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Improving football for kids

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Gavin Strachan | 22:40 UK time, Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Hi, hope you are all well.

During a journey home from training last week, I listened to a radio debate on what age young players should start to play on a full-size pitch.The discussion centred on the fact that in local kids' leagues, lads start playing full-sided matches on full-size pitches when they are at under-11 level .

Having helped out with my little boy's under-eight's team, it is a topic I feel very strongly about.

After coaching the lads since the start of the season, it has become obvious to me that the key ingredient for them to improve is to have as much time with the ball as possible. I would be surprised if any youth coach disagreed. Unfortunately the switch to playing on a full pitch at such a young age runs contrary to this principle.

A former academy director told me that in an average kids' game on a full size pitch , most of the boys will get approximately 50 touches of the ball.This number is simply not enough for them to achieve a meaningful improvement.

To put this into some sort of context, we were told during a recent Notts County training session that you should aim to get 1,000 touches of the ball every day in order for us to improve technically.

I remember that when I first started playing at the age of eight - I was lucky if I got a touch (quite similar to now really!). The back four were so bored that the highlight of the game was the mud fight that took place between them when the ball was up the other end of the pitch.

Kids need to be involved in the play a lot more for them to get the maximum enjoyment and benefits from it.


When you actually consider the events that occur in an 11-a-side kids match on a full- size pitch, it becomes glaringly obvious that there is something wrong with the system.

For example, a goalkeeper, dwarfed by the full-size goal, has little or no chance of doing anything about a high shot. No less daunting for him are his efforts to clear the penalty box with his goal-kicks.

This is not easy for an 11-year-old, especially when you consider the vulture like opposition forward players hovering on the edge of box waiting for a mistake.

If it sounds like I am speaking from experience, I am. I started out as a goalkeeper and before anyone else suggests it, I know, maybe I should have stuck at it!

In games at this level, it is apparent that the biggest, strongest players - the ones who can kick the ball the furthest - are by and large the most effective ones. This is something that will always be an issue in junior football but the more emphasis we can place on skill and technique, the better chance we will have of producing better players.

Unfortunately, I also feel that the attitude of some of the parents is an obstacle to the progress of the players. Rather than wanting to hold the kids back from playing full-size games at such a tender age, they actively encourage it.

A friend of mine, who has a son playing at under-10 level, recently related a conversation with the parent of another boy in the team, who suggested that the lads should at least start playing friendly matches on a full-size pitch to get ready for under- 11 level. "That will sort the men out from the boys!" he said.

This is a perfect illustration of the kind of attitude that needs to be changed in order to bring about a sustained improvement in the quality of our kids' local leagues.

The part of the radio debate that I heard painted a fairly damning verdict on all junior football but I would like to point out that it is not all bad. In fact, from my experience, it is very good until that under-11 threshold.

For example, my little boy's under-eight`s team play seven-a-side games on small pitches, with small goals and rolling subs. It works really well. All the boys get their quota of touches and the games flow from end-to-end, with the emphasis on short passes and technique. Most importantly the boys enjoy it.

The good news also continues with the work being done at the various centres of excellence and academies up and down the country that are run by professional clubs.

The centre of excellence coach at Notts County , Mick Leonard, told me that although our boys start playing 11-a-side games at under-11, they are staged on smaller pitches.

This point was emphasised when I visited the Nottingham Forest Academy during the week - they had all sorts of pitch sizes, specifically catering for various age groups .

Obviously, cost can be a major issue when it comes to implementing such ideas outside professional football, but with the vast sums of money sloshing around in the Premier League and the FA, you would like to think that local football leagues would receive financial backing to fund new initiatives .

Youth football, and how it can be improved, is a complex subject. One of my own hobby-horses concerns the belief that the jump from playing seven-a-side on small pitches to 11-a-side on a full pitch is just too great for most lads. My own idea would be to have nine-a-side games up until the age of 14 on half a full-size pitch.

I would also continue with the idea of rolling subs as it keeps everybody involved, and gives the coach the option to try players in different positions and educate the lads on what the different roles entail.

You never know, the big lad at the back, who can kick it the furthest, might just have an eye for goal as a striker.

As always, I would welcome your views and any possible suggestions you may have.


  • 1. At 00:12am on 26 Feb 2009, cjrodkey wrote:

    Spot on Gavin, and this from a Yank:) I've played and coached my entire life, and have seen that youngsters gain technical skill faster with fewer bodies on smaller pitches. Touches, touches, touches. Here in the states it's perhaps even more critical, because of the intense competition from the other popular sports. Bored players leave the game for good, and the USMNT could sure use the best atheltes in America playing soccer (sorry) instead of football (errr...gridiron?) and basketball. I v'e truly have been enjoying your blog each week, it's well thought and well written.

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  • 2. At 00:38am on 26 Feb 2009, Roberto_Mexicano wrote:

    I haven't been a fan in the past, but today's is a decent blog Gavin.

    This is the kind of information that I would hope anyone involved in youth football is already aware of, but at the same time I know that's not the case, so the more it's said, hopefully the more people will learn.

    As a professional youth coach, with a lot of experience in professional clubs, I have to say I feel the biggest obstacle to producing technically better English players is the quality of coaching. I have lost count of the amount of absolute fools working within youth systems at professional clubs, without the ability to question our current coaching techniques.

    The current England team (and for that matter all the British national sides)consistently displays our technical limitations, and that is the result of the poor coaching they had in the past i'm afraid.

    Brasil & Argentina produce the world's best players with hardly any financial imput, because the footballing and coaching culture there is completely different to ours, and makes for more exciting, talented and technical players.

    When we wake up to that we may get somewhere!

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  • 3. At 01:20am on 26 Feb 2009, Innesness wrote:

    Great blog, as always, Strachan! I thoroughly enjoy reading the first-hand experience and nuggets of wisdom you can impart to us! I play as a centre-back myself, up in local leagues in the Isle of Lewis, in the North West of Scotland, and as a younger kid - I'm only 19 still - I used to yearn for the chance to be able to see if I could develop as a striker:

    "You never know, the big lad at the back, who can kick it the furthest, might just have an eye for goal as a striker"

    I certainly was the big lad that could kick it the furthest (I remember Under-14, scoring hat-tricks from centre-back because I was so much bigger and stronger that people used to move out of my way on the pitch) but that always meant - even now - that I'm simply lumped at the back, and I never once got a single chance to play up front. I think you're right when you say that people should try out different positions, because you simply don't know what could happen! The striker position and myself could have been a match made in heaven, but shall never be!

    Thanks! Great Blog!

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  • 4. At 01:26am on 26 Feb 2009, thepeckster wrote:

    Hi Gavin. Great blog. Really enjoy reading the blog with a real insight into various different aspects of your own career and other elements connected to football. On the topic of kids football, as a ten year old I used to play for my primary school team (based in Nottingham) on a full size 11-a-side adult pitch, but we were only playing 8-a-side! I was the midfield general, ably supported by two wingers. One of which was my 8 year old brother! Crazy! Do you know what schools leagues actually do to encourage some of the issues raised?

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  • 5. At 01:51am on 26 Feb 2009, ben86jamin wrote:

    Have to say i agree 100% there's no way kids under 15 should be playing on full size pitches or with full size balls.
    If upto 15 the pitches gradually got larger as did the balls and goals and you had the rolling subs rule you wouldn't just increase the technical ability of the kids but also lower the drop out rate. I played for London Colney youth from around 6-14 and ended up completely losing interested. I played as a left back or center back through out that time never getting a chance to try any other positions unfortunately.
    In an ideal world perhaps we would graduate ball, goal and pitch size up through the years while keeping the numbers down to below 8 a side with rolling subs and players allowed to interchange positions.
    This type of game would share a lot more familiarity with Futsal, often mentioned as being behind the Brazilians, Argentinians, Portuguese and Spanish technical ability.
    I really believe this is the only way English football will reach technical equivalency with the fore mentioned football powers.
    What are your opinions?

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  • 6. At 01:55am on 26 Feb 2009, CarefreeCoors wrote:

    I've just recently started to read your blogs Gavin and I'm yet to be disappointed by your analysis of the game at a grass-roots level.

    When I was younger, it was even more difficult for me as I was played up a year, meaning I was playing on a full-size pitch a year before I was intended to. It also didn't help that I was quite under-developed for my age. As a result, I would be lucky to get 5 or so touches of the ball in a game as I played alongside and against boys who were up to twice the size of me. I was often substituted at half time or thereabouts as I was clearly not cut out for that level or age group. Wow, what a sad youth!

    While I sit here feeling sorry for myself, wondering if I could have been the next Frank Lampard or Gavin Strachan (only in my wildest dreams!) if I had played to my level & ability, I have to agree with you that there must be a stage prior to the full size field. Here in Australia they address some of the issues you brought up, for example corners are taken from a mid-way point between the corner flag and the edge of the 18-yard box and goal kicks in a similar fashion, a mid-way point between the 6-yard box and the 18-yard box.

    Smaller fields are the only real option to provide each player with the interaction they require. The emphasis must be on shorter passes and time allowed on the ball must be restricted. Virtually anybody with any ability level can lump the thing and run after it, which is the situation I see all too often with youth games.

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  • 7. At 02:10am on 26 Feb 2009, red_and_berried wrote:

    Another great blog Gavin, but how many times are we going to here this discussion without anything being done??
    when i was a nipper playing at school 20 years ago my old man would say the same thing about the size of the pitches, commentators on the tele would lament at why we dont have the skill of the brazillians and polititions would "do more to invest in grass roots football" everytime we we got knocked out the world cup or the euros.
    20 years on nothing has changed, wasnt Howard Wilkinson meant to change all this in the 90's???
    Yes the brazillians are still better than us, yes are pitches are to big and yes the polititions as still going to invest..blah blah blah.
    Can our systems be changed here in the UK? yes, we just need someone with balls and who is willing to stay in the position at the FA until this is implemented, unfortunately this wont happen as everybody wants a promotion, so sorry but your kids and mine will carry on playing on full size pitches playing Hoof 'n' Run until we magically win the world cup and everybody can say how well our system works - b0ll0x.
    I wonder if in 20 years we will be having the same discussion - of course we will.

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  • 8. At 04:32am on 26 Feb 2009, MelboureFoxile wrote:

    CarefreeCoors, if you live in Australia and have anything to do with Junior football you should know about Small Sided Football (SSF). This was introduced last year at ages 5 to 8 and this year up to Under 10. Eventually it will be up to Under 12.

    It's based on the idea that kids learn by playing in small groups with lots of touches and recognises that this no longer happens through kids playing im the streets anymore.

    Pitch sizes, goal sizes and team sizes increase every few years starting with 4 v 4, on a 30m x 20m pitch with 1.8m goals, going up to 9 v 9, on a 60m x 40m pitch, with 5m wide goals.

    Goalkeepers are discouraged up to Under 8. Referees are "Game Leaders" or "instructing referees" who coach ass much as referee during games. Results and table have never been recorded up to under 10, and

    It's in it's infancy, but despite some limited opposition, the reaction of coaches and parents has been overwhelmingly favourable. It'll take a while before it influences the A League and the Socceroos of course.

    It's apparently based on how things are down in The Netherlands and Brazil, and has been endorsed by many prominent players and ex-players, most recently Ossie Ardiles.

    For more information look at Football Federation Australia web site

    It won't happen easily soon in England because of the ingrained mentality that is decades old. Also it doesn't suit the big clubs. The money never trickles down from the bloated fat cats in the Premiership anyway.

    I believe that Trevor Brooking wants to do something like this, but is constantly overridden,

    Seriously Gavin, maybe you are the man to get this happening in England. …

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  • 9. At 04:33am on 26 Feb 2009, MelboureFoxile wrote:

    CarefreeCoors, if you live in Australia and have anything to do with Junior football you should know about Small Sided Football (SSF). This was introduced last year at ages 5 to 8 and this year up to Under 10. Eventually it will be up to Under 12.

    It's based on the idea that kids learn by playing in small groups with lots of touches and recognises that this no longer happens through kids playing im the streets anymore.

    Pitch sizes, goal sizes and team sizes increase every few years starting with 4 v 4, on a 30m x 20m pitch with 1.8m goals, going up to 9 v 9, on a 60m x 40m pitch, with 5m wide goals.

    Goalkeepers are discouraged up to Under 8. Referees are "Game Leaders" or "instructing referees" who coach ass much as referee during games. Results and table have never been recorded up to under 10.

    It's in it's infancy, but despite some limited opposition, the reaction of coaches and parents has been overwhelmingly favourable. It'll take a while before it influences the A League and the Socceroos of course.

    It's apparently based on how things are down in The Netherlands and Brazil, and has been endorsed by many prominent players and ex-players, most recently Ossie Ardiles.

    For more information look at Football Federation Australia web site

    It won't happen easily soon in England because of the ingrained mentality that is decades old. Also it doesn't suit the big clubs. The money never trickles down from the bloated fat cats in the Premiership anyway.

    I believe that Trevor Brooking wants to do something like this, but is constantly overridden,

    Seriously Gavin, maybe you are the man to get this happening in England. …

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  • 10. At 05:08am on 26 Feb 2009, Faustino wrote:

    As a Geordie football fanatic in Brisbane, I fully support Gavin's approach and am delighted to hear from CarefreeCoors that Australia is developing a remedy. Here's a link to info on the initiative for parents:

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  • 11. At 06:34am on 26 Feb 2009, MelboureFoxile wrote:

    thanks Faustino.

    exactly what i had in front of me as I typed :-)

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  • 12. At 06:43am on 26 Feb 2009, Matt Newsum - BBC Sport wrote:

    I have always preferred 5-a-side football to 11-a-side football, for much the same reason.

    The surfaces are better, the emphasis on technique is greater and you really do get more touches of the ball.

    I have spent so many long, boring afternoons at full-back, especially as a young lad, that I gave up playing 11-a-side.

    Most of the play seems to revolve around the ball being lumped down the middle at 100mph, headed back and forth, while anyone out on the flanks is ritually ignored.

    Who wants that? Maybe 11-a-side is different these days but in my experience there's more enjoyment in football in the small-sided game.

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  • 13. At 07:34am on 26 Feb 2009, Buryboy88 wrote:

    Hi Gavin as a Bury fan I watched your team last week. I smiled when you came on and thought you had a few decent passes. Good luck for the rest of the season.

    I've recently been looking at futebol de salou and the story of Simon Clifford. I honestly believe this is the way forward. A small heavy size 2 ball with lots of individual training from an early age. A small basketball court and teams of 5.

    I remember as an 11 year old playing on a full size pitch I was a rightback. The ball had gone out of play on my side so I picked it up and threw it to one of the center halves. The whistle was blown as I took it from the right side edge of the penty area. That pitch seemed massive! I think with more instruction and training on core skills I would be a better player. I've just bought a futebol de salou ball and I'm going to get practicing.

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  • 14. At 07:54am on 26 Feb 2009, leumas1 wrote:

    Here in Oz we have kids playing:

    1: across the field using 11 players and small goals,

    2: or split one half of the field in two, play crossways again, with fewer players (say 8)and small goals.

    This is so they all get a touch and get used to playing as a team.

    Don't you do that in the UK?

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  • 15. At 07:56am on 26 Feb 2009, leumas1 wrote:

    Here in Oz we have kids playing:

    1: across the field (one game in each half)using 11 players and small goals,

    2: or split one half of the field in two, play crossways again (that is 4 games to a pitch), with fewer players (say 8) and small goals.

