Youth football is changing.
Last year, The FA’s Youth Development Review lead to significant change to the formats of football played in grassroots football.
Instead of children slogging it out on inappropriately sized pitches more suited for adults, a new child-centred approach to the game has been introduced.
U7s and U8s will now play a 5v5 format of the game with 9v9 for U11 and U12 year-old players. 7v7 for U9s and U10s helps bridge the age-group gaps.
Although the new formats, by nature of their design, will help players improve their technique – smaller pitches and fewer players provide more involvement - young players still require expert guidance to help them understand the game in its different guises.
FA Regional Coach Development Manager Ian Bateman believes forging links between the formats is crucial.
Bateman said: “If we treat each format as its own entity then it could be a bit of a problem.
"By linking 5v5, 7v7, 9v9 and 11v11 it gives the children the opportunity for more repetition [of key skills] in some of the small-sider formats. There are less decisions and fewer number of players to pass to and to receive it off.”
Bateman, who also coaches at Crosfields FC, an FA Charter Standard club in Cheshire, has first-hand experience of the problems that can occur when young players are asked to play on big pitches too soon. The team he inherited were playing 11v11 football at U11.
“It’s complex. When you get to 22 players on a big pitch there’s an awful lot going on”, explained Bateman, former assistant academy director at Bolton Wanderers.
He added: “The game [at 11v11] got really unrealistic. The goals were huge for the goalies and people were shooting from unrealistic distances. Some of the stronger lads picked up on that really quickly."
Through close attention to the links between the different formats, Bateman believes coaches can help young players appropriately build their game-understanding. Formations do not have to undergo dramatic adjustment.
“I think the message we are trying to get across is that jobs, roles and responsibilities don’t change an awful lot whether it's 7v7, 9v9 or 11v11. There’s just more numbers and bigger units of players.”
Providing young players with individual challenges to focus on during games is one method which Bateman encourages to assist the progress.
“Challenges have to be individual. You may have two players playing the same position, but they have different challenges within that process.
"You might have a quick central striker who is encouraged to receive in channels and you might have a central striker who is not as quick who may be challenged to be really clever to get on the ball and play forward."
As with all of the new proposals, appropriateness and individuality guide the process of designing challenges.
Bateman added: “If I was working with younger players they may only have one challenge each before they go onto the pitch.
"Then I might build that up to one attacking challenge and one defensive challenge. This can grow as you get to know your group and work with them in a consistent way over a period of time."
To learn more about The FA’s changes to Youth Football, including access to a number of detailed resources, click here