FA commission to address “grave” grassroots football issues

Greg Dyke’s England commission has identified “grave issues” in the areas of grassroots football coaching and facilities provision that are impacting on the development of young English football talent.

In its first report, published earlier this month, the commission states that a recent acceleration in cuts to local authority funding raises the issues surrounding grassroots facilities to “crisis level”.

The commission admits there is an “urgent need for much more action to grow investment in grass and Articificial Grass Pitches (AGPs)” whilst also raising the need for “creative, pragmatic ways to mitigate funding cuts”.

A follow-up report is expected this autumn, which will include detailed recommendations to “dramatically improve grassroots facilities over the next three to five years”.

Despite recent progress in the area of coaching, the commission admits that “the FA’s coaching strategy and organisation need further investigation and support”.

It has hired a team of external analysts to examine the FA’s coaching setup and how well it meets the needs of the footballing community and will consider their work, which is ongoing, before reporting back in the autumn.

The FA Chairman’s commission – comprised of Roy Hodgson, Glenn Hoddle, Roger Burden, Greg Clarke, Rio Ferdinand, Dario Gradi, Ritchie Humphreys, Danny Mills and Howard Wilkinson – was established in September 2013 to address the decline in the number of English players playing in the Premier League.

Their first report, published on 8 May, identified four key obstacles to the development of elite English players:

1. Inadequate and insufficient competitive playing opportunities for 18-21 year old elite players at top clubs in England.

2. Regulation of English player market not effective in preserving the desired balance of British, EU and non-EU players in clubs.

3. Coaching and coach development, in clubs and at grassroots, have not yet reached a satisfactory level and impact.

4. England lags behind in the quantity and quality of affordable grassroots facilities. This is particularly true in the area of all-weather pitches.

Whilst issues with coaching and facilities were acknowledged, the first report focused on ways to overcome the first two points, with proposals described by Dyke as “radical and ambitious”.

These included controversial plans to allow Premier League clubs to enter B Teams into a new League 3 – placed in between League Two and the Conference – and the introduction of Strategic Loan Partnerships between Premier League or Championship clubs and lower-league clubs.

Media coverage and public debate on the commission’s report has, unsurprisingly, focused on the League 3 proposal, which has sparked outrage among supporters groups. An online petition against the proposals has already received well over 30,000 signatures.

Whether the recommendations for grassroots football will be quite as radical remains to be seen, but the commission has at least highlighted the issues that need to be addressed at this level of the game.

Great strides have been made to improve coaching at grassroots level in recent years, including the introduction of the FA Youth Awards, the implementation of the Future Game strategy and the opening of St George’s Park.

Nevertheless, frustrations remain within the game – as acknowledged by the commission – that coaching standards need to be improved, with not enough coaches qualified beyond the basic Level One, whilst courses at Level Two and beyond are often unavailable or not affordable, particularly when opportunities for coaches to earn a decent living are limited.

The poor state of facilities has been widely recognised as the number one issue facing grassroots football for years.

A 2009 Club Website survey found that half of the grassroots community put up with substandard facilities on a regular basis, while the FA’s own 2011 Grassroots Survey found it to be the single most pressing issue in the game, highlighted by 84% of respondents.

Despite over £1bn of investment in facilities since 2000 – overseen by the Football Foundation, who are funded by the FA, Premier League and government – the need for better facilities and more pitches remains acute, whilst cuts to local authority budgets have exacerbated the problem.

Outlining their approach to investigating the facilities issues, the commission said: “The accelerating removal of Local Authority funding and subsidies raises the issues discussed here to a crisis level.

“With continued escalation in the cost of pitch hire, reduced pitch maintenance spending by Local Authorities and the bad weather experienced over the last two winters, we can expect to see an ongoing decline in grassroots participation numbers and this could threaten the future supply of English footballers.

“There is an urgent need for much more action to grow investment in grass and AGP facilities and to find creative, pragmatic ways to mitigate funding cuts.