    This is so they all get a touch and get used to playing as a team.

    Don't you do that in the UK?

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  • 16. At 08:13am on 26 Feb 2009, ChelseaSaffer wrote:

    spotless gav, i say lets all have a beer!

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  • 17. At 08:33am on 26 Feb 2009, ringsteadgooner wrote:

    Hi Gavin. I read your blog each week and really enjoy your views on professional football.

    I thought that this week's column was particularly good. As a manager of an under 11's side I thought your views were spot on. I totally agree.

    The change from small-sided to a full size pitch is huge at the aged 10. However, it is the size of the goal which really causes some issues. If you are lucky enough to be in a team that scores plenty of goals then great. However, if you are a team that concedes goals then a 'cricket score' against you can be expected at times.

    It will be difficult to have different size pitches. At the 'grass roots' level of the game we play where we can. Often our away matches are on council pitches. However, if there was some way to reduce the size if the goals I think that would help the game at this age (and perhaps promote more accurate shooting)?

    Good luck with the journalism. I look forward to next weeks blog.

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  • 18. At 08:42am on 26 Feb 2009, Scottishscouser wrote:

    Kids should not play on a full size pitch until they are 15/16. How can an 11 year old learn how to pass and move and learn close ball control when he/she has to welly the ball 50 metres to find their nearest team mate?

    Mind you nowt will change because playing kids on smaller pitches is one of those nasty European new-fangled things. Until The English/British change their attitudes to all things 'foreign' the game in this country will remain in the dark ages to keep tradionalists happy.

    My God, what would Sky and the rest of the media do if they couldn't talk about no English talent coming through because of foreigners?

    When coaching techniques for kids are sorted out and many more technically gifted players are produced than are now instead of the good old fashioned British cart-horse, then a home mation will have more of a chance of doing well in tournaments.

    Moreover, if the British attitude changed where fans would rather seeing a crunching tackle than gifted technica play, things may also change for the better.

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  • 19. At 08:48am on 26 Feb 2009, Harris14anand wrote:

    hey Gavin, i think ur blog is really good , and the way u put it across makes the readers feel connected to your stories , im from india and i coach U - 9 , and this article was quite interesting. keep up the good work .

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  • 20. At 09:14am on 26 Feb 2009, SimonBJFC wrote:

    Hi- a good blog. However, I think professionals in the game should realise that 99.99% of boys will never get close to playing football for a living and many have no real commitment to do so. They're happy playing competitive youth football with their friends as a social activity. They want to play competitive matches and be as successful as possible at a level that they are comfortable. The academies and centres of excellence are not virtuous institutions and it is often the clubs at grass roots who have to pick up the pieces when boys have their dreams shattered by professional clubs who pick them up and spit them out again without a second thought

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  • 21. At 09:24am on 26 Feb 2009, markstockholm wrote:

    Nice article
    I would like to draw your attention to a project we run in Stockholm Sweden that has proven to be very successful


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  • 22. At 09:28am on 26 Feb 2009, whooshthecat wrote:

    Hi Gavin. Long time reader but first time I've been urged to post.

    I qualified as a referee in the summer and decided to referee in the local under 11's league to give something back after playing for 20 years.

    The observations you make are spot-on. The number of talented footballers who become disheartened due to lack of size and their inability to kick far enough or who are easily disposessed by the "big kid" is noticeable.

    I would also observe that as great an issue is the number of poor coaches who have just as adverse an effect on the development of young players. Its amazing how often the most indisciplined, antagonistic and moaning sides are a reflection of how there coach behaves on the touchline.

    There are some very talented footballers I have seen this year but if they do develop into professionals I would suspect a great deal of luck will be involved.

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  • 23. At 09:30am on 26 Feb 2009, Footyfan wrote:

    Great blog Gavin, schools here in India make children play in full sized pitches, the reason why they get bored and take up cricket when they grow up. No doubt football here is so poor. This should really be an eye opener, hope more people like Harris14anand read this and make the real difference. Looking forward to more great ones.

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  • 24. At 09:31am on 26 Feb 2009, munnocg wrote:

    I agree with most of the comments, but I’m not sure that younger kids need more coaching. For the younger age groups I think it’s better for them to find out for themselves. I did my coaching badges at Larges a long time ago and have since coached mostly U18 teams; I then moved to be an athletics sprint coach and now concentrate on speed agility and fitness for a basketball club and an U12 football team and bringing some experience to younger coaches. I was in Holland with an U18 team about 20 years ago and had a great experience. My team played well and were complimented on the football we played, came second in our group to the eventual winners and second in the group we went into. The main experience though was talking to the Dutch regional football director. They had great facilities and one huge indoor centre where the teams did not even play outside in the winter. They would have weekend football festivals with different age groups on different size pitches. Starting at 6yrs old they played 5 a side then as they got older moved to 7 a side and 9 a side moving to 11 a side when 13 / 14. They did not play outside in the winter till 12 yrs old, with the result they all had a good first touch and could move around the pitch always being available for a pass, some of the 1 and 2 touch football was far superior to ours. At the younger ages they were aloud to make mistakes and find out things for themselves. I look at the European team on the telly and very nearly all can pass and move better than the British teams. If we could bring the skill and movement more into our game at youth level coupled with the drive and determination that is in our game I think the need for foreign players would diminish and the British national teams would move up the rankings and maybe start winning things.

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  • 25. At 09:44am on 26 Feb 2009, TheZugster wrote:

    I would suggest that things are getting better. My team (Luton) have just won an U-11 6-a-side tournament in Europe (beating Bayern Munich in the final). The tournament contained many of the top sides in Europe and beyond.

    Credit to the boys (and coaches) on this magnificent achievement.

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  • 26. At 09:45am on 26 Feb 2009, CockneyCov wrote:

    Spot on as normal Gavin. I manage my sons U10 team - currently playing 7 a-side with the smaller pitches/goals. We have the normal mix of players including a couple of skillful but slighter built players who I fear will be totally sidelined at U11. All the boys have at one time or another said that they didn't know how they would cope with the "big pitch"with our keeper - one of the best in the league (but I am biased !) summing it up nicely "how am I supposed to stop anything !".

    There needs to be a progressive built-up to playing on a big pitch - I agree with most of the comments on here about half sized pitches/8 or 9 a-side/rolling subs etc. - perhaps you and Trevor Brooking should get together and kick some butt !

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  • 27. At 09:52am on 26 Feb 2009, Orfuss wrote:

    100% agree here. When I playing in goal for our under-11's team by far the "best" player on the team was our winger who could kick the ball further than 15m. He pretty much scored every free kick we got due to the fact he could simply lump in over the at most 5ft tall keeper.

    Something needs to be addressed here

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  • 28. At 09:55am on 26 Feb 2009, Boldy99 wrote:

    I agree 100% with what you say Gavin, however the real problem with how to change kids football lies with the relationship (or lack of) between the FA and the Premier League clubs.

    There is growing support at grass roots level for 7-a-side (or mini-soccer) to be continued to U11s. The next steps, 9-a-side (midi-soccer?) to U13s or U14s, with 11-a-side played thereafter, are something of a more radical departure from the current FA system, but would bring us more in line with countries like Spain, Italy and Portugal (fairly successful at international standards you would agree?!). For info, Spain change to 11-a-side at U16s - anyone see Spain embarrass England the other week?

    In changing the system, the FA need to say - "This is what we want, and this is why we're doing it, and you have no choice". Trouble is, when the FA do that, say to ban recording leagues for U8s, they get correspondence bordering on hate mail!

    The majority of Premier league academies are slowly getting around to playing small sided games at a young age (Man Utd are an excellent example of this) but this is done in isolation to the rest of the grass roots game.

    The FA have recently published their coaching strategy for the game, which in the main, would address many issues of grass roots coaching. However, it doesn't align with the academies way of doing things and thus the two sides are at an impasse (albeit, not a very public one).

    If we want grass roots football to change, it is us, the coaches, managers and administrators that need to do it ourselves.

    I am going through the process at the moment to try get my local league to change the system, but sadly lacking is the evidence to support it.

    Your blog is absolutely correct Gavin, but it needs a much bigger voice (no disrespect to you intended!), a concentrated public campaign, with the support of the likes of Capello and bigger clubs to say to the mere mortals at the bottom, "We play this way, and so should you!"

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  • 29. At 09:59am on 26 Feb 2009, Richard wrote:

    Futsal is the answer. The FIFA standardised version of five aside has helped some of the best players in the world develop like Deco, Christiano Ronaldo, Ronaldinho etc. Italy, Spain and Brazil all have professional leagues and children are encouraged to play futsal at a young age. Its a fast paced game which encourages speed of thought and improves passing, dribbling, shooting etc. It also has rolling substitutes and allows players to have more touches. So why is it not popular in this country? It is slowly making an impact with the first FA national league set up last year and lots of development schemes around the country. Work behind the scene is taking place to get it at the top of the FA's agenda but progress is slow and therefore needs more people to recognise the advantages and help to get involved in the sport and promote it. It is no co-incidence that the top nations in football all have a strong futsal background. Children will develop the neccesary technique playing futsal the trick is molding them into world class footballers. Zinedine Zidane is now an ambassador for the sport. If you want more information email me at or checkout the FA website at and learn about the future of football development in this country.

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  • 30. At 10:04am on 26 Feb 2009, mt1892 wrote:

    Good blog Gavin
    I have been coaching my son's team for the last 4 years now and we have always made sure in training we keep a ball at their feet for 95% of the time. We play small sided games at the end of the session mainly working either 3v3 or 4v4. We do a lot of work on technique and try to encourage them to play with a smile on their face and never be scared to try a skill or trick they have seen on tv or at a match. This year we got to Under 11s and felt we would make the step up...however we imposed on ourselves a number of restraints...we said we wouldnt do it unless we could find a suitable pitch and goals. So we set about trying to find goals and a pitch halfway in between 7-a-side and 11-a-side and after ALOT of searching finally found the right place. We still focus on the same things in training and rarely work on 11-a-side aspects of the game like switching play preferring to concentrate on individual technique in the belief that the individual improving will benefit the team in the long run. Its not been easy trying to get through to parents that we are taking a long term view with the kids and results are secondary but I think we are making progress. Also to be fair we are sitting 4th in the Premier League so something is going right but i think councils and local leagues need to invest in getting pitches and goals which are more suited to the age of the players. For my money they shouldnt be on full sized pitches until they are 16 at the earliest.

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  • 31. At 10:10am on 26 Feb 2009, gv0911 wrote:

    Hi Gav, long time reader, first time caller!
    Completly agree with you, my 5 year old has just started at a club (all they do is play, no games, lust learn ball skills etc, and have fun), and I am concerned that at 11 he'll be on a full-size pitch. I remember Greavsie on the classic saturday luchtime "Saint and Greavsie" saying kids were on full size pitches to early. That wa sbefore the Premiership started. And yet we stll have the same problem.

    the other problem is us parents! Some of us get to fired up, wanting our children to do what we didn't. We need to learn to let the coaches do the coaching, we should just be shouting encouragement.

    I also worry about attitudes, a couple of weeks ago my 11 year old nephew, told me of a match he played in, and lost, where in his words "the referee cheated!" He also told me that the coaches of his team ran onto the pitch to argue a decision with the ref. They apologised after the game, but in my view the damage was done. 11 years olds saying the ref cheated is horrific.

    I now tell my son, everyweek, just have fun. If he is the next Robin Van Persie (his current favourite player), great. If he isn't who cares, as long as he enjoys himself, gets some exercise and fresh air, than thats what I really care about.

    As ever Gav, keep up the good work!

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  • 32. At 10:12am on 26 Feb 2009, Buryboy88 wrote:

    It seems that most people involved in coaching are all in agreement. People let the revolution begin. No more will our children be forced to play 11 a side aged 11 giving some of the 'bigger' kids an unfair advantage. I may also suggest that the focus on winning is to strong hence the mad father's on the touchline screaming at their children.
    A friend of mine aged 14 or 15 went to a football competition in Holland. They were playing an italian side and were. Comfortably 5 nil up at half time. In the second half they codnr get A kick. The Italians passed the ball again and again and again. At the end of the game my friends team were not celebrating their 5 nil victory they were gutted. The Italian team despite losing had truly showed who the better team were. The culture is wrong and needs to be changed.

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  • 33. At 10:14am on 26 Feb 2009, ohwotthehell wrote:

    Hi Gavin

    Another great read, another great incite and another great debate ensues. You really have got the hang of this media lark - if only football had come so naturally just imagine eh?

    The debate will rage on for years to come, and probably beyond, not just in football but in all sports. The difficulty is in defining the line between sport for enjoyment and sport for winning. My lads club in Wakefield have an even teams policy, three squads from the 30 kids (including girls) at Under 8's level (all friendly games as no leagues until Under 9's), all evenly balanced and all have great fun, get a go at playing ALL positions and we see plenty of smiles. The majority of the other teams locally stream their players, A team, B team and so on, so invairiabally in our first game we get hammered, our middle game is close and our last game we hammer them - unless the opposition are extremely result orientated and throw on their big guns in the last game, which unfortunately does happen. Clearly we rotate the orderr that our squads play in to give them all the opportunity to win, lose and draw - a great lesson for life?
    The upshot of all of this however is that we have a very healthy and happy bunch of kids, and parents, whears the majority of the opposition have a real bunch of allsorts and some ovely aggresive and attitude filled coaches and supporters.
    Saop box away now.
    Keep up the good work and good luck with the latest returnm from injury.

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  • 34. At 10:17am on 26 Feb 2009, Teiam - problem solved wrote:

    I remember when I first played my 11 a side game, I played for the year 6 team in year 3, didn't find it much of a problem though, the nets had been made smaller and the pitches were smaller anyway, the tallest one was always in the net and the fastest was either out wide or up front, worked quite well, I played centre mid and refused to go pass the halfway line so I always helped out the defense, I didn't know the joys of attacking so I didn't know what I was missing out until I was encouraged to push further forward and as soon as I got into the oppositions half I never left!

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  • 35. At 10:20am on 26 Feb 2009, CarefreeCoors wrote:

    Hi MelboureFoxile,

    I'll admit that it has been a while since my last involvement in junior football; however SSF is new to me.

    I take it from your user name that you are Melbourne based? Perhaps this concept is yet to be introduced in Sydney.

    It sounds & looks brilliant from what you've said here and what's on the FA website.

    Re leumas1

    We have a similar competition up and running in our local district association, due to start up again for the new season in a few weeks time. However I think the issue is that there is no mid-way point between playing this half-field form of the game compared to the full-field version. By the time the kids hit around the Under 9's range they are pushed out onto a full-sized field.

