Familiar problems highlighted in FA's largest ever grassroots football survey, as governing body targets £260m four-year investment to address issues curbing development of the national game
The quality and availability of pitches is the still the biggest problem facing the grassroots football community, according to the results of the FA's largest survey into the national game.
A total of 28,757 players, coaches, referees, staff and volunteers polled in October also raised concerns over the standard of grassroots coaching, particularly among older players.
But it was the age-old grassroots problem of facilities - which Club Website has been highlighting since 2009 - that remains the biggest cause for concern, with the quality of pitches having a direct effect on how much football people play.
Players with access to better quality pitches were found to play a third more than the average - and would like to play 25% more often than they currently do - while those playing on poorly-maintained pitches currently play 21 per cent less than average, and are likely to reduce the amount they play next season.
The FA says a "significant slice" of the £260 million allocated to grassroots football over the next four years has been allocated directly to improving facilities, with investment set aside to bring the number of 3G pitches more in line with some of our European counterparts.
Kelly Simmons, the FA's director for participation and development, said: “These results highlight the areas where our £260m investment can make a real difference. Addressing the problem of poor quality facilities is one of the areas where we have ear-marked for significant additional investment.
The FA hopes that their new National Game Strategy will break the dependency on under-funded local authority football pitches, which currently represent 83% of pitches in England.
Many grassroots teams have suffered poorly maintained pitches for many years, but government austerity measures mean local authority budgets will only be squeezed further in the months and years ahead, directing funds away from non-mandatory services such as pitch maintenance.
The FA survey found players aged 10-15 were happiest with the standard of coaching they received - with 61% satisfied - although satisfaction significantly reduced amongst older children and adults.
Less than half (48%) of those aged 13-15 were satisfied with their coaching, compared to less than a third (33%) of 16- to 19-year-olds and less than one in five (20%) of those aged 20 or older.
Poor coaching was identified as having a negative effect on the appetite of players to play regularly, whilst only one in five coaches polled felt they were being supported in their development.
The survey also revealed concerns over the cost of coaching, although those who had completed qualifications felt they offered greater value for money. In the last year, the average Level One course cost £90 and Level Two cost £208 - both of which equate to around £5 per hour, say the FA.
The FA will invest £4m per year in grassroots coaching over the next four years – including £2m per year from the government – as they roll out their new regional coaching structure, with a network of county coaches employed to improve and support grassroots coaching across the country through club mentoring programmes.
An extension of coaching bursaries is designed to get more women and people from diverse backgrounds into the profession, while the FA say there will also be a drive to get more top level grassroots coaches into the game.
Les Howie, head of grassroots coaching at the FA, said: “We are overhauling the way we approach coaching and, thanks to support from the Government, we are in a position to invest further in making coaching opportunities affordable and accessible to more people.”
Women's game among the better news
There was better news for the FA when it came to women's and girls' football, which the governing body believe is "starting to set the grassroots standard".
The female game, which has seen participation numbers increase in recent years, saw higher approval ratings among players about pitch availability and quality, changing facilities, refereeing and coaching standards.
Despite concerns about aspects of the game, more than three quarters (76%) of volunteers plan to maintain or increase their involvement next season, while more than half (52%) hold the view that football is the most value-for-money sport to take part in, ahead of cycling (36%) and running (32%).
FA Chief Executive Martin Glenn said: "I want to thank the near 30,000 supporters of grassroots football who have taken the time to respond to the survey – the largest ever undertaken by the FA.
“The scale of the response demonstrates the level of commitment that exists to improve the grassroots game and reminds us - if we ever need it – who we are representing and what we are striving to achieve. There are lots of positives, we are listening and ready to act where needed.”
Have YOUR say on the FA survey results. What do you think of the key issues to come out of the FA survey? Do you think the FA is doing enough to tackle the issues highlighted, particularly those involving facilities and coaching? Give us your thoughts in the comments section below.