“The FA has already started reviewing how grassroots facilities are used in practice today across the country and are developing proposals to bring about the urgently needed improvement in the quality of these facilities. Once developed, the proposals, which will include possible new models for funding and operating grassroots facilities, will be shared with other stakeholders.

“The Commission welcomes this work and further progress on this will be reported by Autumn 2014 with detailed recommendations, including a capital investment programme, to dramatically improve grassroots facilities over the next three to five years.”

Read the commission’s report

Whilst the FA commission received much criticism for its controversial League 3 proposals, there is a lot of interesting content to ponder in their first report (available to download via the link below).

It may not have contained any solutions to the problems facing grassroots football, but the commission can not be accused of turning a blind eye to them. It has laid out in black and white that there are grave issues facing the game at this level.

The grassroots football community awaits the autumn report with baited breath to find out what might be done to address them.

Click here to download the FA Chairman’s England commission report (5.6 MB). You’ll find the bulk of the discussion on grassroots football coaching and facilities on pages 48-54.

Dan Pope, Club Website editor

Main image courtesy of TheFA.com.

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Dan Pope
Writer at Teamer
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. Mel Tough on May 22, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    There are inadequate and insufficient competitive playing opportunities, 18-21, for elite players at top clubs.
    This statement is a joke as it is not just elite players it should cover most clubs.

  2. Ray Dixon on May 23, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    So Grassroots facilities are POOR and we can’t develop players for Senior Football! So, why don’t we spend the money wasted on Womens Football on Grassroots and get that right first? Then worry about the Womens game, but this will be construed as Sexist, instead of sensible!

  3. Kenneth Allen on May 23, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    Why is it, that if a club wishes to improve it’s facilities, it’s best chance of obtaining a grant, is to either link their application to a ladies, or youth team? It is nigh impossible nowadays, to start a men’s open age team, as their is no support from anywhere.

    All the footballing authorities are concerned with is the Premier League.


  4. Paul on May 23, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    “There are inadequate and insufficient competitive playing opportunities, 18-21, for elite players at top clubs.”
    This statement from the commission highlights one of the biggest problems with grassroots football. The statement itself is the issue!
    The focus needs to be much earlier in process of developing football players. The Opportunities to get into Elite Academies are few and far between, coaching standards outside of academies is very poor predominantly because clubs cannot afford professional coaches, these academies are ruthless, released players from academies are dumped on the scrap heap because of the canyon between academies and clubs.

  5. Paul Bilecki on May 23, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    If the FA Chairman is serious about addressing ‘grave’ grassroots football issues then perhaps he should think about having more people with grassroots experience on his commission!

  6. Craig on May 23, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    The issues around grass roots football have been around for a while now. My farther was a coach and now I am a coach at youth level, 30 years down the line and we’re still having to do the dog poo march around the pitches, it’s still a battle to get the local council to mow the pitches and paint the lines and the local community groups like to put as many Barriers in the way as they can.I don’t see this in France, almost every village I came across had its own set of beautiful pitches and facilities no matter how small the village. With all the money surrounding football the clubs, the FA and players why do they not invest in supplying these facilities. Giving these kids a simple club house would give small clubs like ours the facilities to work on theory and not just practical, helping to build smart players.
    The FA’s work developing the coaches is a really good idea it’s just a shame they make it so impractical and costly, we have 3 under10 sides and the cost to devolop all the coaches past lv1 is far beyond what the club can afford as we rely on the funds we make to supply the kit we need. Maybe the FA should look to send there coaching staff to the clubs and build everyone up at the same time, thus developing the whole club not just individuals

