The English Football Association has recently made changes to the delivery of youth football across its country.
The changes, which are aimed at providing young players with the appropriate environment in which to learn the game, will result in players getting more touches on the ball and being more involved in the game. This, in turn, will help them develop greater technical skills at younger ages.
The changes being made by the English FA are eerily similar to those being made by the Canadian Soccer Association, through it's Long-Term Player Development (LTPD) program. This program is a soccer-specific adaptation of Sport Canada's Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) program.
Remarkably, there are some within the Canadian soccer community who believe that the principles of LTPD – which include smaller fields and goals for younger players, along with age-specific competition formats – are nothing more than whacky scientific research. The reality – something to which these critics do not seem to be in touch with – is that LTPD is based on common sense.
Smaller game formats - ranging from 5v5 to 7v7 to 9v9 as kids increase in age from six to 12 years old – coupled with smaller field sizes, mean that kids will get to touch the ball more when they play the game.
It stands to reason that the more a young player gets to touch a soccer ball, the more comfortable he or she will be with it at his or her feet.
In order to highlight the absurdity of children playing on the same sized fields as adults, using the same sized goals, the English FA built a goal to the same scale as 11-year old players face when they use full-sized goals. This increased the height of the goal from eight to nine feet, and the width of the goal from 24 feet to a massive 32 feet.
Standing in the enlarged goal (below) is the English FA's National Development Manager, Nick Levett.
This visual illustration shows exactly what young players face when using adult-sized goals; the goal is simply too big for the players.
So how do we win this 'war of ideology', for lack of a better term? How do we convince the 'win-at-all-costs' parents out there who think their professional-soccer-playing children need to continue playing 11v11 games on full sized fields? How do we convince them that their children will benefit from small-sided games with age-specific field and goal sizes?
We educate them.
Like any form of education, it won't happen overnight. It will happen, though, through consistent messaging from the governing bodies of the game in Canada (which is happening), along with awareness campaigns that reach the grassroots soccer community.
But most importantly, it will happen through like-minded soccer people – coaches, administrators and parents - working together to spread the message that these changes are being made to benefit the most important stakeholders of the game in Canada – our children.