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The pressures of youth football

Gavin Strachan | 17:36 UK time, Monday, 27 October 2008

Hi hope you are all well.

Over the past week we have seen again how hard it is to predict who will gain promotion from League Two over the past week.

Normally by this stage of the season you tend to have an idea who the major forces in the division will be and gaps start to open up between teams but this has not been the case during this campaign.

Take my club Notts County - we are currently in 14th place but are only 12 points off the top of the league.

As I said in a previous blog, I thought Aldershot were the most impressive team that we have come across this season with their energy and enthusiasm, but they have been on the receiving end of a couple of heavy defeats which have dented their charge.

The flip side of that is Chesterfield, who were on a terrible run, but with back-to-back victories have leapt up to 12th.

I must say I have been very impressed with Jamie Ward of Chesterfield, who got a hat-trick in the midweek thumping of Aldershot. He took his goals very well and all the players I have spoken to agree he is one of the brightest talents in the division.

As you know from earlier blogs I am spending time in the scary world that is kids' football. I know a lot of players who combine their playing careers with coaching at various centres of excellence around the country. Unfortunately rather than talk about the undoubted positive aspects in kids' football, the bulk of our conversations centre around horror stories, usually about the behaviour of parents.

When my little boy was six he was asked to go along to a centre of excellence session (obviously I can't name the club). Even though I was sceptical, he wanted to go. We only went to two sessions.

The parents were herded into a viewing room to watch the session. There were whole families in there watching these little kids. Some of them tutting if they made a bad pass, comparing stories of the goals their kids had scored and what scouts had been to see them play. I could not believe the pressure that was being heaped on these children at the age of six.

I can't help thinking that if I was one of these lads and this much pressure was placed on me at such a tender age I would have had enough of football by the time I reached 11.

We are all aware of the rewards that come with being a top Premier League player, but the harsh fact is that it is only a tiny percentage of boys who make it to be a pro (even one in the lower leagues), never mind an elite player.

It does not really matter how good the child is until he is 14 or 15. That is when clubs primarily make decisions on players. Until then they should simply have fun and try and learn the basics of the game in a non-pressurised environment.

You then have to ask the question: "What happens to the child if he does not make it?" I am sure, in most cases, the families are very understanding and soften the blow for the child, but what if they are not?

One of the players who works at a centre of excellence told me of a meeting with a young lad, who was 14, and his Dad, at which the player was told he would not be kept on. Unbelievably the Dad turned on his son and said, "I told you, you were not working hard enough." Just what the poor lad needed!

This may seem a bit more serious than some of my other blogs and as I said a lot of good coaching does go on, but it is a subject I feel strongly about. What are your views? Please feel free to share any experiences you have on this.

Finally I have had a bit of bad news regarding my own injury. The scan confirmed that there was a tear in my hamstring. After the obvious disappointment I am now looking forward to starting my rehabilitation and getting back playing as soon as I can.


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