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THE F.A. YOUTH DEVELOPMENT REVIEW; WILL IT CREATE BETTER PLAYERS? It’s two years since the FA Youth Development review, and now that the key changes in the junior game have been properly phased in, I think its worth assessing whether the FA national game strategy of ‘developing better players’ is being served by these new approaches in youth football.

Let me nail my colours to the mast here; my default position with most initiatives from the FA is one of cynicism. Any organisation that spends 798 million pounds on

a seldom used stadium when 84% of respondents to an FA survey recently said facilities at their club were inadequate, has a credibility problem. However, there has been a welcome dynamism and commitment to change evident in the Youth Development wing of the F.A. in recent years, which deserves recognition. Here are the key changes: 1)THE RETREAT LINE- On taking a goal kick, all opposition players must retreat to the half-way line as a minimum to allow the goalkeeper the opportunity to play out from the back. The goalkeeper is entitled to wait until all opposition players are out of his or her half of the field before taking the kick, and upon the awarding of the goal kick opposition players are expected to leave the half without delay. If the goalkeeper chooses to take the goal kick quickly then the ball is in play as soon as it leaves the goal area, whether the opposition players have retreated to the half-way line or not. In this instance, a quick restart by the goalkeeper forfeits the opportunity to have the opposition players retreat to their own half. This, in my opinion, has been an unqualified success. A simple idea, easily understood by players, Coaches, and parents, that encourages teams to build from the back, and develops creativity and comfort on the ball in a teams defenders. MEETS THE KEY CRITERIA? 9 out of 10. COULD IT BE IMPROVED? Perhaps the option of attackers retreating to the half way line whenever the goalkeeper has the ball in their hands could be added. 2) NO LEAGUES UNTIL UNDER 12. A season will be a mix of friendlies, and 3 mini tournaments, played over a period of 2 to 6 weeks, depending on age. This change initially caused the most controversy in the Coaching community, many of whom felt that the F.A. were simply mistaken in their belief that a win-at-all-costs mentality existed in junior football. I certainly think the F.A. over stated their case, and that the majority of junior football coaches were child centred, and committed to long term player development, rather than notions of personal glory. And yet. My first experiences of this new format have been very positive. The atmosphere in the Friendly matches seems calmer and more conducive to creative football; Coaches are more relaxed, parents quieter, and the children less stressed by others expectations. These behaviours also seem to have become more prevalent in the mini tournaments as well, suggesting a virtuous circle of improvement among all involved parties. I am not sure if it is possible to make a judgement yet on whether the new system is superior to league football; would being a losing finalist in 3 mini tournaments feel any better or worse than the ups and downs of an 8 month league campaign? However, early signs do seem encouraging.

MEETS THE KEY CRITERIA? 7 out of 10 COULD IT BE IMPROVED? Not really, though I loved league football as well! I like the way the tournaments run over a longer period as the children get older, and the number of friendlies decrease. Well thought out. 3) CHANGES IN PLAYING FORMAT; UNDER 7’s AND UNDER 8’s PLAY 5 v 5. UNDER 9’s AND UNDER 10’s PLAY 7 v 7. UNDER 11’s AND UNDER 12’s PLAY 9 v 9. You can’t fault the logic behind these changes: fewer players on a smaller playing area equates to more touches of the ball, and a requirement for better technique. My only concern so far has been at Under 7 and Under 8 with players playing 5 v 5. I have witnessed a number of games where matches have been played on a pitch usually used for 7 v 7, not surprising when the minimum recommendation for pitch dimensions in seven a side is 50 x 30, whilst in 5 v 5 maximum dimensions suggested are 40 x 30. The unintended consequence of this are that the stronger, faster, fitter and more athletic type of player is dominating games at the expense of the smaller, technical player, which is precisely the opposite of the effect the F.A. was hoping to create. Playing style in this format also seems to suit the forceful runner or dribbler, rather than the passer, as passing options are simply fewer in number. 7 v 7 is a great developmental tool, and its been pleasing to see more progressive Coaches experimenting with 4 in midfield, with attacking and defensive central midfielders, and even the deployment of a ‘false’ number 9! Inspiring stuff! The promotion of 9 v 9 as a logical gateway to 11 a side football is long overdue, and every Coach I have spoken to is enjoying the experience. Sure, it’s created a few headaches for Committees in terms of organising pitches, but by and large clubs have done really well in implementing the change. MEETS THE KEY CRITERIA? 8 out of 10 COULD IT BE IMPROVED? The F.A. must stress the importance of smaller pitch sizes for 5 v 5, so that they achieve the desired outcomes. Clubs must realise that there is nothing wrong with using cones to do this, and instruct their Coaches accordingly. Overall, I think the F.A. Youth Development wing have a lot to be pleased with. I like the way they have altered key aspects of the game to impact on the way the junior football is played so that, to quote Cruyff, ‘The Game becomes the Teacher’ Why they felt compelled to make these changes is another question for another day, but at its root it would seem that there are major flaws in the F.A. Coaching Education Programme at entry level if progressive coaching styles need to be

enforced through changes in the rules and conditions of the game itself. The Youth Development Review is creating a framework that serves the National Game Strategy of ‘Developing Better Players’; now they need the Coaches to see the potential in these changes, and take the Junior game forwards.

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The F.A. Youth Development Review; Will I Create Better Players?  

The Youth Development Review is creating a framework that serves the National Game Strategy of ‘Developing Better Players’; now they need th...

The F.A. Youth Development Review; Will I Create Better Players?  

The Youth Development Review is creating a framework that serves the National Game Strategy of ‘Developing Better Players’; now they need th...