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  • 36. At 10:25am on 26 Feb 2009, Tinnytanny wrote:

    i play for an under 15 team and we felt the effects of this.

    we were one of better sides in the early days, between under 8's to under 12's, but then other teams brought in as you said bigger and stronger players while we kept the same players.

    we stayed together as a team and tried developing as players. our coach wanted us to play football, not to try and win at football.

    now we are doing slightly better now everyone is big, but our players have the technical ability that other sides lack.

    we play flowing football using the basic control, pass, move system.

    great blog gavin. i also was a goalie in the under 11's time. so despairing as you know when the striker shoots you defo know you cant do anything about it. All the matches were high scoring.

    i think maybe not until under 14's but maybe under 13's kids should start playing on full sized pitches. at the moment the gap is huge

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  • 37. At 10:33am on 26 Feb 2009, jonathaneb wrote:

    I agree 100% with everything that you've said here Gavin. I used to play in a local youth club near Bournemouth, but i never got a look in because the coach would always go for the strongest team never giving anyone else a chance and everyone would always be playing in the same position. Now i live in belgium and play in an under 17s league, the coaching style and the way we play matches is completly different. We only started playing on full size pitches at under 15s level and then it was only 35 minutes each half with roling subs which we used up untill the begining of this season. The coaching was based entirly around fitness, technique and tactics. We would spend the first hour of our training sessions playing possion games with 3 touches max so that we knew what to do with the ball when we had it. We played at such a high pace the stamina was something that was really important. And when we played matches in training they would normally be 6 or 7 a side on a pitch for the under 14s. I have to say that the standerd on youth football played here is of a much higher quality than of that in england and you can see it now with some fantasticlly techniqully gifted midfielders emerging on the international scene.

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  • 38. At 10:50am on 26 Feb 2009, Malky79 wrote:

    I have to say I think Gavin is spot on on this. I play football at an amateur level and the standard is varied but going back to my younger days the way they dealt with youth football at school level amounted to a one off afternoon trial match in P5 or P6 on a full size ash park.

    As someone not naturally gifted or particuarly big it soon passed me by and when secondary school came along the trial there only allowed for those that had played for their primary teams.

    Now I don't harbour any illusion about what might have been but I played up until early teens round the park with friends etc and came back to playing football at college just playing 5's and I've kept it up ever since, playing 5's, 7's and 11 aside.

    Now I still am not that good at football but I've improved my game considerably and I played at a low level against people with a lot more natural ability than I ever had and I can't help but wonder at some of the talent that is lost to our game.

    I also think that forgetting the top level for a moment but making youth football and all sports at that age more enjoyable to as wide a level as possible is important to help get kids off to a healthy start in life.

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  • 39. At 10:57am on 26 Feb 2009, jonathaneb wrote:

    Another problem with english football is that some gifted young players are rejected by clubs simply because physically they are not big enough, but the spainsh midfield is tiny and still they dominated ours in serville.

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  • 40. At 10:58am on 26 Feb 2009, Fuzzy wrote:

    Excellent article, which perfectly articulates a massive problem with youth football in England. This is a problem that I myself have experienced where despite being technically superior to my peers I was physically unable to compete. The irony is that having reached maturity I am 6.2". Im not saying that I could have made it but how many talents slip the net for this reason? Would Lionel Messi have made it in England?

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  • 41. At 11:05am on 26 Feb 2009, Jason-wxm wrote:

    Great Blog again Gavin. I particularly find your blogs regarding kids football very interesting as I am involved with coaching my son's kids under 7's team.

    The Welsh football trust have produced a report on recommendations for mini football in order to further develop our kids and hope to implement this programme on all clubs participating in mini football next season.
    It involves 4 v 4 games on small pitches 40yards x 20 yards.
    Again as earlier mentioned, the kids are going to get lots of touches. The squad numbers increase as their age increases, as do the pitch sizes.

    It'll be very interesting to see how the new format works come next season.

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  • 42. At 11:14am on 26 Feb 2009, 50in50 wrote:

    Great blog Gavin. I've long said yours is the best on this website.
    I remember from my own youth on the football pitch that I felt like I was standing about 90% of the time, and now that I'm a little (or a lot) older, I'm seeing the same things going on with the kids I've started to help coach.
    One thing I'm curious about though is where you find the time to coach being a professional footballer. I can't imagine you get much time off at the weekends!

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  • 43. At 11:16am on 26 Feb 2009, hiltaldo wrote:

    Firstly in the words of Dad's Army. DON'T PANIC.

    I'm a football development officer for a council in Manchester (Trafford) and work closely with all levels of football.

    In our borough we start with mini-soccer (6/7 a side) then progress to 9 v 9 as a bridge prior to 11 a side (normally played when the kids start secondary school Under 12's).

    Parents are, and will always be, an issue. I've been involved in football a long time (my boy who's 21 plays in the conference) and I was that parent until I got into coaching and realised that I was spoiling his enjoyment of the game. Now, to the FA's and my, credit the game is being coached to kids (and coaches) in a different way. The new line of age appropriate courses aim to give the players many touches and opportunities to try new things with a ball. This stops the old, "stop, stand still" I know best approach. I will be dead a long time before I know all there is to know about coaching but one thing I do know that to produce better players in the long term we need to focus on giving players as many opportunites to enjoy the ball and the game. The passion for it is born from that.

    Hopefully as time passes parents will see that just because they watch Manchester United on the TV doesn't give them the knowledge to coach children. Nor the comments of "smash him!" appropriate to put into a young mind. That will come soon enough when they are older. Hopefully by that time they are skillfull enough not to need that kind of encouragement

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  • 44. At 11:16am on 26 Feb 2009, AdrianFl wrote:

    Great blog Gavin.

    Just thought I'd relate a story about my son. He enjoyed playing football in our back garden so at age 6 I took him to our local teams under 7 sessions. I live in a market town in North Yorkshire, and this was the main town team. All coaches were qualified etc.

    I couldn't believe the approach. After half an hour of dribbling round cones - fair enough - they had 30 mins of shooting and one on ones, where there were about 20 kids lined up waiting - result, they were involved for a minute at most in a 30 min session.

    They followed this up with an 11 a side match on a full sized pitch in around 80 degree heat (it was August) for an hour. Quite what 6 year olds gained from this was beyond me.

    My point is that these were qualified football coaches. My son didn't want to go back, and even if he had, I'd have thought twice about taking him. He still enjoys playing in the back garden though!

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  • 45. At 11:20am on 26 Feb 2009, BognorRock wrote:

    Great blog Gav, its a shame that people who run youth football arn't more like you.

    English players are often seen as less technically gifted than Europeans or South Americans and this is one reason why. Getting kids to play on full size pitches is going to knacker them out.

    If Lional Messi was English he'd have been cast aside age 8 for being too small. Thats the problem.

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  • 46. At 11:30am on 26 Feb 2009, ScientificGooner wrote:

    Hi Gavin, a great blog. I totally agree with you on the progression of kids in football. I was never the biggest player on the pitch or the fastest so in 11-a-side games I was shoved into defense on the right or left side and never given the ball. As an adult now who enjoys playing the game my technique is terrible and I panic on the ball. I would agree that English coaching needs to take a leaf out of continental coaching or Brazilian coaching which places emphasis on technique, passing, fitness and control of the ball. 7-a-side is ideal I recently went to Barcelona and saw the facilities at the Nou Camp. Multiple 5-7 a side pitches for the below 11s, a 1/2 size pitch for the below 14s, a 3/4 size pitch for the above 14s, and a whole second full size pitch for the reserves and under 18s... unbelievable! it just goes to show how they take development seriously. English football should do the same bring them on gently and improve technique before learning to hoof the ball up pitch!

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  • 47. At 11:30am on 26 Feb 2009, Golligosh wrote:

    I was astonished to read that at Notts County they reckon you need 1,000 touches of the ball a day to improve technically.

    That just cannot be right.

    No wonder we languish in the 4th division.

    If you gave Delboy Facey No 22, 10,000 touches of the ball a day, I am not convinced he would recognise it as a football and I am certain he still couldn't hit a barn door with it.

    Bless, he does try.

    When for goodness sake are we going to try and get five or so players in the opponents box when we attack and when are we going to have one of our many so called midfielders start to make surging runs that go to the heart of our opponents.

    Was your one run when you scored against Exeter, excellent though it was, it for the rest of the season?

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  • 48. At 11:40am on 26 Feb 2009, airbus_coach wrote:

    Hi Gavin,

    Before I start I must congratulate you on another excellent blog.

    I have been a involved in local youth football for the past 6 years, and in doing so have coached at nearly every age group (often coaching 3 teams at a time). I've done my coahcing courses and I am currently waiting to go on my A Lisence.

    I couldn't agree more with what you are saying. The jump between mini-football and 11 a side is far too big.

    Where I am based, in Chester, I get the benefit of seeing what both the English FA and the Welsh FA are trying to do to solve this problem, and to be fair it's the FAW who seem to be doing more. Recently, all youth coaches in Wales (I coach at a Welsh Premier League Academy as well as a Football League Centre of Excellence) were sent a circular outlining what they proposed to do. This was very similar to what the Dutch, Spanish, Brazilians and what has been suggested in the posts here say.
    They suggested-
    Under 7 - 4v4 (30x20yd pitch)
    Under 8 - 5v5 (40x20yd pitch)
    Under 9 - 6v6 (40x20yd pitch)
    Under 10 - 7v7 (50x30yd)
    Under 11 - 8v8 (60x40yd)
    Under 12 - 9v9 (3/4 pitch with mini-soccer goals)
    Under 13 - as above
    Under 14 - 10v10 (3/4 pitch with 3/4 junior goals)
    Under 15 & 16 - What we would call normal 11 a side.

    Obviously, with this there would be modifications to the rules but that would be too long winded to go into here.

    We were asked to attend a meeting and once there all local managers and coaches were asked to give their opinion. The poor bloke from the Welsh Football Trust (who look after all grass roots football in Wales) was beseiged with angry managers who were adamant they were not going to run teams if this was brought in and this would be the end of kids football etc. etc. Even the league executive commitee voted against it.

    As a number of posters have said, we are never going to win anything while our attitudes remain this way. It's not just parents. Its people who run teams, run leagues and in some cases the children themselves. There is one team I know of where if the children couldn't play 11 a side at Under 11 they were all going to league and sign for clubs where they could because they wanted to win something. I feel that attitude is all wrong.

    Apologies for the long windedness of this post. I wanted to try and point out that at least one of the home nations are trying to solve this problem but they havent got a chance if no-one is willing to change.

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  • 49. At 11:47am on 26 Feb 2009, partyparkins wrote:

    Brilliant blog Gavin!

    As a football coach myself these are exactly the same issues i have with youth football, and is exactly the reason i now run the football school that i do!

    Research done into BSS training says players get between 1000-2000 touchs on the ball per session, when at a lot of academies it is less than 100 per hour!

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  • 50. At 12:00pm on 26 Feb 2009, Richard wrote:

    Futsal is the answer. The FIFA standardised version of five aside has helped some of the best players in the world develop like Deco, Christiano Ronaldo, Ronaldinho etc. Italy, Spain and Brazil all have professional leagues and children are encouraged to play futsal at a young age. Its a fast paced game which encourages speed of thought and improves passing, dribbling, shooting etc. It also has rolling substitutes and allows players to have more touches. So why is it not popular in this country? It is slowly making an impact with the first FA national league set up last year and lots of development schemes around the country. Work behind the scene is taking place to get it at the top of the FA's agenda but progress is slow and therefore needs more people to recognise the advantages and help to get involved in the sport and promote it. It is no co-incidence that the top nations in football all have a strong futsal background. Children will develop the neccesary technique playing futsal the trick is molding them into world class footballers. Zinedine Zidane is now an ambassador for the sport. If you want more information email me at or checkout the FA website at and learn about the future of football development in this country.

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  • 51. At 12:05pm on 26 Feb 2009, Phil Stavri wrote:

    Great blog Gavin, and i do agree on most topics and the spirit they were intended. However i have an interesting point to raise, if kids under the age of 15 were kept back as such and were still learning their technical trade on smaller pitches would that not have the inverse effect for such bright up and commers such as the likes of Mr Rooney, Mr Walcott and Mr Bale and Ramsey. All these chaps were playing at professional level at the age of 16/17 and with only 1 years experience and fitness on a full stage pitch their talents may not have been eminent so early on.

    I'm not disagreeing with the idea in fact i think its brilliant i would also suggest their is some exception allowance for 'fast tracking' players with unusual ability.

    I guess it could be seen in another light that how much better would Wayne Rooney or Walcott be if they had the opportunity to develop more technically at a younger age before being exposed, its one we'll never know but i do think having that professional experience at a young age hasn't seemed to hurt Rooney or Walcott particularly. Maybe we'll see later in their careers if they get serious burnout or injuries, thoughts?


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  • 52. At 12:11pm on 26 Feb 2009, Maddog wrote:

    very good blog once again I myself have done a bit of coaching, now looking for full time work I think the development of players is a funny one I think lads being lads will develop, I remember when i was a younger i played footy everyday in the house, in the street, with your mates, on sundays, for school, etc etc. so i think that with that in mind i think the real development has to be from under age football to mens football, i think that around the 11-14's age is a good age to make the step up, but when to make the step up to mens? i started playing regular mens football at the age of 16 although and as a goalkeeper this toughened me up big style, however to start moving up the leagues is difficult at that age but when of the turning points for me was playing in a u21's league which bridged the mens/ boys gap very well, most the teams in the league were non-league reserve teams or youth teams so was a great experience to play against some very good players, on good pitches and was very enjoyable mainly because we cleaned up winning the county cup, the league and the runners up in the other cup, many of the players from that league now play non-league football from no academy background. u21's leagues should become more wide spread that i am aware there aren't many leagues.

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  • 53. At 12:12pm on 26 Feb 2009, andycraft wrote:

    Excellent blog Gavin.

    As an under 7s and u13s coach, your comments are spot on and the issues will only be addressed when changes are made from grassroots right up to the top levels of the FA.

    Keep highlighting the issue, check out the previous BBC report re Howard Wilkinson and the state of English football:

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  • 54. At 12:28pm on 26 Feb 2009, ibngazelle wrote:

    Gavin - agree 100% with your article. Bigger pitches at such a young age very much favour faster players, as well as those with a good set of lungs. Basically boot it into space and chase it.
    Looking at England players from the recent era, we've got plenty of speedy wingers: Lennon, Pennant, well as plenty of midfielders who can run all day, such as Gerrard and Lampard. However, those who can combine genuine worldclass skill and close-control with these other attributes are very thin on the ground.
    So if we want to produce our very own Ronaldos and Robinos, we really should look into our game at grass-roots level as you suggest and stop youngsters playing full-size pitches.

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  • 55. At 12:34pm on 26 Feb 2009, mightyborofc wrote:

    I think its a really interesting blog. In response to AdrianFl who commented on the quality of qualified coaches for his 6 year old son.

    As someone who's just completed the F.A level 2 football course and an under 6 coach, in my opinion i don't believe that the course that i did is appropriate for the kids i coach. I know the level 2 course is mainly for older players and adults but why is this? What about the coach's for the younger players. The level 2 course is no use whatsoever when coaching young children.

    I've heard that the F.A are looking into age appropriate coaching course in the future but surely this should have been done some time ago.

    I'd be interested to know other people's comments on the F.A course's

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  • 56. At 12:37pm on 26 Feb 2009, robertontheblog wrote:

    The Under 11 team I coach are currently playing 9 a side on 3/4 size pitches we will move up to 11 a side on full size pitches next season.

    I believe the reason why we are too eager to move up is twofold

    1. Parents (note parents not kids) are obsessed with having leagues to compare progress, because
    2. Parents are convinced their kid is the next Beckham who can make them rich.

    To be frank, anyone playing local football at Under 11 has (almost) no chance of becoming a top pro as they would be at an academy by now (big generalisation !) so why can't the parents just let them enjoy playing footy. To me, that means small sided games up to U16 on smaller pitches with no leagues - who do the leagues benefit ?

