer, editor and copywriter, specialising in football and with a passion for grassroots sport. Former editor at Club Website.

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15 Comments

  1. J.Wilson on August 31, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    The missing point is communication. All teams should post whether they are looking for players on a central hub. The current system is chaotic and lacks any logic. Youndg players keen to get involved may not know the existing teams in their area. They are stuck with lick and guesswork

  2. Jim O'Rourke on August 31, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    The lack of changing rooms and toilets is a Number One Priority in order to grow the grassroots clubs.

  3. msb03 on August 31, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    TOP PRIORITY

    Somewhere to play, that has decent facilities and pitches that don’t look like lunar landscapes, the Somme or with grass 4-5 inches long – and doesn’t cost the earth to hire or is miles away from where the players live

  4. Laken Nat on September 1, 2011 at 12:57 am

    Personally, I believe it is down to commitment. This is the main reason why our ‘beautiful game’ at grassroots is dying in front of us!

    I agree facilities do need to be improved, but when have they ever been superb? Just think in other less affluent countries are the facilities really up to our standard or even going back to the 80s or early 90s here in the UK? If people want to play, they do, whether this is on the street, park or even a beach – 5-a-side is thriving because it doesn’t require a season’s commitment, play one week, miss a few and play again or on different days with different people…

    When I was in my teenage years (I am 30 now) our local park used to be filled with people of all ages playing football – but now it’s the same park, with same level of greenery and it is deserted! Why is this? Maybe they all go to places like Goals/Power League – but they are constantly calling me to book pitches…which aren’t cheap…but people are happy to play for the convenience and flexibility! What’s wrong with putting a couple of jumpers on the ground and getting muddy…?

    Folks now just want convenience with no commitment, play computer games, socialize on social networking sites and what really gets me is how many people I come across that would rather watch a game on TV than actually play it – shocking! I feel society has changed and the recent looting probably proved this – people just want the easy option…don’t want to put nets up/down corner flags and just want to turn up, pretend they are Wayne Rooney, give the referee abuse then swan off with no care in the world!

    Players at senior level and sadly even parents at youth level aren’t committed 100% to 11-a-side organised league football – agreed for younger children and youth (smaller games are better for developing skills) but so many senior 11-a-side teams are now packing up. Full 11-side football is the game in its purest form!!

    I think there needs to be a campaign to encourage participation in league football and maybe even tax breaks for individuals involved (managers/coaches/senior players) and make it easier to set up a club, but as ever the players make the club…especially the ones without fans!

  5. Steve Stennett on September 1, 2011 at 8:40 am

    Facilities are massively important if the grassroots game is to grow – there is nothing worse for a player than turning up at a facility without hot water/clean toilets/cold changing rooms that are not clean or looked after and worse of all a pitch that has long grass. holes & divets everywhere, and dogS… and looks nothing like a football pitch.
    How can players develop their game playing on a facility such as that??

  6. Steve mckiernan on September 1, 2011 at 11:27 am

    Grassroots football at junior level is thriving. The club at which I am secretary has squads from u6 to u16 and demand grows year on year.
    The demand from young players however is not met by the supply of adults willing and able to coach these enthusiastic young people. parents seem to think that, like school, it is the responsibility of someone else to teach their kids.

    The grassroots level is Ok and the FA should stop meddling. There are not enough facilities now and the expectation that clubs can find another size of pitch for 9v9 is a joke. The grassroots level has been blamed for the demise of the game at international level for England. How they can think this when the cream of local talent is devoured by professional clubs by the age of 8 is also laughable. My club is producing players who will enjoy local football into adulthood. The professional clubs produce England players not my club.
    Respect is a great concept. However until it is seen to apply to players and coaches in the premier league then forget trying to make it work at lower level. When cameras can show the despicable neil warnock swearing at officials when he disagrees with a decision and no action taken then the rest of us have no chance.

    Build some facilities and stop meddling.

  7. Matt on September 1, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    First of all I think the FA needs to work more closely with local council authorities in order to improve pitches and facilities, as it’s usually these that control local parks where football is played. There’s enough money sloshing around in the professional game to upgrade the vast majority of facilities across the country. This would also include new pitch markings for the proposed 7v7 and 9v9 age groups, as these can easliy be painted onto current 11 a side pitches.

