It’s an exciting time to work in grassroots football. Coming off the back of The Future Game conference The FA have begun taking their message to the masses in an attempt to engage the football community in a debate about “What Is Best For Our Young Footballers?”.
Some of the answers, say The FA’s Nick Levett are:
a) Support for Smaller-Sided Games at U8/U9 and U11/U12
b) Less Focus on Competition and League Tables
c) Strategies to Combat Age-Relative Effect (or Birth Bias)
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— UPDATE 1 —
Club Website have a very detailed description of all The FA’s grassroots proposals and I’d encourage you to head over there and give them a read (opens in new tab).
— UPDATE 2 —
Because the sound quality is quite poor throughout the Gareth Southgate interview here’s a transcript of the conversation:
Firstly I asked how he came to take the grand title ‘Head of Elite Development’ and find his role within The FA:
Trevor approached me before Christmas, looking to bring someone in on the back of the Youth Development Review.
He wanted someone who had played for England, with managerial experience and who had their Pro Licence. So that quite limited the pool of people who could be involved. And Trevor, having met me over the years, knew where my interests lie ethically. So for me, having a massive interest in developing young people and also English football, it was a great opportunity. Really my role is guided by the recommendations of the Youth Development Review, so on this side of things – helping to develop coach education, working with the Premier League on the EPPP (Elite Player Performance Pathway) and also working with the junior international teams. To begin with, monitoring how we prepare for tournaments and for matches, and to help make recommendations and follow things through and put them into place as part of that Youth Development Review.
To gauge Gareth’s thoughts on the current state of English football I asked what he felt had changed since he was a young player?
I started with under-12s football when I was nine, playing 11 v 11. My son is seven now and he has been playing at a Charter Standard club for two years, so the amount of skill development which is going on; the change of emphasis in coaching; the greater knowledge we seem to have about how kids learn; and taking that further forward, the desire to produce players with better technical quality and generally across the country – it’s probably a generational thing – but a better awareness and understanding of what is going on across the world. When I was a lad growing up, the Cup final was the only match that was on; we know see European football every weekend. I think people are rightly raising the question now, why aren’t we technically playing the same way as the Spanish, Portuguese or Italians – whoever it might be. I think there’s a generation of fathers saying that this is what they want for their kids.
We had done a lot of work anyway but I think last year’s World Cup highlighted it, and deep down people know there needs to be a longer-term plan in place anyway. What happened last summer just maybe has moved things along more quickly.
I asked Gareth why we still seem to be lagging behind other European countries when it comes to developing technical players:
It’s no different from when I was playing for England. At the very youngest age there wasn’t as much emphasis on skill development; we had all of the great English traits – team spirit, great work ethic, a never-say-die attitude. But the emphasis in our coaching has never totally been around skills and technical ability. There are many reasons for that – inherent thinking of our coaches, we can’t ignore the fact that our climate gives us a disadvantage… but to try to overcome that we have also got to look at facilities, and can we get funding for more artificial surfaces. Should we be more creative and play kids’ football through the summer? The plans we are talking about are not my ideas because they were put forward before I came into this job – but I couldn’t agree more with them having played at the highest level and seeing the difficulties there. And as a father, having watched two years of football – not just my son’s age-group but other ages too. Seeing the difficulties caused sometimes by parents, seeing the difficulties faced (by grassroots coaches) across the board. So it’s very easy to come and speak about something you care passionately about.
Continuing along the funding path, I then asked Gareth whether professional clubs should be investing more money in their local communities?
I think we have to be careful that we are fully aware of what each club does, because from some clubs there is enormous investment going into that. It would be easy to generalise and we have got to be careful not to do that. The work that I have seen which is going into the classification of the academies tells me that the top clubs are investing enormous amounts. There will always be the accusation that clubs don’t do enough in their own communities, but I think there are a lot of community programmes going on and there’s never enough money to go around. We have such a huge base of kids and adults playing football that the distribution of the money is always a difficult subject. But the more we can raise awareness of what is being done, the more we can get Government support, try to influence sport in schools, there are so many areas where can help move things forward – because we are a nation that likes football. And whilst my role covers helping to develop elite players, my interest is as much about the enjoyment of kids, the health benefits of sport, and the benefits generally of being involved in team sport. I want my kids to play football to experience being part of a team and what that means, as much as I might have any notion of him developing into a decent player. It’s about personal development as well as about developing individual players who might one day go and play at the highest level.
As a well-regarded TV pundit, I was interested to hear Gareth’s opinions on the role the media plays in shaping our country’s footballing culture:
Inevitably the media play a role in passing on the message, but it’s for influential people within the game to give out the right messages, to communicate what we are trying to do clearly. It’s easy for people to have a preconceived idea about what The FA do, what the Premier League do, what UEFA do. One of things I have noticed since coming into The FA is that it’s a far younger organisation on the inside than people would believe, and a more forward-thinking. People within it have got a little bit more time to go and research – they go and talk to kids, talk to coaches. Sometimes in the professional game when you need results, there isn’t that time to go and educate yourself or to improve. As an organisation, we (the FA) have to get better at communicating. It’s easy to criticise the FA because it’s such a vast organisation, but I firmly believe there’s lots of good ideas and we have got to make sure we put those good ideas into play, because we are the custodians of the game for the whole country.