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  • 57. At 12:43pm on 26 Feb 2009, partyparkins wrote:

    Post 50. Richie1Moore

    it isnt Futsal, its Futebol De Salao that helped those players develop. Futsal is something created by FIFA in the last few years to make money, it is a derivetive of Futebol De Salao.

    teams in Brazil have stopped using Futsal and gone back to original Futebol De Salao techniques as they find them more effective. Pretty much every brazilian player you can name played Futebol De Salao as a youngster, Futsal wasnt even around.

    I know this because i am a Brazilian Football Coach, working for Brazilian Soccer Schools.

    Trevor Brooking absolutely Bums BSS, and wants it to be implemented into every professional club but he has absolutely no power despite his position, he is just a name. The FA cant be seen to be bringing in outsiders to coach as they are supposed to be the "Number 1" in this country, when in fact they are far from it!

    check out the BSS website

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  • 58. At 12:45pm on 26 Feb 2009, bioalfonse wrote:


    Always read the blog and it is always interesting and this one is no exception.

    I agree with your comments on youth football 100%, it is ridiculous the pressure they are put under, by parents and others, to play what basically should be a fun sport.

    They should be given all the help they need to learn and that should come from qualified a coach who understands the need and requirements.

    Not everyone is going to be fortunate enough to make a high grade, but they should be allowed to reach the grade they are able to

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  • 59. At 12:49pm on 26 Feb 2009, GretnaPat wrote:


    I coach kids at under 8 and under 10 level (nothing professional, just our local amateur side) but our kids don't get anywhere near a full size pitch. There's just no point. At this stage of their development the emphasis is always on enjoyment and technique. I do often wonder though, at what age we should start teaching them about positions, etc. What does everyone think?

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  • 60. At 1:00pm on 26 Feb 2009, Brian wrote:

    We have the same problem here in the United States. From interviews and articles I've read, it seems that head honchos at both the FA and the US Federation understand and emphasize the importance of small sided games, especially at the younger age levels. Yet there seems to be huge resistance at the grassroots where adults are under the delusion that 8 and 11 year olds with short legs can pass and move like Arsenal or Barcelona on an adult sized pitch. As usual, it's the adults mucking things up.

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  • 61. At 1:06pm on 26 Feb 2009, Hemel_Hatter wrote:

    Good blog Gavin, but nothing about Luton Town under 11's becoming champions of the World?

    They beat Bayern Munich in the final of the Aurau Masters, finishing ahead of teams like Man U.

    As your talking about youth development it would tie in nicely.

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  • 62. At 1:08pm on 26 Feb 2009, DB Cooper wrote:

    Good article.

    I just skimmed over the replies, apologies if I am repeating what someone elae has said.

    My opinion is that children are already over coached.
    The best way to learn how to play football is just to play! Pick sides, give them a ball and let them get on with small sized, supervised games.

    During games you learn how to control a ball, how to pass and even beat a man which doesnt happen anymore.

    Games also teach positional sense and decision making (when to pass, when to hold the ball etc) which CANNOT be taught in a coaching session.

    Some drills that children do are pointless, like standing about waiting to have a shot at a goalie.

    Let the children play 5 a sides, then for 15 minutes after the games, show them a few things and tell them to work on them by themselves at home.

    Another point is that you can have the best coaches in the world but if the children dont go home and practise what they have been shown then it is a waste of time.

    A list of players who, if they were born in Scotland, would be working in a supermarket -

    Ivan Cordoba.
    Great player, hard as nails, supreme marker, but a 5 foot 8 centre back? Forget it.

    Fabio Cannavaro.
    Reads the game like a book, Incredible spring, times a tackle better than anybody but a 5 foot 9 centre back? Forget it.

    You wouldnt be able to tell if he was a good player in Scotalnd or not. The ball would be over his head all the time and he wouldnt get a kick.

    See above. Too lightweight anyway.

    He was far too small as a boy. He tries to beat men and therefore loses possession from time to time.... which isnt on.

    A playmaker? In Scotland? He is so small he would have been put out on the wing and told to hold the ball and wait for the overlap.

    Andrea Pirlo.
    Great touch, great passer. Likes to keep possession and wait for the killer pass, but too many of his passes are backwards.

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  • 63. At 1:14pm on 26 Feb 2009, gooner4eva1982 wrote:

    whilst I agree the pitch size arguement being a good one for the lack of good English talent coming through.

    I think it has more to do with the level of coaching at younger levels.

    How many of you parents watch your sons team play every week and complain because the managers son is played in place of a better player, gets to take all the free-kicks, penalties etc...?

    Although I have no kids of my own I have coached 2 very successful kids football teams. On the notion of give them a ball and they'll naturally fall into a position that they fill comfortable in. Regardless of there size.

    Having watched many teams play alot of managers/coaches push style aside in favour of winning.

    If all coaches of teams were forced to take FA coaching badges and given the right education regarding coaching players our game would be in a much better state.

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  • 64. At 1:19pm on 26 Feb 2009, gooner4eva1982 wrote:

    post 62 great coments.

    one of the best kids i've ever seen play. Now playes a year above himself is top scorer for the age group he plays in.

    He only plays a year above himself because he was finding it to easy at his age group.

    When i first saw him I thought he was 5 or 6 despite him being 8 years old.

    He just had a never say die attitude trained twice as hard as everyone else and practised 24/7.

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  • 65. At 1:37pm on 26 Feb 2009, DB Cooper wrote:

    On the point about the managers son getting preferential treatment -

    I dont want to name names for legal reasons, but I am the same age as the son of a prominent figure within the SFA.
    We played in opposite youth teams in the same league.

    This guy was not a good player, but he was 6 feet tall by the time he was 13 and had a father in a powerful position.

    He became captain of the Ayrshire select side even though he asked to be taken off halfway through the trial game as he "had school band practise."

    He then had 5 professional teams before he was 22, NEVER playing a senior game at any of them because he just wasnt up to it.
    At least 3 of these sides had a manager or assistant who had worked with his father at the SFA.

    So in summary, this guy got 5 chances at being a pro footballer because of who his dad was.

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  • 66. At 1:40pm on 26 Feb 2009, cov1985 wrote:

    Gavin, I agree with you that the jump from small pitches to a full size pitch is too much at 11 a side. Like you, I played (and still play) as a keeper when I younger, and getting goal kicks out the box was a nightmare!

    However, I think that 9 a side matches upto under 14 on a half size pitch may be a bit much. When I was 14, I and some of the lads on my team had our growth spurts and were over 6 foot! On the other hand, some were still only about 5 foot tall, so it's obviously going to be difficult to cater for all players in this age group.

    My team had a number of pitches, I think our under 14 pitch was about 3/4 the size of a full pitch and we played 11 a side matches on that. Maybe a 9 a side game on a 3/4 pitch might be better, there a fewer numbers so you are likely to see more of the ball, but the pitch isn't too small.

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  • 67. At 1:45pm on 26 Feb 2009, yellowAmberArmy wrote:

    gavin, please can you highlight the youth funding issues currently happening at cambridge united.

    currently we receive no funding for our youth set up as we were relegated out of the league. despite this torquay are receiving funding.

    our head of youth development jez george is currently walking from torquay to cambridge to highlight the issues raised, and the unfair situation we find ourselves in.

    we run an excelllent set up at our own cost. the f/a state they want to help youth development yet handicap clubs like ourselves.

    its a disgrace and needs to be highlighted.

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  • 68. At 1:52pm on 26 Feb 2009, bluebarsidebob wrote:

    My eldest boy is now playing Under 12s football at 11-a-side although last year his team went to a local 9-a-side league with the same rules as 11-a-side but obviously with less players. The pitches and goals were 3 quarters of a full size pitch. It is a perfect size and a nice progression towards adult football.
    This only remedies part of the problem with our coaching. This league format was intended to encourage passing football yet some teams joined and played typical long-ball style!!! These same teams played long-ball in mini-soccer! Obviously, the coach feels this is necessary to win!
    Now, kids want to win and taking away competition is not the answer. Educating coaches is but more realistic is a change in the rules to force proper coaching.
    How about a central zone, marked clearly and the ball must be passed into this area to a team-mate before a goal can be scored? Only a suggestion but currently finding a team in the top divisions of most leagues with a coach who puts the kids first is incredibly difficult!

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  • 69. At 1:56pm on 26 Feb 2009, bluebarsidebob wrote:

    Regarding the plight of Cambridge as mentioned by yellowAmberArmy, my understanding is your funding problems are being addresses by exploiting hopeful boys and parents with the inclusion of a number of average players who pay to be trained at your club's ACP (Advanced Coaching Programme) with the carrot of a place on the youth books as the bait!
    I know a number of the boys who attend and the only possible reason some were invited was to boost your club's coffers!

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  • 70. At 2:23pm on 26 Feb 2009, gooner4eva1982 wrote:

    post 67

    I'v often thought that a good idea.

    But wont this mean that 1 particular person will be told to stay in this zone therefore he/she becoming the focal point of the team?

    ie pass to little jonny beacuase he's the best player (or because he's my son)

    Again creating an even bigger devide between the naturally gifted players and the rest. At least at the moment if Timmy toe punt doesn't want to pass to sammy skills he doesn't have to!!

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  • 71. At 2:24pm on 26 Feb 2009, gooner4eva1982 wrote:

    sorry that was for post 68

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  • 72. At 2:46pm on 26 Feb 2009, rich_in_korea wrote:

    i've seen it banged around before, but the biggest problem is that from a really young age children in the UK are taught that winning is the most important thing. personally i remember that when i played youth football i usually didn't care that much if we won or lost, i was much more interested in how well the team had played, or passed the ball. i don't live in the Uk anymore, but still play 11 a side football every week and find that because it doesn't really matter who wins or loses it's less physically competitive and because of that, the standard is much higher because the players can show their technique without someone kicking them up in the air, or that thought in the back of their mind. i got to the stage with my last team in the UK of enjoying training much more than the games because you got more time on the ball. i saw also a comment elsewhere about playing wide, like i do, and how the game just bypasses you, and i have to agree with that!!! the one good thing about my youth football was that i started at 8 as a goalkeeper, and moved a little forward each year and ended my last season as a 16 year old starting out at centre forward, scoring 10 in 10, then when our manager changed, playing left back so his son could play up front!!! good times.

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  • 73. At 2:55pm on 26 Feb 2009, jinx2104 wrote:

    Post 67

    If Cambridge do run an excellent setup then they most of improved a hell of a lot in the past 10 ten years. I personally believe they've contributed to there own downfall. I had a couple of friends who played at youth level for Cambridge up to about the age of 14. Both were small players who were great on the ball. One was a CM and the other a Winger, the coaches would constantly put them under pressure about their lack of size, especially the winger who was very skinny. Eventually both players left, the winger signed for the same team I played in and was head and shoulders above every player in the team and league. He regularly got offers from other clubs including Leicester, Norwich and Notts Forest but declined them all and eventually stopped playing football altogether due to the way he was treated at Cambridge. It just goes to show how some teams see size and power over technical skills.

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  • 74. At 3:09pm on 26 Feb 2009, gooner4eva1982 wrote:


    did both of them live in essex?

    and are they now in there mid to late 20's?

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  • 75. At 3:24pm on 26 Feb 2009, Don O' Hoe wrote:

    Hi Gavin,

    Great article, but not as good as quotes of the week.

    Where has it gone?

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  • 76. At 3:28pm on 26 Feb 2009, bushfighter wrote:

    this is a really good topic to blog on Gav.

    thinking back to my days of youth football. we had two full size picthes at primary school and all football was played on this so we were on big pitches from 7 years old. When i think back it's amazing how you found your position through your main assets. As a big lad with a big boot and not much pace I played centre back and goaly up until i was 16 as i was the only kid who could kick the ball any distance. without pace i was no use anywhere else. it wasn't until i was 16 when i discovered that as well as kick the ball a long way i was also very accurate that i started to play in midfield. between the ages of 7 - 16 how I would have loved to have used a smaller ball, played on a smaller picth with smaller goals.

    I've done some coaching in my time and even was considered technically good enough to do a stint with simon cliffords brazilian lot in their sheffield franchise a few years ago. luckily there was no concentration on actual games at all -e very kid got a football (small ones too) and it was skills we worked on. The hope was that when the kid had a game - on the park, at school, sunday league etc - they would hopefully use the skills learnt.

    not sitting on the fence I think there's not enough distinction between skills and game mentalities. maybe kids should not play competative footy till they reach their teens and everything before that should be skill based and more importantly fun. we do produce footballers with good technical skills but I think we coach a lot of it out of kids as they develop or the game mentality means its never fully developed.

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  • 77. At 3:43pm on 26 Feb 2009, Bigskybluedan1980 wrote:

    Gavin , Having briefly spoke to you about your blog on Saturday night in TGI's Coventry, felt I should read it again..... and it was about youth football, being a UEFA B coach at academy level I have experience of working in youth football.

    I totally agree with the idea surrounding 11 -a -side at under 11's. 9 a side would be an excellent option. As you have mentioned the cost incurred would be massive to introduce an alternative sized goal and pitch some big investment would be needed to change every pitch in the country.

    Having worked at academy and seen how the size of the goals and size of the pitches are reletive to the size of the players, it demonstrates a genuine simulation of the games we watch within the premier league.

    It creates an environment which is realistic. One thing having the correct size pitch and goals etc it creates a game which will encourage the skillful player to shine and illiminates the big boot up field for your lightening striker to chase down it encourages player to play football pass and move the ball.

    The parents aspect is an all round seperate subject, they need educating in a completing different manner , should this responsibility lay with the coach ...... ?
    I feel communicating with the parents as much as you possible can expalining your methods and scheme of work. Giving reasons why you are working in the way your will certainly help.

    If a parent wants there child to play football at youth level at least one of the parent should have to attend a compulsory FA football Parent course before there child is allowed to play ... maybe this is an idea.

    Having coached football (Soccer) in America for 3 years I have experienced a completely different attitude and envrionment from the parents, if you are the coach you are referred to by the parents as Coach they respect your judgment as you are seen as the Football (soccer) Expert and your judgment is NEVER questioned.

    This may be because the game is reletively new to the States, although it has been played for over 50 years now. The parents understanding of the game may limit the amount of complaints they have regarding the coach.........
    In England we all know the game and all think we are experts maybe this is why we have parents like they are ...

    My answer is justify each decision you make by feeding back to the parents after each session and game, this makes them feel more involved, it also shows you are trying to work with the parents and not work against them...

    Great Column Gavin

    Best Wishes


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  • 78. At 4:00pm on 26 Feb 2009, bluebarsidebob wrote:

    Post 70
    Fair point, was just an idea, obviously flawed but hopefully something like this could be adopted.
    I am against removing competition for a who;e multitude of reasons, not least becasue the children want to win trophies! The problem with competition is that coaches and parents get over excited and over competitive! Why should the children miss out because adults can't act responsibly?
    Apart from that, I stopped playing myself around 5 years ago. The last team I played for were around 10 years younger than me and were happy playing, whether they won or not. It appears to be an attitude borne from schools removing competition.
    This will sound awful but for the good of everyone, let the kids who excel shine and push themselves forward. The kids who can't compete or don't push themselves are there to be left behind! God, I sound like a right Thatcherite!!!

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  • 79. At 4:27pm on 26 Feb 2009, gooner4eva1982 wrote:

    post 78
    it's not that I think it's a bad idea.
    In fact I completely agree with you. I dont think it'd be the kids playing but the parents and managers,

    As for letting the talented push on and improve and and the not so talented be left behind, is this down to the mentality of the child in question??