  7. Martin James on May 23, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    A couple of thoughts on this report:
    1. When the Hampshire FA were approached with all weather pitch proposals from a grass roots group in recent years they were shown the door and told that the FA does not support Investment at grassroots in this way. It’s obvious to me that we need all weather pitches, that are covered, to enable year round training.
    2. The issue with grassroots starts with coaches who have no educational experience and subsequently don’t know how to guide young players in a positive way.
    3. Kids learn to play alongside nepotism as if it’s an acceptable part of any game. In the worst cases teams are built around coaches kids… Often to the detriment of others.
    4. The academy system stinks. Team coaches can block interest from academies and guide scouts towards favoured players (in my experience their own kids). Academies scoop up loads of players at a very young age and start to separate the best players from clubs so these players start to develop loner attitudes. At 14 academies become obsessed with size and strength – the skills can be taught. Grassroots teams start to develop the same attitude as they prepare for 16+. By this age academies seem to be more intent on producing players than can be sold to lower league/ conference for a quick income and a possibility of further knock on fees if the players goes on. Developing prem players is too costly and too high risk (very low guarantees).
    Academies of the prem clubs, with the apparent exception of Southampton, have very few home grown players. But the numbers are made up through the creation of satellite academies (like Arsenal’s one in Bournemouth) where the young signees will never really get the chance to be ‘noticed’.

    These are sketchy observations…. A full outline of my thoughts and feelings would take far too long. But I’m glad the FA are talking if doing something about youth football. It’s here that the corruption, bad practice and lowly ethics emerge which subsequently allows these behaviours to be seen as normal. The FA needs to look at itself, and then stare hard at the structures and approaches from the earliest entry point in football. And this doesn’t just mean changing the pitch and goal sizes…. It’s about attitudes that would be unacceptable anywhere else.

  8. brian chennell on May 23, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    I daresay England has the same problems as Scotland, where the Goverments and local authorities speak of the need to reduce obesity through active sport, yet due to high pitch costs are in fact dissuading youngsters from participation in sports.
    They are in fact therefore contributing to the problem.
    Pitches should be free of charge to registered youth teams with children under age 14.

  9. howard parker on May 23, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    under 21 leagues/divisions are being encouraged but this age group of players is also needed by open age clubs to bring younger players into their side to play along with stroner, more mature players, for which the newcomers

  10. John Belton on May 23, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    When will these people realise the problem is not at grass roots level it is at the massive level known as foundation football, the open age level where the players pay to play. The numbers at this level continues to drop season by season and nobody has yet come up with a single idea to stop it.
    Surely the Football Foundation and Sport England have failed miserable to hit the mark and should be replaced with an organisation
    that can address the real problems

  11. Bill Tyson on May 23, 2014 at 10:30 pm

    As usual, the bigwigs at the FA are missing the point entirely. They should be focussing on grass roots in the first place rather than robbing the poor to pay the rich. Only at those levels is football about money. Down here in the dirt football is about what it should be about, football!!

  12. Richard Crisp on May 24, 2014 at 12:08 am

    Some very good comments above.Good to someone understands that players start before grassroots.Agree that most of the so called coaches at youth level are really only there for their kids. You do not see many about after their kids reach open football.18-21leagues serve no purpose because most players at that age have reached their direction in life crossroads.persuasion of their mind will have occurred during the under 8 -18 years. Careerpursuit outside of football, Female bonding, Male bonding both of which could be along with football or any sport, or maybe without any having finely reached the point where they can break from the constrains of Parent wishes. That leaves those who have already made the first steps to a career in football and those that want to go on to open age in there local team that is associated with there past youth years or in their male bonding group.

  13. Clive Jones on May 24, 2014 at 9:40 am

    They have been saying they will look into grassroot football for years and yet still nothing is being done. In ten years time they will still be saying the same. They are looking after their own pockets.

  14. P J Marshall on May 25, 2014 at 10:46 am

    Agree with almost all above but I think issue is wider, all sports are struggling to maintain numbers unless developed as large community clubs. Is anyone getting to the bottom of why kids don’t just want to play? – perhaps we are too organised and opportunities for a ‘kickabout with your mates’ no longer exists. In my main sport (cricket), I suspect the fact that you no longer see it regularly on terrestrial TV at sensible times doesn’t help.
    IMHO, I think coaching is critical, but only after you have developed the start of a love for the game. Kids nowadays cant play in the road or modern small back gardens when they are very young like I did – perhaps we should be banning signs saying ‘No Ball Games’ as a start.

