Youth football in England is changing. From facilities to pitch sizes to player needs, the Football Association (FA) overhauled its approach in 2012 following their youth development review.
As well as the major changes such as reducing the number of players on teams, age appropriate pitch sizes and laws of the game (roll-ins and a retreat line for U7/8’s), the FA have adopted a child friendly approach to youth football. By putting the players needs first, the hope is it will increase enjoyment and create a better learning environment.
Former QPR, Brentford and Wycombe Wanderers player Mark Hill whose 6 year-old son Lucas trains at Wycombe’s development centre, explains what he has discovered.
He said: “I have been highly delighted with what I’ve seen. Lucas trains for two hours once a week with Wycombe and the whole session is devoted to football drills, skills and ball mastery. If I think back to what I was doing at age 14, it’s a huge improvement.”
Wycombe have adopted the Coerver coaching approach within their development centres, a football skills teaching method that focuses on individual skills and small group play.
Mark has had previous experience with Coerver and is a big supporter.
“The coach is very good and as well as the technical side of what they do, the coach makes it fun, which at Lucas’ age, is very important.”
An objective of the Coerver method is to value winning but not above character and performance, something Mark believes is lacking in schools.
“I do have a few issues with school sport. It’s got to a stage when you’re not allowed to be competitive and kids are throwing tennis balls against a wall, which doesn’t inspire them. At primary school age, it is about listening and learning, playing games and having fun but that doesn’t mean it cannot be competitive.”
“He’s at the age when he’d play every minute if you let him and I am concerned about the long term effects and overuse injury problems. But I think as long as it’s controlled and you’re mindful of how much he’s training and playing, then it’s ok.”
Wycombe’s development centre both runs alongside and feeds into the club’s academy and Mark is hopeful that Lucas will continue to get the chance to develop within the system.
“I do currently pay for Lucas’ sessions at the development centre but I’ve seen the improvements in his game and am happy with the coaching he is receiving. They run the coaching in eight week blocks, beside the school terms and at the end of each block they review and say whether they want to keep them or not.”
Despite the advancements in youth football, the cut-throat philosophy of the professional clubs still remains firmly in place.