    Richard Keogh who currently plays for carlisle wasn't the best player in his youth team but is the only one earning money from the game less than 10 years on.

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  • 80. At 4:29pm on 26 Feb 2009, LennyTheBoss wrote:

    Your best blog yet Gavin.

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  • 81. At 4:53pm on 26 Feb 2009, yellowAmberArmy wrote:

    Post 69.

    Complete an utter rubbish. Your ignorance of the situation is such that you are in no position to be commenting.

    the whole youth set up costs a lot to fund. Do you really believe that a few people paying to be trained makes much difference. We wouldn’t be fund raising if it was profitable. You sound like a bitter parent whose kid wasn’t good enough.

    Post 73.

    Yet more ignorance. Yes they have improved a lot. Hence that is why we currently have 3 youth team scholars as important members of the first team squad this season.

    Alongside Michael Morrison now playing as first choice centre half at Leicester. Jack collison at west ham, another Cambridge scholar.

    To judge an entire youth team set up based upon the experience of your mate years and years ago is pathetic. If your mate was so mentally feeble being told he wasn’t good enough caused him to quit then he wasn’t mentally up to the knocks of being a professional footballer. Some make it some don’t.

    Our club has embarked upon a direction that puts youth team development at the forefront of the future of the club. We invest considerable money into our scheme and have had players come through to the 1st team.

    Whilst many clubs in league 2 pick up a cheque every season for youth team investment and use it to pay players in the 1st team.

    So which would you rather. Youth team development or not?

    What a shame you instantly attempted to look for the negatives in what is a positive issue.

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  • 82. At 4:59pm on 26 Feb 2009, Rabster wrote:

    I think 'coaching' is just too rigid. The influences come from the top down.
    When I played at school level we used (believe it or not) a basic 2-3-5 formation but the only real instruction was "don't chase the ball like a herd of sheep." So as a right winger I was expected to fall back to cover the defence when necessary, likewise the right and left-halves were encouraged to push forward when appropriate. Yes, we were given a structure but it was very much a flexible structure. Heck, even the goalie would get a run-out in training to try his luck.
    *Football was fun.*
    Now I suspect 'coaches' adopt the latest 4-1-4-1 shout "keep your shape" with over zealous parents adding to the misery...making a playstation sound like much more fun. Add to that idiots trying to teach a 5yr. old a "Cruyff turn" or a "Ronaldo dive" etc. and you have a recipe for disaster.

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  • 83. At 5:00pm on 26 Feb 2009, markylarouge wrote:

    Gavin, I worked until recently as a coach to a youth side, and I would echo much of what you say.

    I think we also need to look at the time of year we play youth football, because kids are learning absolutely nothing on a cold, wet, windy February morning when the pitch is cut up and everyone would rather be in bed.

    It might put a few noses out of joint vis-a-vis summer holidays, but we need to seriously consider a March-November/December calendar to try and have the bulk of the season played out during the best of the weather.

    I would also echo the comment about trying players out in different positions. One season we played our big central midfielder upfront for a game, to give us some presence, and he ended up playing their the whole season, scored more than 50 goals, and is now on the books of a professional club!!!

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  • 84. At 5:07pm on 26 Feb 2009, rsaints wrote:

    Agree with everyone Gary, great blog. I have been involved with youth football for 25 years now at grassroots level. I am now doing the merry-go-round again and am currently running my under 8s team. I know that the general concensus is that things need to progress more, and I agree with these comments. However, there have been great strides taken in developing football for kids of the early age groups during the past 7 years.
    The problem, in my view, is that everyone needs to begin to sing from the same song sheet. The FA have laid down some great guidelines, but is school football or the local councils helping progression or hindering it?
    As far as I can see the primary schools are still playing 11-a-side football on full size pitches! The councils are selling off land, and what land is designated to football accommodates mostly 11-a-side pitches. Until these issues are addressed then it doesn't matter how fast we sprint out of the blocks we will always have that parachute holding us back. The most unfortunate thing is that it seems that most of the people who are actually getting paid to do a job are the ones in the dark ages. It is us, the coaches and managers who give up free time for the love of football that are the ones that can see where we need to be going. Until the people in charge of council leisure facilities and sports teachers wake up and smell the coffee, then I am afraid we will all be hindered. There needs to be a total revamp and a directive from the FA regarding school football. I totally agree with Gary's suggestion with 9-a-side football at under 11s in half size pitches, surely the councils can accommodate that! From there to have a gradual progression up to under 15s. Another suggestion to prevent the hoof up the pitch syndrome is to have goalkeepers throw the ball out and the opposing team not to be able to tackle until an outfiield player has touched the ball.
    No overhead football up until the age of under 11s!
    On a separate issue my son has been lucky to have experienced Academy football at Reading FC from under 10s until he was released at under 12s. Although it was a downer at the time of his release, the experience of that wonderful Academy has held him in good stead now that he is a couple of years older. He may not become a professional, but his footballing intelligence is much the better for being at Reading. When an Academy manager approaches me to chat to one of my parents regarding a player of mine, I for one will not stand in the way. The Academies in my view are a good thing.

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  • 85. At 5:15pm on 26 Feb 2009, gman4inarow wrote:

    Ur totally right with most of what you say, Gav, but when i was playing school football from the age of 8 we played on full size pithces as there was only one playing field available to us back then. i only improved as a player when i started playing on astroturf 5 a side pitches with my mates. u learn so much about positioning, decision making and improving overall technique, and dont forget when ur playing with ur mates the school bullys not playing with you - this was something that affected my confidence when i was young - and we all know the difference confidence can make not just to a potential footballer but also to a person as a whole. Certainly from a facilties point of view i have noticed massive improvements in my own area - my old school's been knocked down to be replaced by a state of the art academy with 3 five a side pitches and 1 seven a side pitch. But whether we see any improvement in our young players remains to be seen. Certainly we need better coaches who not only understand football but also understand young people. That way we may start to see youth games where the players arent afraid to pass the ball rather than hoof it up the field in panic so as not to make a mistake. We have to educate our kids that the most important thing isnt making the mistake its how you react to it that counts.

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  • 86. At 5:19pm on 26 Feb 2009, lionihatethisgame wrote:

    "For example, a goalkeeper, dwarfed by the full-size goal, has little or no chance of doing anything about a high shot. No less daunting for him are his efforts to clear the penalty box with his goal-kicks.

    This is not easy for an 11-year-old, especially when you consider the vulture like opposition forward players hovering on the edge of box waiting for a mistake.

    If it sounds like I am speaking from experience, I am. I started out as a goalkeeper and before anyone else suggests it, I know, maybe I should have stuck at it!"

    I had these exact experiences. Youth football is not where it should be. There is too much pressure for players to play well, something that you don't get in adult park football. You don't get enough of the ball because players are taught to boot it rather than pass because it is safer and will result in fewer mistakes.

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  • 87. At 5:23pm on 26 Feb 2009, gooner4eva1982 wrote:

    Parents need to be blamed as much as anyone.

    those of you that have kids but don't get to watch them for one reason or another.

    When you child walks through the door try asking them if they had fun? rather than, did you win? how many goals did you score? etc...

    by encorageing them to enjoy the game they will naturally improve as a player.

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  • 88. At 5:34pm on 26 Feb 2009, hazycosmicvibe wrote:

    I appreciate all of the comments made here today.

    I am the parent of a 13 year old who, although told he has considerable talent, and plays in the top division of his local league, has no pretentions of becoming a top footballer and would be happy to be a part-time player with a local team when he is older.

    As previously mentioned, 99 per cent of children are going to be in the same boat, and any solution is not going to be to everyone's liking. My own son likes to play the "big man's game" and enjoys the pressure and competitiveness of the league. There is nothing the matter with this attitude. Neither is there anything the matter with a player who just likes a kickabout, without parents jumping up and down on the touchline.

    I think it is a little selfish for top footballers and coaches to regard children's football as merely the breeding ground for tomorrow's top players. The professional clubs have their youth schemes and academies for this purpose. Children's football is paid for by the parents, and it should be them (together with their children) and not the coaches or professional clubs that decide what form it takes.

    On a practical note, itc would be lovely for junior clubs to have a huge array of various sized pitches to be used during the various age groups. However, we don't all live in the Autralian outback, and two pitches (7-a-side & 11-a-side) is all most urban clubs can run to.

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  • 89. At 5:38pm on 26 Feb 2009, bluebarsidebob wrote:

    Post 81
    As a proud father of a son playing a much higher level and attracting interest from a number of clubs, I have made it my business to investigate the best options should any clubs come forward with more propositions. The ACP set-up at Cambridge is an incredibly poor way of exploiting children, giving technically poor players a dream that will never be realised and then binning them!
    There are similar arrangements at other clubs but the quality being USED by Cambridge is not even subtle!
    As for revenue, it is a good money maker if you bring in the number of kids that Cambridge are doing!
    Proud of your club?

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  • 90. At 6:03pm on 26 Feb 2009, bluebarsidebob wrote:

    Post 86
    Goalpost size is ridiculous, 9-a-side goals are much more suitable and realistic until kids reach around 14 years old.
    I have seen this season, full size goals in width but around a foot lower. Even these are a little big but it does show the facilities are available if the club cares to spend funds on these.

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  • 91. At 6:24pm on 26 Feb 2009, Roberto_Mexicano wrote:

    When working with elite level players in so called "elite institutions" all of these things regarding pitch sizes, team sizes etc are already in place, or for the most part should be, so this article has far more relevance for the grassroots teams and coaches.

    As far as producing more technically talented professionals, it is, most definitely a coaching issue.

    I was a youth coach at a number of professional clubs, and place an emphasis on ball manipulation, individual skills and creativity...........despite great success in terms of the quality of players produced (pretty much a 100% still with pro clubs 3 years later, and a large number at big academies) I have ended up plying my trade in Mexico, because, with the exception of a few of the top academies, these things are scoffed at by most other pro clubs who still want to focus on passing, set positions and team shape at 5,6,7 & 8!

    This issue of pitch sizes will help, but coaching is the big problem. Maybe your next blog could investigate this further Gavin?

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  • 92. At 6:30pm on 26 Feb 2009, Colchester_Jesus wrote:

    Good blog as usual Gavin, but i disagree with some points.

    Having just come out of youth football at 16, and begun playing at u18 level, I feel that starting playing full sized games at 14 is quite old. Being younger than many of my team mates due to my birthday falling at the end of the academic year, I do agree that starting 11-a-side at 11 years old is very young, but what you're suggesting is that young boys start 'real' football at 14, giving some only two years before they are playing what is effectively mens football at u18 level.

    Many people are also forgetting that u11 football does include smaller pitches and smaller goals than older age groups, but the pitch sizes will obviously differ with the margin the FA allow pitch sizes to fall in.

    Much emphasis does also fall onto technique, but you talk about players becoming disinterested which, in my experience, occurs when young players regularly lose football matches, therefore it must be understood that emphasis is going to be put on winning the match.

    Also, during my time playing youth football, I found that the most sought after players were those who were bigger AND had class when in possession of the football. Many of the better players in my Colchester youth division were tall, quick and skillful players; these players could win the ball in the air and on the ground, as well as keeping using strength, pace and technique.

    Unfortunately, I believe no-one knows where the answer lies, although I dont think that all fingers should be pointed at the style of youth football in this country.

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  • 93. At 6:41pm on 26 Feb 2009, Posty39 wrote:

    Totally agree with Gavin's comments on Youth Soccer.

    The move to full size pitches and goals should be a gradual one.

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  • 94. At 6:42pm on 26 Feb 2009, coolyorkstjohn wrote:

    Sensible comments.
    My son is in his second season on a fullsize pitch and plays in goal or defence.
    The scale of the pitch relative to the boys' size is just too big and his enjoyment of the game has gone.

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  • 95. At 7:00pm on 26 Feb 2009, vincentz2 wrote:

    Realistically, no one is going to object to Gavin Strachan's thoughts - we all agree.

    However it should be pointed out that the FA does provide guidelines regarding pitch sizes for various age groups - they do NOT recommend kids start playing on mens pitches in full size goals from the age of 11.

    However, the real question is can we really do anything about it? Living in Hackney, London and running one of the largest clubs in the borough I can tell you that

    a) There are only 2 mini soccer pitches in the borough and they were only installed this season at my request.

    b) There are only two pitches in the borough with the 80 x 50m dimensions and 21ft x 7ft goals in the borough, and some youth teams refuse to play on them as they feel they are too small! Again, these are new this season at our request.

    c) No clubs except the professional sides can afford to service grounds in central London, so we have to make to with what is provided.

    Ultimately, those on the "inside" in football need to put pressure on councils and leagues to provide smaller sided options, not money making options. If necessary, they need to put their hands in their pockets and make it happen - a 5% "grassroots tax" on all Premier League player wages for infrastructure development or something of this ilk. This will help the transition to the 7 v 7 & 9 v 9 which will undoubtedly help technical development of players.

    On the flip side there are numerous other points to consider - do children enjoy 11-a-side? We run a number of teams playing 11-a-side as well as 7-a-side mini soccer, and I can honestly say that I think they really do prefer the challenge of playing 11 v 11. After all, their heroes on Saturday afternoons aren't playing 7 v 7, and if it makes them happy to play it, then so be it.

    I would also argue that I have seen significant improvement in many players as a result of their involvement in 11-a-side football. Football isn't all about technique, but also decision making, physical ability and mental strength. 11-a-side definitely helps with 3 of these 4 and ultimately, 11-a-side is the game most of these kids will play and watch when they are older, no matter what level they reach.

    It is my true belief that if children are adequately supported by coaches at training and matches then playing 11-a-side football should be no obstacle to their development.

    I should point out that we don't play 11-a-side until u13s.

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  • 96. At 7:02pm on 26 Feb 2009, soc1alside5 wrote:

    I agree Gavin, when i was a young person playing 11 a side, the size of the pitch was a factor.
    If for instance you were in a good side your back four and goal keeper would not see or touch the ball, this makes for idle hands and the boredom factor sets in. Children experiencing this have a tendancy to stop playing football.
    I currently coach a Y5/6 school team who have very diverse levels of skill and strength. I myself believe in giving the kids the ball when training, including the warm up, this keeps them interested and gives them the all important touches as described in your blogg.
    I certainly agree that having 8/9 players on a smaller pitch would benefit all, and keeping rolling subs keeps the kids interested. Nothing worse than standing around knowing you are not going to get on again, even as an adult.
    I also agree with roberto-mexicano, that coaching is certainly an issue, my 9 year old son used to play with a team whose manager was more interested in winning a game than giving each child time on the pitch, his coaching was repetative and boring, needless to say we left.

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  • 97. At 7:06pm on 26 Feb 2009, loansam wrote:

    I usually write on 606 but the comments here are great. Can I hang around awhile?
    Good blog Gavin.
    I've spent most of my time in the USA volunteering for a group called A.Y.S.O.
    (American Youth Soccer Organization).
    It was founded in 1964 and I've been with them since 1975. You can learn all about them at

    It's about time they started a Region in Britain. Why not be the first. You'll be independent of the F.A.

    They have a Region in Russia so an inquiry from lil' ol' England won't faze them.

    As far as becoming adept at Football nothing substitutes for touch.

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  • 98. At 7:29pm on 26 Feb 2009, CoachTom wrote:

    Good blog Gavin, undoubtedly smaller pitches and less players till u14's would be a good move.