    Second of all there is a huge lack of quality coaching in this country to improve youth development. I think this is a lot to do with the lack of availability on training courses aswell as cost. Why can’t the FA assign a designated amount of professional coaches (and I don’t mean UEFA level) to each League in the UK that could then offer training to local team managers, coaches or parents (who are usually the manager anyway) on a more regular basis.

    Thirdly if the FA want to start producing the next crop of international players they need to give guidance to how they want English football to be played. Other countries such as Spain, Italy, Germany, France and Holland have a football philosophy on how their national game should be played. This runs from 7 year olds to adults. looking at results from the last 15 or so international tournaments I think it’s safe to say that it’s worked for these countries.

    Fourthly, the only way to control idiotic parents who feel the need to abuse referee’s and players (some as young as 8) from the sidelines is to ban them from watching. If a team has 3 incidents of abuse against them reported to the league then they should ban all touchline support for the remainder of the season. I have a friend that has a son who is signed for a local professional team and they only allow parents to watch from quite a large distance. That way it stops abuse aswell as coaching from the sidelines, the type of coaching that is usually the total opposite to what the team manager is trying to get across to his players.

    Fifth, kids who play football will always be competitive. I think it’s a much better idea to have friendly games mixed up with several mini tournaments over the season for u7’s to u12’s rather than League systems (and lets be honest most 7, 8 and 9 year olds don’t understand how they work anyway!). That way they’re still playing regular football aswell as getting the competitiveness of the tournaments. these tournaments could be a mixture of 5v5, 7v7 and 9v9 for all ages. Then once players get to u13 or u14 we can implement 11v11 in a League format, as this is the age where the players are physically strong enough to cope with the size of the pitch.

  8. S. Ledbury on September 1, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    Weak refereeing needs to be addressed. Too many people going out to referee and not making the decisions to protect players from injury, too happy to blow and give free kicks for needless infringments but wont send players off for violence and violent conduct. People have to go to work, thats there priority, and if they are not going to be protected from thugs, they cannot risk playing. Standard of refereeing is dropping year on year.

  9. Carl Page on September 1, 2011 at 10:05 pm

    Lack of good facilities is a major barrier to the development of young players in this country. It is very difficult to coach twenty 10 year olds in the middle of winter on a cold, wet evening under poor floodlights in a small muddy area. Where I live there is one “suitable” indoor facility within a radius of 20 miles which is booked up months in advance. It is therefore little wonder that kids drop out and those who do stay in the game do not develop as they should.

    I applaud mini soccer at the younger ages which has helped but until the £millions that are in our game at the top end are filtered down to improve facilities at grass roots things will never change.

    If the FA are serious about improving the quality of players this country produces it should stop tinkering with things that make little difference and invest in the infrastructure of grassroots football by building indoor football centres across the country which are available for use by all FA registered clubs at discount rates. Qualified coaches should be available at these centres to assist with the training and development of young players.

    Ultimately the FA needs to put its money where its mouth is!!

  10. Alex Ferguson on September 2, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    We would like to see more opportunities for players to play football at a higher level. There is a barrier to entry for talented players to enter the big stage. There are many players out there who are as good if not better than the premier league players. These unseen and unrecognised players would play even at a very basic minimum wage if they were just given the opportunity. Hence there should be 10x more professional leagues in the uk and the salaries should be reduced by 10x too. This in turn will allow more opportunities and hence thousands of jobs for those talented individuals who cannot get a career in football due to the lack of opportunity.

  11. Barra Houldershaw on September 2, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    There is allegedly so much money in football. The FA quite rightly are trying to get more people into football, improving the behaviour of those people that do get involved and are providing excellent training for coaches; the FA Youth Awareness path is nothing short of brilliant.
    St Georges Park is great for those who will get to use it.
    But all this will come to nothing if there is a shortage of (adequate) facilities e.g. pitches at the grassroots level.
    More kids equals more teams need more pitches.

  12. Mark Ferriday on September 3, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    As a parent, I am an assistant coach for my son’s u6’s, so to be u7’s team. Something I feel strongly about is my son only became 6 at the end of July and plays with/against boys who are now turning 7. He is small for his age which doesn’t help but he is up against kids who are a year older which as a 6yr old a year makes a lot of difference. I would like to see the formation of 6month age related leagues. This would increase the management process but it would help the younger kids get further in the game which the FA have already identified as being a problem and suggesting moving from academic years to calender year age groups. In my opinion this wouldn’t work, just shift the problem.