  15. Dave on May 25, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    Nothing to say on the poor standard if refereeing across all levels of the game. The respect campaign need to address the lack of assessment, quality and experience of all refereeing at grassroots. In fact the respect campaign is a joke, why respect a ref, when the refs are 2 years above the age group they are refereeing.

    Even adults refs are poor they make consistently wrong decisions and hide behind the respect the ref campaign.

    The FA are a joke and will continue to be for a number of years.

    Dave, UEFA B

  16. Shaun Hamill on May 30, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    Let me start by asking you a few question

    Q. Who do we expect to coach our youngest players and what qualifications do they have?
    A. We expect one of the parents to step up and coach/manage the youngest age groups with normally NO coaching/team management experience.

    Q. WHY do we expect our most impressionable players to be developed by our LEAST QUALIFIED coaches?
    A. We expect parents to volunteer who in most likelihood will have no coaching experience

    Q. WHY can’t a coach teaching for example U9’s be able to attend a FA L2 course or even L3?
    A. My opinion is Elitism by the FA, or simply no understanding of grass roots football.

    For me the FA coaching strategy is all wrong, surely we need the best coaches at the youngest age groups. The current strategy seems to be let’s educate along the way. Well I am living evidence that this strategy is flawed. Let me explain why.

    I started coaching my eldest son when we joined our local club at U6’s, the coach was a rugby player who was the only person willing to help. I got involved and did my best with my playing experience, I had never coached so we did things like running around the pitch to warm up (U6’s) and then we would just play penalty kicks and matches. The kids enjoyed themselves, I guess that’s important but when I got on to the Level 1 it opened my eyes, the following year I did my Level 1 Youth Award and then I realised that we are in the “Golden Learning Period” and that we need to focus more on SAQ, some tactics, drills, educational games, Pitch awareness, etc. As my knowledge and the other coaches knowledge grew our players developed quicker and better. I guess that is just the way things are. I then went for my Level 2 where I had resistance, simply because I was coaching the YOUNGER AGE GROUPS… You may ask “well what does all this prove?” Well the second half of the story is that my youngest son then started playing football and I always promised that I would coach his age group so immediately his age group had an experienced FA L1 /L2 coach and a Youth award L1/L2 coach. His sessions have always been all inclusive, FUN whilst educational but after 2 years of coaching my youngest sons team we have players being watched by many of the local Championship and Premier sides, they are current U7’s too young to be scouted but I have a number of kids at development centres. So what’s the difference? Simple 1 age group started from scratch with no professional coaching where as the other started with fully qualified coaches.

    What next. I would like to do my L3 (EUFA B) but until I coach U14 the FA Guidelines dictate that I’m not allowed and besides when was the last time you saw a L3 course advertised and have you seen how expensive they are? How does this make sense? Surely we need our best coaches coaching the youngest age groups. I know for a fact that if I had been an ex Pro I could get on to a L3 course without even having an age group to coach and I’ve been told by examiners off the record that they will PASS. As I said at the beginning ELITISM – but how does this benefit grass roots? Do you have a L3 ex pro teaching the youngest age group at your club? I’m going to guess not. So where do they go? They go to Pro clubs to coach first team squads and at academy’s. How does this benefit Grass roots football?

    How could the FA Improve this – Simple. Employ professional coaches with the highest qualifications to coach the youngest age group, U6’s, at all the affiliated teams in the UK. OK 1 coach could only coach 5 teams per season (Mon – Friday 6pm – 7pm) so granted you would need a lot of coaches, I didn’t say it would be cheap. What this does give the management and coaches of the youngest age group at the club a coaching format to continue as the age groups coaches develop. The pro Coach stays at the youngest age group, the age group coach’s progress with their age group.

    In conclusion for me the FA isn’t interested in Grass roots they are only interested in Elite players.