    I agree with roberto_mexicano on the coaching issue though- this is where the main problem lies. I've been coaching youth football for about 8 years now in the UK and US and I would love to do it as a full time job but i'ts very difficult to get a fair wage.....hence I do a job that im not as good at and don't enjoy much but get paid a reasonable salary.

    More money needs to go into employing experienced and qualified coaches to go into clubs or schools, funded by the FA, thats my opinion anyway!

    Be great if your next blog could be on this!

    Keep up the good work...

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  • 99. At 8:18pm on 26 Feb 2009, pimms-o-clock wrote:

    Hi Gav flawless as usual. can i just extend my apologies in last weeks blog it was just a type-o. at school i played football and happened to be one of those tall kids which always made me the difference in matches. As time went on i was moved up into older teams where i then became the weak link. I was released and that was practically it for my career. Completely agree that things need to be improved at that level but some kids may need to know there no good sooner rather than later. Unlucky against bury last week.

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  • 100. At 8:32pm on 26 Feb 2009, sharc1066 wrote:

    Dead on, Gavin. Great blog as well.
    I deal with parents every week that don't understand the issue of "number of touches"- it means everything to youth development. I am in the process of picking typical youth players in the club and counting touches and playing time for them in three situations- the weekend full sided game, the weeknight practice, and then during the small sided "street soccer" nights we do once a week. Maybe showing the numbers to the parents will get the point across.

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  • 101. At 8:35pm on 26 Feb 2009, Roberto_Mexicano wrote:

    Post 88 -

    I was never in with a shout of being an Olympic swimmer, but the classes I took were still designed to help me be as strong a swimmer as possible, with the ability to perform a number of different strokes.

    I suspect you are exactly the type of person that makes this debate so necesary!

    Are you the one on a Saturday morning screaming things like "Get it up there!" to the kid who wants to play a short pass to a man in a good position and applauding when the big kid at the back lumps it 50 yards out of defence even though he's not under any pressure?

    Honestly.......theres no telling some people!

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  • 102. At 8:38pm on 26 Feb 2009, reno1979 wrote:

    superb blog

    i currently coach an under elevens team in the midlands and have just left a team of under fifteens who i coached from the age of nine. for years i have said that the age of ten is way to young to be playing eleven a side football, the kids at this age still havt fully developed there muscles so injuries can happen quiet often so to be playing an hour of football on a heavy pitch in the middle of winter is in my oppinion detramentle to the fitness and dvelopment of our young players.

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  • 103. At 8:42pm on 26 Feb 2009, brisolbilly wrote:

    Great to see someone else bring this up. I've been coaching for twelve years and after about 3 got totally fed up with the mentality of all of those involved with the boys - There is a culture of 'get onto 11 aside as soon as poss' which is tragic. You go to anywhere where they have good football teams, Brazil, Argentina, Holland, Portugal and see how they gradually up the space played on and the players used. I stick to coaching girls because they have the chance to keep on playing smaller sided games and learning more until they reach 14. And you should see the drop out rate after that!

    This current culture, which has produced nothing but losers, is quite pathetic. Until the FA take a stand and order fields to have 9 aside on half pitches marked out then we'll continue to have this problem.

    I'll stick to my smaller sided games. Its far more enjoyable, the kids get loads of touches on the ball and feel involved. The rest of the blinkered throwbacks can continue to back a losing strategy and we'll continue to be outclassed by other countries.

    If only the FA would wake up...

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  • 104. At 9:21pm on 26 Feb 2009, kevin_tsnuk wrote:

    Fascinating insight on coaching and life in general Gavin. What do you think of the scouting reports that the club receive from us and is this an area that you could look to follow in years to come?

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  • 105. At 9:51pm on 26 Feb 2009, homeoftheshoutingmen wrote:

    Really enjoyed that Gavin. Having played club football between the ages of 5 and 16 (I had to give it up for rugby) I completely agree. We made the switch to full-size pitches at under11 too, and for the first few years the matches were awful. I´d suggest 14/15 would make more sense, with a compromise between 7 a side and 11 a side sized pitches for the years in between (although I realise this would need more funding).

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  • 106. At 10:01pm on 26 Feb 2009, Gavin Strachan wrote:

    post 47 . Hopefully I will be making some more of those runs fairly soon!.

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  • 107. At 10:08pm on 26 Feb 2009, Gavin Strachan wrote:

    post 104 . Scouting is an area of the game that I am very interested in and hopefully I can get involved in it at some point.

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  • 108. At 10:30pm on 26 Feb 2009, aGunnerT!l i die wrote:

    interesting article but I disagree with you, I love playing in full sized pitch because of the amount of space you can have to run into with the ball and without which I think is an important factor in football

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  • 109. At 11:12pm on 26 Feb 2009, Andy G wrote:

    i used to play 11 a side for both saturday and sunday teams... i found playing 4 a side in a really tight area improved my 1st touch and passing for both my left and right foot.
    the least space you have the harder you need to work, and the faster you improve. i also improved my cardio rate as you have to work that much faster and your movement over the 1st few yards really improved.. i do not see why we need to start playing on full / half pitches until 14 / 15 at all. it seems to me to be a ego thing... However, there needs to be a stepped transition to full size by 15/16 to increase stamina for the amount of distance a midfield/ wing back would need to cover on a full pitch.. we must all remember the 1st time we tried to play on a full size pitch. lol.

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  • 110. At 07:15am on 27 Feb 2009, BillB_Ayr wrote:

    In General I agree with most of the blog. I coached football teams for 7 years and 7 a-side is definately the way forward for the youngsters it's been available for many years in Scotland. British Football fails though is several levels. 1. Football Governance for not Investing and insisting on a strategy for playing seven a-sided ( I have seen keepers being told to kick the ball up the park which defeats the purpose of the smaller game) 2. Coaches for putting victory before technique. 3. Parents who shout ridiculous things to there children and not understanding the strategy of the 7 a-side game. 4. Embedded cultural attitudes about being strong and physical rather than skillful as you say a good big player rather than a skillful smaller child always gets the nod 5. Infrastructure - poor facilities contribute to the standard and participation and 6 Weather, we all play football with our kids down the beach on holidays, so it's no surprise that Brazilians hone skills in a good weather environment, we can't do this in Ayrshire in December... So it all starts at the top for me Britain wide... Investment in football education and facilities, Strategy, execution of the defined strategy, education of parents on what we are trying to achieve and bring back the fun for kids !!!!

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  • 111. At 09:02am on 27 Feb 2009, FranklyVulgar wrote:

    Spot on about youth development. I actually remember turning up at a young age, maybe 6-7-8 i really can't remember but the coach would ask the kids what position they played. At this age how can you know what would best suit you in the future? So the kids all say what postion they want to play (i said midfield or defence) and the coach puts them into that position. I got tried maybe twice throughout all my days in youth football in a different position and when 11 a side came around i was too small to get picked as a defender which pretty much stopped me from playing. I'm big now but at 11/12 all the kids who are already tall get games. People wonder why britain struggles to produce players like on the continent, just look at spain as an example. a bunch of 5ft 7 techincally superior players who probably would never have been given the chance to play if they grew up in the UK.

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  • 112. At 09:12am on 27 Feb 2009, Billyveld wrote:

    I coach both my sons teams, one is playing at under 9 level and the other at u13. I have coached my eldest since he was 6 so I have through the mill in terms of transitioning from mini to full size pitches. I agree with the statements that we as coaches need to ensure that players get as many touches as possible in training and the matches and that roll on subs are great as it gives the coach the opportunity to see players in different roles within the game. This is all very well but the one issue I have is the pressure that comes from the teams playing in league football. Week in week out teams are sacrificing player development for points, I am proud to say that I am not one of them but at times you do hear parents muttering on the sidleine about why we don't play it to the big man at the front and let him do the work. If football was more about development at the mini football level with league football being implemented at under 12 level (for example) then I am sure we would see a more consistent and higher skill level in most children to play the beautiful game.

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  • 113. At 09:37am on 27 Feb 2009, Hurricane_HD wrote:

    As coach of an U13 team that happily plays in division 2 rather than the overheated ego-trip for some (most!) managers that is division 1, I tend to agree about playing 11-a-side too soon, but my experience is that my boys were ready to move up to 11-a-side at U12 (which is what we do in Suffolk) and have improved dramatically in our second season.
    Having said that our first 11-a-side year was played on a three quarter sized pitch and goals which eased the transition and I try to give all boys a fair crack of the whip in more than one position rather than pigeon-hold them. They're certainly not getting anything like 1000 touches in a game but they don't get anything like that in Mini Soccer either, surely?
    Another point (kind of related to the big lad who can welly it) is that 11-a-side suits young midfielders and forwards much more than defenders and goalies.

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  • 114. At 09:38am on 27 Feb 2009, vinnyb67 wrote:

    Hi Gavin

    Really enjoy the blog, look forward to it every week. I share your similar concerns, and I believe it is all down to the parents and the media that England (and up here in Scotland) are so poor technically.

    We live in an "instant" world where people demand instant success in all areas, instant information and communication and instant service from simple things such as going inot a shop, ordering a meal etc. Football cannot be seen as an "instant" thing. The insanity of over 30 managers being sacked already proves this.

    Parents also have outrageous expectations when a scout watches or selects a youngster. It takes years to mould and influence a young player, yet fans demand "instant" impact from 16/17/18 year old lads when the break into the first team. I think players should be given until at least 21 before fans start to think whether or not he is "good enough"/ i'm certainly better at my job at 31 than I was at 21!! Surely a similar if not exactly the same logic can be applied in football? But I digress...

    Please check out the Matrix Soccer Academy created by Charlie Jackson of Blackburn Rovers. Their sessions are viewed as "best practice" by UEFA and its all geared towards touches per player (upwards of 500 in a 1 hour session) and is a phenomenal method of coaching youngsters. I sat my UEFA B Licence with Charlie and his ideas are outstanding and could do with a bit more uptake elsewhere!


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  • 115. At 09:54am on 27 Feb 2009, stupendousFlyingRed wrote:

    Many good points made already in the discussion. The big question is who, when and how it's going to be changed!

    My son plays under-10s mini-soccer and is in his third year of attending Brazilian Soccer Schools.

    BSS has undoubtedly improved his first touch and ability to control the ball coming at him at different angles and speeds. However it is not easy for him to use his close control skills in mini-soccer matches because it's the norm for referees to let most fouls go.

    The skillful boys get overwhelmed by a bit of muscle from lads who can't even kick a ball but have been programmed with a "winning mentality."

    Secondly, the pitch quality is so poor that bounce is unpredictable and the ball doesn't run true over the bumps.

    Once again the fixtures have been disrupted by our winter weather which has led to postponements. On several other occasions, when the boys have played in sleet and near-zero temperatures, the manager's instruction has been "Let's just get this one over with."

    In the UK we have a two tier system, where professional clubs scout boys against arbitrary criteria and allow them to train in a perfect environment - (indoors, warm, good surface) whilst everyone else learns a different game in which strength, size and aggression are the ingredients for success.

    The solution has to be in finding more indoor venues, being creative about scheduling league games on astro-turf mini-soccer pitches and supporting referees in discouraging illegal challenges.

    Too often junior teams are managed by well-meaning dads whose own success in football was due to their physical strength, battling and mastery of route one football, so we should not underestimate the massive resistance to change.

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  • 116. At 11:03am on 27 Feb 2009, jinx2104 wrote:

    YellowAmberArmy, before calling me ignorant you should maybe read my post again. I never once said they were told they weren't good enough, and the fact that one of them got multiple offer from teams a lot better and bigger then Cambridge proves that point. The point i was making is Cambridge were more interested in there size then skill, putting a 13 or 14 year old under pressure about there weight or lack isn't what I’d call good coaching!!!

    My argument about Cambridge youth set up in the past isn’t just judge on those 2 players, i live in the Cambridge area and have known lots of players at different ages who all spent time at Cambridge and thought the same thing. I also know a scout who said the same thing, he even recommended at least 2 players to Cambridge who were turned down and ended up at Premiership clubs. Just think if that didn't happen you may not be in the Conference now!!

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  • 117. At 11:28am on 27 Feb 2009, IanA wrote:

    Great article Gavin. I was always useless at football at school. I was too skinny and gangly for full size pitches, I was easy to knock off the ball and not very good in the air.

    Because of this I stopped playing football concentrated on athletics and swimming. But I have always been a massive football fan.

    I rediscovered playing football at a later age when I started playing seven a side and five a side. Despite this late development I now play at a pretty good standard, and all this is because I actually got lots of touches and short passes during those seven a side games. My mates who thought I was totally useless in PE at school are quite surprised when they see me on the pitch - and moreso when they see that i'm not totally useless!

    So yeah, I am in total agreement. Five a side and seven a side breeds confidence and technique. Essential for any player at any level.

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  • 118. At 11:30am on 27 Feb 2009, sceptic_al wrote:

    At 08:42am on 26 Feb 2009, ScottishScouser wrote:

    "Mind you nowt will change because playing kids on smaller pitches is one of those nasty European new-fangled things. "

    Is it? When I was a kid (1950's) we played on smaller pitches I think even up until the age of around 13/14. Of course in those days we also spent a lot of time playing in the street. Playing on a full size pitch was one of the things you aspired to, like wearing long trousers instead of shorts.

    Now if only I had been coached on a full size pitch I might have reached my full potential! Ah ah.

    Still, nothing changes, Notts were in the bottom division then.

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  • 119. At 11:31am on 27 Feb 2009, politic-thistle wrote:

    Gavion great blog, it is interesting to get an insight into the back workings of football education. Many of us would never get the chance to know this information and it is a real gem. Look forward to hearing from you again, would be great to hear more about your footballing education and your experiences.

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  • 120. At 11:44am on 27 Feb 2009, martymandpia wrote:

    Hi gavin,
    I really like your blog - I live in denmark and train my son's under 11 team - we play 7 a side with smaller goals placed on the edge of the penalty area, with rolling substitutions. This works pretty well, and enables the coach to let some of the technically weaker players time on the pitch with the stronger ones.

    Problem of the dominance of the bigger kids at this level doesn't really go away, but I encourage my boys to 'pass and move' rather than 'kick and rush'.

    Good luck with your season.

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  • 121. At 12:02pm on 27 Feb 2009, SA-EAGLE wrote:

    Nice blog Gavin! As a youngster (now many years ago) I started as a goal-keeper, which I really enjoyed. However a time came when we ended up playing as U12's on a full size pitch against a team that only turned up with 9 boys (poor them). We routed them 21-0 and I scored 4 as a GK..not bad eh?
    From that day my coach obviously saw something and put me up front and I went on from there, bagging in those goals (big-headed sorry but I was only 12/13).
    I then "moved" to a professional club and to my dis-belief they put me at right back!!
    However, it made me a better player for sure.
    My point (sorry took while) as having also coached, is quite simple. Kids are kids and the enjoyment should take priority. Play on smaller pitches until the age of 14/15 and then move on to full size.
    You will still get kids the "shine" and are easily "above" the rest and they will get picked out. However, all the other kids will get better physically, mentally and skill wise as well I have no doubt.
    To have U11 playing on a full-size pitch is totally ludicrus and causes early exhaustion and early injuries in kids. The sooner this is realised the better. LET THEM ENJOY IT AND PARTICIPATE until they are READY!

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  • 122. At 12:06pm on 27 Feb 2009, sportymisterpastry wrote:

    I felt so strongly about this blog i have signed up to have my say. I agree 100% with you Gavin!

