The pull of grassroots


If only these scenes were just from a film; credits REX FEATURES

“Raise your s**t.”

No, not a scene from a film but from the touch-line of an u8 football match I was at recently.

I took a sharp intake of breath before catching eyes with my son, then I walked away to reflect on what I heard.

What drives these parents to put this much onus on their children to perform to such a high level, at such a young age?

Is it any wonder there are more and more articles appearing in the press regarding the dropout rates of children in football such as this one.

Did this parent become frustrated because his son wasn’t shining as he expected?

If you analyse the situation, his seven year-old son was playing against equally talented boys, therefore it was hard to stand out.

This was an Academy game between two very well matched teams, so two very capable sets of players, and with the final whistle approaching, in a 40 minute game heading for a 0-0 draw, the parent in question blew his top.

Which leads us to question, is it right to put children of this age, in such an environment?

The great grassroots game

credits; EMPICS Sport 

When I was 8 I was playing for my local grassroots team with my friends who all lived locally where there was a mixed ability level.

We all mucked in, sometimes there were matches ending 10-5 or 8-3, I cannot recall too often a match where teams cancelled each other out to the extent a game ended 0-0.

Some players were steady and reliable who were the glue at the back, although they were often instructed to ‘get rid of it’ in case they spent too long on the ball and lost possession.

Others were keen as mustard who got stuck in, whilst there would be the odd one or two very talented boys who stood out.

Nonetheless, it was mixed ability, so those who could shine were able to do so, whilst those who were less able improved by playing with better players.

Some matches ended with high scores, whilst the players had lots of shots on goal and got used to scoring goals.

Some spent a lot of their time looking off into the distance and had to be brought back into the match by an opponent running past them, however, this was the beauty of grassroots football.

There was no pre-arranged arrival time for a meticulous warm up.

The boys knew the kick-off time and parents would drop them off at a sensible time without being instructed to do so, it was common sense.

I cannot remember too many substitutes, possibly one or two players on the sideline waiting, so all the players had high game time , I imagine around the 80/90% mark.

There were no whiteboards or tactic boards.

There was no rallying pre game speeches by the coach, who was usually the father of one of the boys, and I cannot recall sitting on the damp grass in a pre match huddle whilst the coach went through pre game challenges or tasks to accomplish.

Some semblance of a warm up took place, albeit unsupervised but fun, and the boys would play until they could run no more.

I reflected on this as I asked to report one hour before kick off for the u8 game whole hour?

What would my seven-year old son do for an hour in a small changing room? Go over the game plan? Go through tactics on a tactic board? More to the point, what would I do?

To whom did this process benefit?

All aboard the road to ruin?

credits; Getty Images

The opposition team from the south coast had travelled two hours each way to London, excluding drop off times for the customary Premier League bus, for a 40 min game.

All the boys were decked out in the clubs tracksuit, of course, whilst the only item missing was a wash bag.

Is this really best practice for children of this age?

If you look at it from a learning point of view, the children from the south coast had spent the best part of half their waking hours travelling for a 40 minute game of football.

They had to rotate with substitutes, so each players’ actual learning time on the pitch was probably closer to 25 minutes maximum.

Had these boys played for their local grassroots team, they would have walked/ cycled/ been dropped off locally with minimal travel time.

They would have then played a much higher percentage of game time and still been home to play with their friends, all within two hours.

Is there really a valid reason for children to be in academy football so early?

I have withdrawn my son out of the academy system at present, and instead take him to the local grassroots team where the coaching is good enough, he gets high game time and he is home 10 minutes after the training and matches end.

Will it hurt his development? What development?

He is just turned 8! I want him to develop in so many ways, not only football.

I want him to help out around the house, to do his homework and play, not to be in a car or bus away from home for hours.

He is no more special than the rest of the family, who also need time with him and me.

I don’t want him in such a professional environment so early, unless it is less professional!

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