    As for competitiveness, I’m in favour of some competitive football in the form of regular tournaments / cup games and less emphasis on the leagues with less games. Parents are competitive (I know I am) and I think the loss of this is some of the problems we face at national level. (ie. non competitive sports days etc). The problem (Respect etc.), in my opinion, lies with the overly aggressive nature of people in today’s society in general, whether it be road rage, parking rage, football rage or just fancy a riot. Football is a working class sport and you wouldn’t get the same reactions at children’s tennis, cricket, rugby or athletic sporting events (or as much?). Read into that as you see fit. Perhaps someone could advise on what happens in glass roots rugby?

    In terms of facilities, the appeal of football is its simplicity & cheapness to participate. Lets not over complicate it.

  13. Andrew Hanson on September 6, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    I am the u14 coach for Brunsmeer Athletic FC in Sheffield. http://www.brunsmeer.co.uk

    I also watch my eldest son (13) play for Sheffield School Boys and Meadowhead School, plus my youngest who son plays for Brunsmeer u12s and both at SUFC development.

    Having watched a hell of a lot of junior football at different standards over the past few years I am extremely disappointed / frustrated at nearly every coaches attitude to the game!
    There is very little desire to teach kids to play football, instead the overriding tactic in most junior games is to launch the ball forward at every opportunity with cries from all quarters of “GET RID OF IT” OR “GET IT IN THEIR BOX”.

    Would it be possible to create a new rule, where the pitch is split up in to four equal sections across the length.
    Whenever the goalkeeper receives the ball or the ball goes out of play for a goal kick, no attacking players are allowed in the last quarter, giving the goalkeeper an unpressured decision to roll/pass out to one of his defenders, with the attackers not able to enter that quarter until said defender touches the ball.
    This would then hopefully promote a passing mentality from the back.
    I think if this was brought in to Mini-soccer at least, then kids may have the mindset to play this way when they move to the eleven / nine aside game at u11/ u12.
    Is it necessary in mini-soccer for the keeper to take goal-kicks at all? Would it not be better to remove them altogether and make them pass out unpressured? Surely keepers can learn to take goal-kicks when they are older?
    Quite often it’s not the keeper that takes them anyway! It’s normally left to an outfield player with the strongest kick, so the keeper doesn’t even learn to kick anyway!

  14. Gary Wood on September 8, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    Five a side is more popular because its more fun for the players. Many more touches on the ball, more chances to score, better quality pitches, nearly always decent changing facilites. Plus, it develops players much quicker than 11 – a side. So we need more of this.

    Why do we keep playing through winter then stop in summer?

    Respect, start with your own team – its everyones responsbility. Challenge bad behaviour all the time – it works. If your players argue with the ref take them off the pitch.

    We need to stand up for referees more – a lot more. I despair at what I see on TV with players hunting down refs in large packs – the ref should book them all when they do this. Never mind the quality of refereeing has gone down – as someone has said – they do their best and we need them to run the game.

    Parents – just watch the game! You wouldnt scream and shout at if you child was playing a snooker match so dont do it at football.

    We need to encourage a style of play that is fun and develops all players.

    And we need a lot more money for facilities, grass cutting, pitch marking, changing rooms. The list goes on. And I still love it!

  15. Tony Birdfield on November 5, 2011 at 10:35 am

    We need more teams that are coached and managed by neutral (with no relatives or friends relatives playing) people. We need more coaches/managers who can think outside the box and not simply recreating English Kick and Run football; emphasising the basics CPP Control, Pass, Position and COMPLETE TEAMWORK. We also need more independent Refs and Coaches/Managers who do not tolerate violence. The first condition would hugely put pay to that in my opinion. This is my opinion based on my sons experience. He came into grassroots football four years ago (at 10years old) never having played any organised football before and now playing for his 3rd team. I see the same old problems to different degrees. Fundamentally we need to find a way of running grass roots football less incestously otherwise we will never bring through the real skills of football needed to win the World Cup. Paul Scholes summed up the problem of English football when he retired; that it is too individualistic; still what I call Hero football.

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