    My son is 11 years old and a decent little player, his birthday is near the end of August so he is the youngest in his team. He is fast and pretty skillful although he is small and i refer to him as the whippet. He has been picked for trials with one profesional club but wasn't chosen, I told him not to worry about this as hopefully more opportunities will arise.

    My main gripe is that he plays on the big 11 a-side pitches in the first division county league and I am sick to the back teeth of hearing from so called experts how the lads all need to be big and strong for this division and my lad would never make it as a pro as he won't be big enough. He is 11 years old for goodness sake and I want him to enjoy his football as all kids should and not be put off by the negative comments and vibes and the constant pressure to perform.

    The way I see it, when my lad played 7 a side footie, touch and skill were more important over pure strength and height, however now he is playing 11 a side footie
    this seems to have been reversed and it is one hell of a jump from small sided pitches to the big pitches.

    Personally I think the teams should play 9 a side on an intermediary size pitch for a couple of years before jumping to 11 a side on the full size pitch. This way it is a gradual progression and I believe you can nurture skill, technique and touch, which will definitley benefit the kids.

    I am fully aware that strength and height is vitally important in any team, but i still feel there is room for flare and skill, but I fear with the British game and the way it is taught nowadays, this is becoming less prevelant as the kids grow up.

    I really feel this is a problem which needs addressing at grass roots level sooner rather than later, otherwise the skill factor is going to deteriorate further over the coming years.

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  • 123. At 12:09pm on 27 Feb 2009, FreeSpeech wrote:

    The best thing to improve youth football would be to make it clear that the goal (sic) is to help players express themselves fully rather than help the parents in their plan to get rich off their kids talent.

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  • 124. At 12:12pm on 27 Feb 2009, moujik wrote:

    Most of the improvement happens during training. That's why matches should relate to what you learn every day.
    Playing on full-size pitches sub 15 can't teach too much and a quite depressing experience as I can remember.
    Another factor that is often disregarded is the size of the ball. The striking technique changes drastically with size proportion.
    You can strike the ball as sweet as you like until you shoe size surpasses 6-7. So, playing with smaller balls would keep the continuity of learning.

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  • 125. At 12:22pm on 27 Feb 2009, Bungle1967 wrote:

    Sorry, but I disagree. As a long time coach currently with a U12 team in their second season in 11-a-side I would say that the idea that having the ball at your feet as much as possible is the panacea for the ills of English football is a fallacy, the repercussions of which can now be seen throughout the game in this country.

    I have 14 players in my squad, all of whom are comfortable in control and fine when playing with the ball. However, only two can play without the ball. On average during a match a busy midfielder will have the ball at his feet for less than 3 minutes and the average player will have the ball at his feet for less than 1% of the game.

    Football is a game of space and movement and the sooner as it is realised and accepted that players need to understand that they must be able to play without the ball the better. Just look at Spain v England recently. The Spanish played pass, move and close in the middle, creating space when they had the ball, closing the ball down when England were in possession. England on the other hand had no movement off the ball, and played their usual game of knocking it along the back line before the purposeless hump upfield. England's only serious attack was from a Beckham long ball.

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  • 126. At 12:28pm on 27 Feb 2009, JustAnOpinion wrote:

    It is a good blog and most of what you say sounds like common sense.

    The question is though: how would you go about making the changes you suggest assuming you had the relevant power?

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  • 127. At 12:42pm on 27 Feb 2009, dufcterror - I love the shimmy wrote:

    100% agree.

    Where I live there is a team who train at my local park and the majority of it is fitness work all year round. Ridiculous. They should be working on technique!

    But I'm totally behind you're pitch size arguement.

    I was one of the smaller kids and when it went to full size pitches I completely lost interest as it was all about getting the bigger lads playing and winning.

    Didn't get back into it until I was an adult and snapped my cruciate in first season! Me bitter? Never...

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  • 128. At 12:44pm on 27 Feb 2009, DB Cooper wrote:

    Post 125

    Of course during a game, each player does not have actual possession for very long.
    Watching the Zidane film that was on bbc4 the other day shows that.

    But surely the point is that children have to practise extensively with the ball, to improve their technique, so they are able to do something with it in the limited time they will have possession.

    Going back to the Zidane film....
    Alot of standing about. Very few touches. But he was able to beat 3 men and put the ball on Ronaldos head with his "weaker foot" because of the thousands of hours he had spent with the ball, working on his technique.

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  • 129. At 12:48pm on 27 Feb 2009, gc wrote:

    I felt like there were different skills for 5 and 11 aside football. Many great defenders in the English game are not very technically gifted and rely on judgement and strength. Players like John Terry for instance. Perhaps playing on a large pitch early benefits some types of players? Guys like Gerrard and Lampard are not technical players but tackle, run, give long passes and shoot from range. One size doesn't perhaps fit all? I'd be interested to hear thoughts.
    We do have few technical players and we should of course be trying anything that helps improve that though.

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  • 130. At 1:11pm on 27 Feb 2009, jamgalex1 wrote:

    I run an under 11s team and we only play 7 a side on a small pitch and with small goals. We also rotate the players round so that no one stays in the same position every week.
    Doing this means that football remains interesting and fun for the kids at this age. The players learn about different positions and skill.

    To many times at junior level defending is about hoofing the ball and attacking is about being fast and having a powerful shot, especially if little kids are playing in big goals where acuracy counts for nothing.

    We don't produce many technically gifted or even mentally gifted players in the UK because as too often they don't need these skills as kids.

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  • 131. At 1:14pm on 27 Feb 2009, supergunner07 wrote:

    Spot on Gavin with your conclusion, one general weakness that has always persisted in british talents is not just technique but also ability to with back-to-goal in-between-lines as Spain demonstrated this month and playing many different position will definately help and improve composure.

    Trevor Brooking recently stated that there are many objecting to reducing full sized pitch for younger age groups which i found quite annoying as improvement will not until we take those steps.

    Furthermore academies and pre-academey club coaches must encourage development of individual players on all aspects of their game rather than focus on winning which is what majority of them do and british coaches should travel around the world to learn different coaching methods which will be used for developing our kids.

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  • 132. At 1:22pm on 27 Feb 2009, mattyf1983 wrote:

    To be honest I was the big lad at school and basically playing full size pitches at that age was a nightmare. Being told just to lump the ball long and let the midfield and attack sort it out was our coach’s opinion.

    I was always quite a good footballer but I had to teach myself due to the attitude of the coaches I played under.

    I was always one of the first picked for 11 a side and last picked for 5 a side due to not having enough time with the ball.

    I believe smaller pitches would benefit boys and girls of younger ages.

    Maybe have 20 matches a season 20 on half size pitches and 5 on full this would give the lad’s time to learn both aspects of the game. Touch to this day is still the most important thing on any size football field and I believe if there is a way in which professional coaches and players can develop this for younger generations then it should be snapped up with both hands. Pease don't let good young players turn out to be office workers, trades people because of some narrow minded parents who think they know better than professionals.

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  • 133. At 2:48pm on 27 Feb 2009, phovea wrote:

    I agree that the more touches kids have the more likely they are to develop their ability to control & pass the ball - but these are only a small part of being a skilful player - of huge importance are marking, closing space, movement off the ball, and a million touches a day are not going to improve these aspects of a player's game. The dynamics of an 11-a-side game are very different to those of a 7/9-a-side game - and you only learn about these dynamics by playing 11-a-side games. It's too simplistic to assume that smaller side games = more touches = better players. I've come across loads of players who are fantastic in small sided games but hopeless in an 11-a-side game. Sure, we need to improve young players' technical abilities but we do also need to teach them about the dynamics of playing the game itself, and the game, fundamentally, is an 11-a-side game.

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  • 134. At 3:43pm on 27 Feb 2009, LucaToni_is_as_good_as_spaghetti wrote:

    Hi Gavin. Spot on the mark and a great, insightful blog from you as always. Find it slightly ironic on here that some guys believe you could become the saviour of english youtfootball. Maybe they've all forgotten your scottish lol

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  • 135. At 5:42pm on 27 Feb 2009, Roberto_Mexicano wrote:

    Comment 125 - Bungle1967

    Are you really running a junior football team?!!!!!!! That's a very scary thought!

    Your views are absolute tosh, and your justification for your argument that your players are all comfortable on the ball means nothing.

    Are any of them likely to be pro players? Obviously not, or they would be in an academy rather than your team, so obviously they're not technically good enough for a higher level are they? Maybe with more technical practice 1 or 2 may have made that extra level?

    You are the exact person this debate is aimed at!

    Read comment 128 and that tells you everything you need to know. Someone that understands the point of what we're talking about - Zidane said after he scored that amazing left foot volley for Real Madrid to win the Champions League that he was able to do it because it was something he's practised thousands of times before as he grew up.

    Yes movement off the ball and game intelligence is vital at the highest level, but what good is it if you have no ability with the ball?

    The national team players from the British Isles are displaying their technical limitations today, because of the coaching limitations of the past - Bungle1967, I think you're still there!

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  • 136. At 5:45pm on 27 Feb 2009, Roberto_Mexicano wrote:

    Bungle 1967: "the average player will have the ball at his feet for less than 1% of the game"

    I wonder what percentage the above average players like Messi & Ronaldo have it for?


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  • 137. At 5:57pm on 27 Feb 2009, DB Cooper wrote:

    This type of disscussion is vital becuase things have to change in Britain.

    Of course not all players HAVE to be technically gifed, John Terry being an example as mentioned earlier.

    But imagine how much better a player he would be if he did have great technical skill, and was able to step into midfield with the ball and play killer passes like his mate Carvalho.

    British players have great attributes, but those attributes need to be combined with a greater level of technical ability.
    If that happens then perhaps England can win things and just maybe Scotland can start qualifying again.

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  • 138. At 6:38pm on 27 Feb 2009, mweller wrote:

    Enjoyed the article, and most of the posts as well.

    One thing I'd add, concerning parents / coaches is an experience I had in coaching a recreational church leauge. As part of the training for coaches, it was discussed how the deportment of the coach effects the way the parents and players present themselves.
    The premise was, basically, if a coach argues with an official, or bemoans calls, the parents and youngsters will feel empowered to as well. Conversely, if the coach agrees with what may be a bad call, doesn't leave much room for the parents/youngsters to argue. We were encouraged to say "good call" to the official, regardless of if we felt it was or not. A small point, but i will say there was less animosity coming from the stands than usual, and the boys seemed to do better--accepted a call, and moved on.

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  • 139. At 7:04pm on 27 Feb 2009, Roberto_Mexicano wrote:

    Post 137 -

    "Of course not all players HAVE to be technically gifed, John Terry being an example as mentioned earlier.

    But imagine how much better a player he would be if he did have great technical skill"

    At last someone is seeing the point. This is exactly it, and exactly the problem we have in England. We see people's strengths and ignore their weaknesses, thinking that because they're exceptional in one area the other areas aren't important.

    They may be great players and may well have world class attributes, but how good would Gerrard, Beckham, Lampard, & Owen be if they had better individual ability? If they had the option of a trick, skill or dribbling to add to what they're already so good at?

    That's the difference between them and those in the exclusive "legends" bracket such as Pele, Maradona, Cruyff, Zidane, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Messi and whoever else i've missed off that list.

    Hopefully you get my point

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  • 140. At 7:08pm on 27 Feb 2009, gooner4eva1982 wrote:

    you've really got to look at coaches and parents in this arguement.

    Every team and lets face it football is a team game. Needs different types of players.

    A commanding Goalkeeper
    2 Quick Full Backs
    A tall powerful centre half accompanied by his quicker ball playing partner
    2 tricky wingers the can cross
    A midfield enforcer
    The creative genius
    A tall target man to win the headers
    and a Goalmachine.

    Now when you son or daughter tells you they want to play football, what position do you see them playing.

    Think about this and be real.

    do/did you think great he'll be the ball winner????

    or did you think great, centre forward???

    Think realsitically would John Teryy ( just becuse he's been mentioned earlier) Still be a profesional footballer if he was played upfront all his life?

    Kevin Phillips was indeed realesed from southampton as a left back. BIG mistake. How good would he be if he'd been played upfront at a younger age???

    Gav would you have made the pro game as a keeper?
    who was the 1st person to tell you, you might be better off out on pitch?

    What does you ol' man make of the coaching system at youth level?

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  • 141. At 7:43pm on 27 Feb 2009, elstrup wrote:

    there was a man from wirral
    who looked like a squirrel
    his paragraphs were long
    nobody read them, right or wrong
    he left in a car
    and returned in a bus
    one feather short of a pillow
    he signed his birth crtificate Dave
    but his name is Cyril

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  • 142. At 00:46am on 28 Feb 2009, elstrup wrote:

    just thought i'd share that with planet Earth.
    Have a nice life.
    Up the Hatters

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  • 143. At 5:21pm on 28 Feb 2009, HappyHatter35 wrote:

    Great Blog as always Gavin.

    While we are on the subject of youth / junior football. I did not see much press on the fact that LUTON under 11s just become the champions of EUROPE, Beating BAYERM MUNICH in the final, with MAN U coming 13th.

    For a team having so much bad luck / bad treatment from the FA to reach the final of the JPT and the boys champions of Europe is an encouraging sign.

    Top Fifteen Final Placings:

    1.Luton Town F. C.

    2.Bayern Munich (Germany)

    3.Borussia Dortmund (Germany)

    4.Grasshoppers Zürich (Switzerland)

    5.Ivory Coast National Team

    6.Werder Bremen (Germany)

    7.Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia)

    8.Sachsen Leipzig (Germany)

    9.Liepajas Metalurgs (Latvia)

    10.CSKA Moskau (Russia)

    11.FC Aarau (Switzerland)

    12.Clube Nautica Capibaribe (Brazil)

    13.Manchester United F.C.

    14.Chiasso-Team Mendrisiotto (Switzerland)

    15.New Zealand National Team

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  • 144. At 7:21pm on 28 Feb 2009, Bungle1967 wrote:

    Post 135

    Dear Mex,

    I don't think you understand (or possibly can't read).

    I am not saying that ball control or play on the ball is not important, what I am saying is that in a team it is important to play as a team, and that means all 11 players, not just the one with the ball.

    It's okay to say that players need to "express" themselves but how would you express yourself when you've just made a 40 yard supporting run and your teammate decides not to pass but tries a fancy stepover, loses the ball catching half his team out of position.

    With respect to Messi, fantastic player, great positional play and anticipation - that is what I am on about, nad he didn't learn that dribbling around cones or doing keepy-uppies.

    Since I have had my current U12s, I have retained over 90% of my squad since we started 5 years ago, and have the full support of all parents based upon the fairness I apply in ensuring all players get a good amount of time on the pitch in matches and training is designed to benefit all.

    I must be doing, something right, I haven't had to leave the country...

    Post 128

    I don't think we are disagreeing, I'm just saying that team play is as important as ball play.

    On the subject of pitch sizes, yes varying sizes would be nice but lets face it, it's just not practical.

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  • 145. At 11:19am on 01 Mar 2009, borojoeee wrote:

    cracking blog.
    i read it most weeks, and you seem to be the only person who actually talks about things that matter in the world of football.
    after england lost to croatia last year, there was so much talk about developing young talent, however within a couple of months, it all seemed to die away, just because cappelo got some results against fairly average oppisition. we ahve played france and spain, and lost in both, yet now people are calling it a "learning curve".they are too good for us, we need to face it, and try and move on to the next generation and make sure we dont cock that up.

    i agree with you that we should play on smaller pitches. Look at spain, in almost every town, there are small 5 aside pitches, which are there to be used, and whenever i go, they are full of very skillful, technically talented youngsters.

    im not saying that we had have all our matches on 5 aside pitches, but i am saying that if we insist on putting 3 year olds on premiership pitches, then we should at least give them the oppurtunity to access 5 aside facilities for free, so they can develop themselves, or run classes from a young age which teach them the art of dribbling and quick one touch passing.

    my little brother attended a class called "soccertots" for a few month, and he is the only 5 year old i know who can trap a ball and do a step over.