  17. Alan Pullen on May 30, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    There is no change in the standard of refereeing in the uk which is good. The problem is the cowardise shown by modern players rolling off into the sunset when tackled, ex players comme tating on TV that players have the ‘right to go down’ and a couple of prominant managers saying that referees know the rules but not ‘the game’. None of this helps. When refereeing I always brought the managers into the talk., but still had abuse

  18. Mr Brown on May 31, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    The issues stated are important but are the ones listed above and below mine. I feel funding for all clubs is needed to help provide clubs with the necessary training equipment and facility. Iv just left grassroots football and my team has gone with it after 7 hard years as pretty much a lone team. Heavy ridiculous fining from leagues for petty things just cripples smaller clubs. I voluntary like most people and mistakes must be expected. But my league fining was a joke and on complaining to my local FA the attitude is rubbish. The people in charge of the FA need to take a good hard look at if there good enough to do their jobs

  19. Chris Hulme on June 20, 2014 at 6:34 pm

    I am a level two grassroots coach and would love to improve my coaching skills,But the FA want to charge £800 for Level 3 and £1500 for UEFA A which means after level two you cannot afford to progress.Bring the costs down would help

  20. Mick Cotter on June 20, 2014 at 8:02 pm

    You don’t need a commission into “grave” grassroots football issues,try having a commission into the greed of the fa and the teams at the top levels sucking all the money out of the game You want a better England team then try spreading the money lower down the leagues there is that much money now going into the top level of football they don’t want to wait to bring young players because they want instant success and success to them is not winning a trophy its staying at the top leagues earning millions waiting for youngsters wont keep them there so its easier to bring in players from abroad for an instant fix meaning there is no point in trying to take a chance on kids. Football at the top is now more about money then the game its self The FA want the money and a good England team well you wont get both talk about killing the golden egg the likes of Dyke and the FA are more concerned about money then football and are now just pandering to the premier league its now the tail wagging the dog

  21. Tyro on June 21, 2014 at 11:04 am

    We should do away with the 9 v 9 and stick to the 11 v 11 at the u12’s and higher it is costing clubs more money to buy goals and to find pitches for 9 v 9. What I would say is u10’s & u11’s play 9 v 9 which they would benefit more.

  22. Neil on June 21, 2014 at 11:43 pm

    I have just completed my FA Youth Award Assessment and only intend to work with youngsters being a Primary School Teacher. I would like to progress further down the Youth Award route but need to do my UEFA B to do so now. I appreciate this will enhance my knowledge and understanding further but I have to coach adults, yet it is youngsters I only wish to develop. My disappointment is also that there aren’t enough UEFA B courses ran local to enable me to complete it during non-term time.

  23. David Webster on October 7, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    My comment is a simple one.
    It’s impossible to predict football potential at younger ages. Therefore all boys should be given quality coaching and decent facilities, if they show any ability. The academy system takes the elite at different stages, but the elite 7 year old is not going to be the elite 18 year old.
    We need a broader base to ensure that talent pool is maximised.
    Also taking boys out of school is a disgrace, when the chances of a professional career are so low.

  24. Crazy Horse on October 14, 2014 at 11:37 am

    Of course spending 100’s of millions of pounds on 4G pitches is the answer. The fact that no-one ever seems to maintain them properly and they flatten out and end up playing like glorified astro turf is irrelevant. It is also irrelevant that given the choice between a well maintained grass pitch or a 4G pitch, players would choose the grass pitch everyday. Lets play catch up with Germany and Holland, rather than setting up our own strategy that others would want to mirror. Lets spend millions of pounds doing it as well. This commission has been a waste of time if the answer is better facilities and more 4G pitches. Better ground staff with 21st century equipment, maintaining the current pitches, more help with equipment for ALL clubs not just youth, womens and disability football. Less administration, more hands on approach from the pen pushers in the offices of the regional football associations. It is not how much money is spent but how wisely it is spent. They have no idea about grassroots football on that commission. There wasn’t a single person on it with any involvement in grassroots football.

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