Is competitive football ruining youth soccer in England and helping to turn our parents into the Gobby Morons who the FA want to remove from our game?
Children playing at age under 7 and under 8 do not normally play in competitive leagues with tables and statistics to compare, though they do play a home and away format, giving the young players a taste of football without the pressure for result after result. The matches themselves are contested much like a normal game, though the “win at all costs” mentality has been reduced somewhat because there is little riding on the game.
These non-competitive games should allow the players to play football without the constant shouting from the touchlines, and because there is no points awarded they should allow as many players as possible to have a game.
As the children get older the format changes and the teams compete in leagues. The matches then take on a whole new meaning, with teams desperate to win the game, always playing their best 11 with little room or chance for the weaker players in the team to play. This aspect of team selection also takes place within clubs who vehemently deny they do not play to win at all costs. A quick examination of any youth team will reveal in the vast majority of games a team is selected to win the match and not to allow a healthy selection of players to take part.
This problem is directly because teams play league football, where the pressure is on them to win and finish as high up the table as possible. This format has a knock-on effect by pushing more and more youngsters away from football, and with the players progressing through the age groups there are fewer and fewer teams competing. This is because fewer players enjoy standing on the side-lines while the perceived better players are playing, and they lose interest and leave the sport. As more players do this there are less and less players to fill the teams and eventually teams have to fold because of lack of players.
The sad reality is that the players are still out there and given the opportunity they would still be keen to play, but because of the win at all costs competitive element of football their soccer career ended long ago.
In other European countries the format of football for young players is much different, with competitive leagues not set-up until a later stage in the youngsters career and the games are smaller sided. In England when players reach 10 years of age they have to play full 11-a-side football, nearly always on full size pitches, in other European countries this would not be allowed. Also in other countries they play 5v5, 7v7 and 9v9 games up to the age of 12, giving each player many more chances of touching the ball and being involved in the game.
To protect the game we all enjoy and to make it available for all who wish to play, we should have a set-up which is inclusive of all abilities, not just favouring the elite players in the team. Changing the format may even help to rid the game of the Gobby Morons which ruin our junior game.
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