An article has been circulating over the last couple of days regarding the level of young footballers England now produces compared to that of 10 years ago.
“The Borussia Dortmund technical director, Michael Zorc, who signed Jadon Sancho, has said that the quality of English teenage footballers has now overtaken that of their German counterparts, as Bundesliga clubs jostle to sign the latest Premier League academy talent.”
Zorc, who has been in charge of Dortmund’s recruitment since 1998 and at the head of their renaissance as one of Germany’s most successful clubs, said on Thursday that his scouts had focused their efforts on a talented generation coming to the fore from the new English academy system.
The change in approach to coaching in England
When i started coaching 12 years ago, my FA Level One coaching course was very basic and I found that it was mostly focused on how to start a football club, what different roles are played within clubs, with some focus on coaching games at the most basic level. The FA then changed their approach by revamping their coaching qualifications, and began to make them more relevant to children and the different ways in which children learn. The FA Youth modules (Youth Module 1 & 2 are now Block 1 & 2 of The FA Level 2 qualification) were fantastic courses that really helped me develop my coaching style and how i approached teaching children. I would highly recommend to any coach who has not yet completed them!
The focus changed towards more small sided games, changing the environment of where children played e.g. incorporating Futsal and street football whereby children receive more touches on the ball, and moved away from more advanced practices that adults used in their own training sessions e.g. stand in a line and shoot at the goal, jog up and down the pitch for a warm up.
Grassroots football change
I was fortunate to work with Nick Levett during my time at Fulham FC’s academy. Nick spearheaded the change in grassroots football during his time with The FA which led to children playing on relevant sized pitches, in correct goal sizes (not the giant ones i used to play in), reducing the number of players on the field in each team (meaning more contact time on the ball) and the biggest change for me was not publishing results for any teams under the age of 13 which relieves pressure from adults and changes the focus of why children are playing the beautiful game!
Here is a picture of a scale of what a full size adult goal is actually like for an u12 footballer:
The above changes were met by lots of disgruntled adults who said that “it is not realistic”, but in the end, The FA were fantastic in making these changes across the country and you can now see they are reaping the rewards with the current crop of young players who have come through the ranks.
My age groups i worked with at Fulham would train 3 times a week and play matches on Sundays. Training 3 times a week sounds very long and that it could get boring! But the programme Fulham developed meant that there was such variety in our approach, the children incorporated all different methods into their training e.g. Thursday was games night where we would set up small sided games and set challenges for the children to achieve, with lots of freedom to learn and make mistakes. We would also play Fustal on some nights and on other nights use really light footballs to help with their overall technique.
It is an approach i have incorporated into our own classes and it made me understand that there isn’t one formula that produces footballers. To be able to do so, you must use a variety of games, approaches and styles to help develop a child both socially and as a footballer.
Advice for parents of young footballers
With your young Superstar footballer, always keep in mind why they are playing and understand that just because games, practices or sessions they attend do not replicate what you watch on the TV on a Saturday and Sunday afternoon, it does not mean that they are not learning. Just because scores are not published online and league tables are not shown, it does not mean that they aren’t getting a great experience on their match days. Just because the ref makes a mistake on Sundays, it does not mean your child will stop developing.
Our approach to our sessions is to first and foremost make our sessions engaging, and then play games and practices that challenge & excite the children we teach, whilst working towards set outcomes. We approach our sessions so that children get lots of touches of the ball, avoid big queues waiting for their turn to go (i have been part of shooting sessions where I’ve had one shot in 5 minutes before!) and leave with a smile on their face knowing that they have achieved something within our weekly topics. We are very keen on player led learning and giving children the freedom to enjoy and make mistakes.
The FA and the Premier League deserve huge credit for what they have done over the past 10 years within grassroots football and the academy system (EPPP), and what we are seeing happening now with the young generation of footballers is no coincidence!
Keep supporting your Superstar and remember all children play for enjoyment! The moment enjoyment is killed, is the moment they stop developing.
You can check out our classes, programmes and book your 2 week trial here
Ashley Thomas, Managing Director – Skillz UK Ltd
Read the full article on the telegraph here