I concluded the interview by asking Gareth what has made the biggest impact on him during the roadshow events so far?
A common theme so far has been the problems that parents create. We have a pretty good set-up but you still hear things which are not helping children develop, not helping their self-confidence, their ability to learn; and we must help get that message across. I’m talking about having a pre-season meeting where you get all the parents together and explain the philosophy of the club. I’ve been to parts of the country where they have asked parents to leave if their approach is wrong. Everyone immediately assumes I mean their approach to referees – more importantly it’s their approach to their own children. I’m not surprised that has been a common theme, but I’m concerned by it and it’s something we have got to focus on.
Gareth Southgate on the importance of communicating The FA’s ideas.
I think one of the fair criticisms of the FA in the past is that people have not been consulted enough about what’s going on. I don’t think it would be right for us to sit down at Wembley, make a load of decisions, implement them, and not explain them to people. I think the more we do that, the fewer misconceptions there will be. I think when we talk about not having league tables, for example, everybody thinks ‘non-competitive sport – that’s disastrous’. Before as a parent I would have been concerned, but we’re not just talking about throwing beanbags into a hoop here, and no winners and losers. There is a difference, kids want to win – put a ball down and kids want to win that game. Where it puts them in the league, they don’t know. We do, as parents, because we are trained to think that way. People in every part of the country will have great ideas and we have to be taking those ideas on board, and explaining the vision – explaining that it’s not just something we have dreamed up, it’s something which is based on a lot of research, not just here but across Europe.
If you are going to lead anything, you have got to bring people with you. Not everybody is going to agree with everything, we will get times when some people will be slightly unhappy with something, but if you look back at when Mini Soccer was introduced – well, I think everybody would agree now that has been a great thing. The process of how we got there people might disagree with, and so it’s important people get the opportunity to say how they feel. But once they see the reason, a lot of it is just commonsense. I honestly think there is a mood for change, and that’s countrywide – not just pockets – and the word is spreading quickly. I’m on Twitter and when you put messages out, there’s a lot of reaction from coaches or Dads, and the same messages keep coming back – we got to 11 v 11 too early, we’ve got to control parents, we’ve got to develop coaches – we’ve just got to get on and do it, but not before we’ve heard.
As an added bonus, here’s Gareth’s speech which opened the ‘Your Game Your Say’ event:
I’m not a fan of titles but I wanted to talk about my role.
Because of the way things went in South Africa, it highlighted lots of issue that many of us across the country felt needed addressing. The Youth Development Review has 25 recommendations, and that covers the development of youth football, coach education – including the development of St George’s Park – some work with the Premier League on the reclassification of their academies, and work with the international junior teams, from under-16s to under-21s. The recommendations of that Review form my role.
I think when I initially walked in, lots of the Press thought ‘well, the main area is going to be liaising with professional clubs’. People thought because I had managed, it would be about trying to get Jack Wilshere to play for the under-21s in the summer. My love of football is much more than that. When I was younger I coached PE at a school for while when I was playing. I had involvement with the Football Foundation in terms of being an ambassador for them, so I was very up to speed with the difficulty in getting facilities for junior and senior football. I am also a parent, my son is seven years old, he’s playing at a Charter Standard club. So when I came into the FA and saw the recommendations which were in place, it was something that perhaps I hadn’t thought as clearly about until I actually came in. But I could see the impact of all the things which were being discussed. I love giving young people opportunities, I worked very closely with the academy at Middlesbrough, through my coaching badges coached a lot of the kids who came through, and we had a philosophy that we wanted to give young people a chance. I also work with the Prince’s Trust and this is very much what I believe in.
So this role – being able to help young people and working in football – is a dream for me.
One of the reasons for the Roadshow, and why I am here, is that I don’t think it is right we stand at Wembley as The FA, and just tell people we are going to make a decision and don’t go out to consult people. The more we can explain some of the ideas which are being recommended, the better. I think there is a desire right across the country – from coaches, Dads and kids – that there is some change. We all see how football is played in other countries on TV, and the questions are being asked again and again, ‘why can’t we develop kids with those skills?’ ‘Why aren’t we as technically gifted as some of the other countries across Europe and in South America?’
There are two parts to what we are trying to do. One, which is part of my role, is to develop elite players who will one day go on and play for our country and make us a success at the highest international level. But just as importantly for me, is that everybody in my son’s team gets the same amount of playing time, that they enjoy their football, that we understand what children want from football, how they learn and how we can effect that as parents, as coaches, as administrators of the game.
I’ve been very impressed with the reaction we have had. I understand there will be concerns about certain wording, or certain ideas that are in place – but I think that’s healthy, we should have that debate. Everyone should have an input because we are talking about the future of the country, across all the regions, and our children.
(Full Transcript generously provided by Simon Lansley of ConnectSport)
— UPDATE 3 —
The roadshow is called “Your Kids Your Say” so I don’t know why I said “Your Game Your Say” throughout the podcast. Obviously I need to take a more child-centric approach to podcasting!