Radical shake-up for kids’ football

Gareth Southgate
Gareth Southgate
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GARETH Southgate kicks off The FA’s ‘Your Kids Your Say’ Roadshow at the Nissan Sports and Social Centre on Monday evening.

Coaches and administrators from the North East’s grass roots football community will hear the former Middlesbrough boss, now the FA’s Head of Elite Development, and Nick Levett, National Development Manager for Youth and Mini-Soccer, present and discuss the most radical set of proposals for grass roots football since 11-a-side was outlawed for under 10s a decade ago.

The proposals, which are part of the FA’s Youth Development Review, entail scrapping league tables for children below secondary-school age, the introduction of five-a-side and nine-a-side football, summer football and a change in the date that determines which age-group children play in.

In a country frequently frustrated by its national team but obsessed with club football and the Premier League, the proposals are seen as the long-term answer to improving technique, preventing kids dropping out of the game and ultimately raising the standard of English football.

“These are sensitive issues but we have got to get our young players technically better,” said Sir Trevor Brooking, the FA’s director of football development. “The success of the Under-17 England team shows we can produce players, but we need a greater depth of talent. If we implement these ideas I’m sure we will see progress.”

Brooking and Les Howie, the FA’s Head of Grass Roots Coaching, will also present events on the Roadshow, which takes in 16 towns and cities across the country between May and September.

Howie, from Newcastle, said: “I know it’s a cliché but the North East really is a hotbed for grass roots football. It’s the ideal place to start the Roadshow.”

There were protests outside Wembley when Mini Soccer was launched in 1999, and Howie fully accepts some of the proposals will be hotly debated.

But he remains adamant that tough decisions have to be made if the grass roots game – and ultimately English football – is to blossom. For example, nine-a-side football requires a new pitch size and goalposts, and the proposals incorporate budgets to provide facilities.

He added: “The leagues there have always been engaged and involved in the process, and there have already been briefings in the North East regarding these proposals. So a lot of what is being said actually won’t come as a surprise – it’s been an evolving process.

“We’ve been talking to the leagues, the coaches and especially the children about what they want from their game.”

The FA have certainly done their homework. They have spoken to over 300 youth clubs, hundreds of grassroots coaches, more than 150 youth leagues and, arguably most importantly of all, 42 different groups of young footballers aged 8-12 from both professional and grass roots clubs. Levett also recently attended Uefa’s conference of grassroots coaches across Europe and feedback from other top footballing nations suggests the FA are on the right track. For example, Spain recently moved 11 v 11 up to under 14 level, with their grass roots director claiming it is “pointless” playing 11 v 11 before 13.

The child-centered approach is designed to alleviate the pressure on kids, and educate parents and coaches who often expect too much, too soon from young players.

The Roadshow is part of a consultation process which will run until September. It is hoped the new measures, if rubberstamped, will start being adopted in the 2012-13 season with mandatory introduction for the following campaign.