    Also the thing you said about letting players play in other posistions, i was that big centre half who could kick far, but when our main striker got injured, they stuck me up front, and i scored a hatrick in my first game. I know it will sound like i am blowing my own trumpet here, but i am now netting 20 a season for my team. i discovered my goal scoring knack, through luck, but my point is that if managers were able to experiment with posistions more, it could help a lot in developing young players.

    looking forward to next weeks blog, joe.

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  • 146. At 12:26pm on 01 Mar 2009, Redkenny wrote:

    100% Agree with you Gav!

    Apart from the problem with pitch sizes I always found the mentality of the coaches and parents to be the biggest problem. My first team was put together when I was 9 in an incredibly unfair and biased way. An ex pro who lived in my area used to take training sessions at all the primary schools. He was literally asked by our manager and coach (one who worked for the F.A and another ex Footballer) to give them a list of the best young footballers in the area. These 30 or so lads were split into two teams, all the best in 1 and the not quite so good in another and after a year of friendlies, both joined the league.

    I was in the A team and spent the first half of our treble winning debut season sat on the bench. We had a squad of up to 16 players which inevitably meant that some boys, who's parents had travelled up to 20 plus miles sometimes, didn't even take their tracksuit bottoms off!

    Right from the beginning we were drilled that winning was what we were there for and win we did! I eventually broke into the team, captained them for several seasons and went on to play county level. However, being quite a shy youngster, I hated this pressure and never enjoyed my football as a result of this. Even when I got to age 15/16, I still never wanted to play for County despite my Dad dragging me there and actually performing quite well in the first season. Because of this I always looked for ways out. I think this was because of the amount of pressure that was put on us. I can clearly remember faking injuries to get out of regional trials whilst my Dad pulled his hair out! I'm not saying i'd have made it, but it would've been nice to be allowed to enjoy the game rather than being screamed at for every mistake from the age of 9!

    The other problem with this system was that players who were actually very good and potentially would have walked into any other side, never got a game, became bored and quit. I was close to doing this myself until I got my break! All of this at 10 years old!

    Sorry for the length of this post, I've been bottling it up for years!

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  • 147. At 1:41pm on 01 Mar 2009, Roberto_Mexicano wrote:

    Bungle 1967 -

    Your wonderful reply simply digs you deeper.

    Your children are under 12s! They should be leaning skills and individual abilities.

    At under 12 the ability to understand and play the game is unimportant. To focus on these things during childhood simply ensures that the individual side of their game will never be addressed.

    My advice would be to introduce them to coaching sessions that focus on technique but encompass decision making aspects of their play - In this way we can then develop more rounded players, rather than just team players.

    A highly qualified coah once told me "If a player achieves a positive result (i.e. a shot)(be it by dribbling, a trick or by passing) he did the right thing". We are not the ones playing the game, they are, and so we really have no right to tell them there is only one way of doing things.

    Also remember, when Cristiano Ronaldo came to this country he was largely awful, due to his poor decision making and lack of an end product, not to mention the ridiculous theatrics.

    A few years later he is the world player of the year. Why? Because decision making and team play has been added to the incredible individual ability he has, making him a player that can do it all, and so dominate games. He is at times unplayable because if you try to stop him one way he always has another option at his disposal.

    It doesn't happen the other way around, because technical ability is the hardest thing learn.

    Hope this helps, and I wish you and your team great success with your new training regime.

    p.s. Is it bungle1967 cos that's the last time you went on a coaching course?.........just a thought

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  • 148. At 3:38pm on 01 Mar 2009, Golligosh wrote:

    Well what an incredible result, 3-0 up at half-time. I couldn't believe what I was hearing on Magpie World as I re-waxed my Barbour on the kitchen floor in darkest Essex.

    Saw the goals on the Championship this morning, have we really acquired a striker, (all be it on loan) that can score with either foot?

    I take credit for the first goal. The lads must have been reading my comments. I noticed Forte and Weston surging down the pitch racing towards their goal when Jamie F. was speeding down the wing.

    Couldn't quite make out the slacker who was behind those two trying to keep up though. He must try better.

    Clearly my comments motivated Delboy as he managed to put the bladderl into the old onion bag, even if he did fall over doing it.

    Now let's proof it was not a fluke by beating Darlo and Shrewsbury, hardly footballing giants steeped in tradition.

    Unlike Notts County, who are the oldest league club in the world, the first second division team to win the FA Cup, had the player that has scored the most FA Cup goals, still hold the Anglo-Italian Cup (a proper European trophy) been promoted and relegated more than any other team............that's what you call tradition.

    I could go on but I need to blow dry my Barbour to give it a factory finish!

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  • 149. At 3:40pm on 01 Mar 2009, Golligosh wrote:

    Isn't it annoying when you get typos like proof instead of prove when you have a dodgy keeper, I mean keyboard.

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  • 150. At 8:59pm on 01 Mar 2009, Bungle1967 wrote:

    Mex (post 147)

    Yeah, Ronaldo was terrible. That's why Ferguson paid over £12m for him and played him in 40 competitive matches in his first seasons.

    You really don't get it do you. It's a team game, and with most teams training together for just a coupe of hours a week, a significant element of that time must be given to teamwork.

    Ball control shouldn't be neglected but can be combined in the fitness and stamina sections of the training session. Also, most kids who enjoy football will be out there working on ball control on their own.

    If you are running a training session it needs to be structured not just a dribbling session and a kick-about. Kids can organise that themselves.

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  • 151. At 9:11pm on 01 Mar 2009, golfdave49 wrote:

    Can't agree more. Coached 13/14 year olds at school, on full size pitches boys who have developed quicker dominate as they are faster/stronger but not necessary good footballers - and in a few years they drift away. Equally good footballers (but not fully developed) tend to lose interest.
    Enjoy reading your blog

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  • 152. At 00:44am on 02 Mar 2009, scottishcanuck5 wrote:

    as a fairly new immigrant to Canada (10)yrs and have been involved in football, (soccer here) playing and coaching adult and youth teams, I am stunned that the UK does not already embrace SSG at mini and youth levels.

    It has been introduced here in Canada recently and makes so much sense,
    SSG is not just smaller fields, but the whole package ie,
    Goal size, ball size, duration of game and squad size all reduced, these are our groupings
    U6 3v3
    U7-U8 4v4
    U9-U10 7v7
    U11-U12 8v8 or 9v9
    U13-U18 11v11 only the duration of the game changes at 13 to 18.

    This format encourages players to be involved in the game at all times therfore movement off the ball is a necessary prerequisite of SSG, there can be no "hiding" in SSG so more touches come along with it.

    To say it is impractical to implement is closed mind thinking, a different colour line marking can give you a selection of smaller fields on one full size, all that is required after that is smaller goal sets, not an impossible thing to achieve I am sure.

    This type of topic needs much more discussion, as the develpoment of our young players needs to be a priority.

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  • 153. At 03:40am on 02 Mar 2009, Roberto_Mexicano wrote:

    Yes Bungle1967,

    I just don't get it.

    I just have a degree in Coaching Science, during which my dissertation analysed coaching practice in three of the most successful Premier League academies in England.

    I have also worked within the youth system of several academy and centre of excellence status clubs, with elite players from 5-14 years old for a period of 5 years, including 2 years as an u7 development officer. During this time I have implemented coaching curriculum, development programmes and coach education courses, as well as identifying and training more than 30 boys who are still at professional clubs 3 years later, some of which are now at top academies.

    I am now director of a football centre in Mexico, planning all coaching programmes and training all of the centre's coaching staff.

    ...........but then again, all of your u12 sunday league players are comfortable enough with the I guess i'll bow to your superior wisdom

    .........discussion over!

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  • 154. At 12:21pm on 02 Mar 2009, Wellimj wrote:

    You make a great comment with regards to your sons team playing on small pitches and rotating subs. I believe you are spot on and have signed up to make that point. My son is attached to an organisation which starts children at nursery age and nutures within them a love for the ball and freedom to express themselves and is all about development at all levels.

    The only thing I think you are missing is
    The Win At All Cost
    attitude of some parent coaches who are in the coaching role for their own glory and not for the development, physically technically and mentally of the children playing in the team.

    They are the ones responsible for coaching to develop a defender or striker not a footballer.

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  • 155. At 12:30pm on 02 Mar 2009, Bungle1967 wrote:

    Mex 153

    Okay, I take it all back, you must be right.

    Next session, I leave all my poles, cone and all but one of my footballs behind, and just take 4 jumpers.l And instead of going to the club, I jump into my time machine and head back to 1950 to play in the steet, or if I'm lucky, I might find a derelict bombsite on which the kids can play an unstructured 20 a-side match.

    For all you qualifications you project no knowledge just ignorance and arrogance in believing yours is the only way, and from your posts I'm still not sure what way that is.

    Are you telling my that structured teamwork is irrelevant and that we should just give the kids a ball and say "away you go"?

    By the way I also hold a sports degree, mines an MSc from Univ of London, where did you get yours, do they sell them on ebay?

    (Seriously though, as much as I like the banter, I really think you are not understanding my point which is that ball control is important, but with the move to larger size pitch some structure needs to be introduced to create a fluid and dynamic approach to the game, such as is implemented in Holland and now in Spain.)

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  • 156. At 5:35pm on 02 Mar 2009, Roberto_Mexicano wrote:

    Ok Bungle,

    Lets see if we can clear this up, and I will try, for one rare occasion, not to regress back to playground put-downs.

    You are correct that the move to full size pitches nececitates more structure, and more focus on things like movement and team play. However, if you read Gavin's blog again you'll see that was the whole point of this discussion!

    What we're saying is that u11 and u12 is too early to make that move. Why do children that young need to be on full sized pitches? You get out what you put in, so yes you will see your players improve greatly in the things they need to be good at to be successful on a large pitch, but why do they need to do that right now?Why do those things need to be prioritised right now?

    You have rightly recognised what your players need to do to be successful now they have moved up to full sided pitches, but they are as yet, not in direct physical proportion to the pitch they're playing on, so physical atributes are going to give the stronger players an advantage over the technical players, and will actively encourage the stronger players to use those advantages rather than developing their technique.

    That is what this debate is about. It's suggesting that at u11 and u12 there is no way a player has developed to his technical limits, so why are we changing the basis of how they achieve success by introducing them to 11-a-side football on a full sized pitch?

    Yes the game needs more structure and things like movement at 11-a-side as the likes of France, Spain, Argentina and Arsenal in our own domestic league have shown us, but the last 3 World Cups and the games against France and Spain, have shown us that the best countries in the world are technically better than us. Against France and Spain we hardly saw the ball, because their technique hardly failed and so our opportunities to win the ball back were rare. Movement alone wont create opportunities and keep the ball if you are not technically good enough to do so.

    You mentioned before that Cristiano Ronaldo played over 40 games in his first seasons for Man Utd. Only a fool would disagree that the weakest areas of his game when he first arrived in England were his decision making and team play. Why was he good enough to play so many games if these areas were lacking? Because his individual ability was so good. As I mentioned, over the past view years he has developed the "team" side and decision making side of his game and is now the World Footballer of the Year.

    And as you ask me to clarify "my way", I will tell you that it is based on the idea that we should not set limitations for players, or put them into brackets, but rather we should be trying to develop the complete player, ready to deal with any situation on the field. This is achieved by developing individual excellence first, so that they can deal with problems for themselves and understand the use of individual techniques. When we then add to that the more team oriented aspects of the game, in the same way that Ronaldo has, you get a complete player, comfortable in any situation, because they have the skills to deal with any situation.

    This is not to say every player has to be Ronaldo. Of course every player has a mentaility or physical atributes that make them more suitable to for a certain position in the end, but whoever the player is, wouldn't they be better for it if they had better technical ability? For example, John Terry or Jamie Carragher are never going to be Pele, but I saw Carragher produce an excellent trick on the edge of the box a few weeks ago that allowed him to beat a player and get a shot at goal. Improved technical ability would clearly make these players even better than they are already, by adding to what they're already good at.

    We can do this with technique based sessions that direct the players to making particular decisions relevant to certain situations in the game, and you'd be surprised at just how easy it is to establish a style of play with your team and an understanding of how the game works, even with very young players, on small sided pitches. With elite players it is certainly possible to develop all of these things in tandem.

    Many studies also prove that elite players have a higher tactical understanding of the game, due to the fact that their mental processes do not have technical problems to consider. If your technique is mastered, you perform it with little mental consideration, leaving you more able to focus on decision making and the tactical side of the game. Therefore, we need to ensure technical mastery is achieved as soon as possible.

    Oh, and my degree is from Liverpool John Moores University, ranked as the number 1 Sports Science research department in the country. Not sure if they're selling their degrees on ebay now though............ ;-)

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  • 157. At 8:57pm on 02 Mar 2009, Bungle1967 wrote:

    Dear Mex

    In a more conciliatory tone, I think your misunderstood my point.

    What I am saying is that team play and positional awareness is important and needs to form part of training along with, not in place, of ball control.

    I agree that at U11 a full size pitch a big step up, however, I would argue that mini soccer pitches are too small and restrictive for kids by the time they reach this age, and in fact the lack of space works against the skillful player as the larger, more physical players outmuscle smaller players. I make no comment about whether this is good or bad, just state the fact that I observe and have had voiced to me by fellow managers.

    You could argue that the best players can cope with this lack of space, but as many contributors have pointed out above, we are looking at a game that can cater for all, and can offer opportunities to improve and develop their own niche skill set.

    So, what is the solution? A number of people mention going from 7v7 to 9v9 on a 3/4 size pitch. In actuality, this is either impractical as the need for 3 sizes of pitches is not possible due to cost and land availability, or a reality in the sense that many local authority pitches are not regulation size so we are playing 11v11 on a 80yd pitch.

    Personally I think that perhaps the answer would be to increase the size of mini-soccer pitches so that we can continue to play a smaller size game for another year or possibly 2. This obviously would have to be done with consideration to younger players, but then should they playing matches at U6 or U7, be they competitive or exhibition?

    One would like to believe that pitches sizes are the result of serious research by the football authorities, but my own masters research into the impact of win premium enhancement (3pts for a win) on in-game strategic choices suggest that very little research is ever done.

    I hope you enjoyed your time at Liverpool Poly (only joking, I did look at doing their MBA Football programme but it meant moving to Liverpool). Wouldn't want to do that!

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  • 158. At 11:43pm on 02 Mar 2009, Roberto_Mexicano wrote:

    I think there are plenty of posts here that suggest the recommended pitch sizes for each age group, with something like a 3 quarter sized pitch being suggested for 11, 12 & 13 year olds.

    As one post suggests, we could, as they do in america, mark each one, within the boundries of a full sized pitch using different paint colours as the perfect way to do it without needing more space. You then just put the different small sided goals on for the different age group games.

    Some adult teams may be adverse to playing on pitches with red, blue and yellow lines all over it, but the game is for all and they would have to deal with this minor inconvenience.

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