Is competition bad for children?

THE Football Association are hoping that young players will be alleviated of growing parent pressure thanks to a new ruling that will ban those under the age of eight playing 'competitive' matches.

Stuart Watson

THE Football Association are hoping that young players will be alleviated of growing parent pressure thanks to a new ruling that will ban those under the age of eight playing 'competitive' matches.

The controversial rule change means that those still under the age of eight by September 1 will only be allowed to play in 'friendly' matches as of next season. No results or league tables will be officially recorded and no prizes will be awarded at the end-of-the-season.

The decision, which has been passionately backed by The FA's Director of Football Development Sir Trevor Brooking, has so far split the grassroots football community.

On one hand The FA and its backers claim that the change will afford youngsters a greater enjoyment of the game away from the continual pressure of winning, while others have expressed their concerns at the change, its timing and the potential consequences.

FA spokesperson Alex Stone said: “The FA believes that football at that level should be all about enjoyment.

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“At the moment children are being bellowed at by parents on the sidelines as if every game is the FA Cup final. We have gathered a lot of anecdotal evidence from the children themselves who have said they have given up the game because they simply weren't enjoying it for these reasons.

“We wanted to stop the scenario where players were being encouraged to thump the ball clear rather than risking a tricky skill just because they were scared of losing a game. We felt that creativity was being drummed out of these youngsters because of the pressure to win at such an early age.”

The idea for the rule change came when the problem of parental pressure on the sidelines was highlighted in a huge national survey by The FA last year.

Following those results, two consultation meetings either side of Christmas were called to discus the idea further and, at those London-based meetings, representatives of the various County FAs voted in an overwhelming majority to ratify the change.

Suffolk FA County Secretary Martin Head was one of the representatives at those meetings and although he was one of the few to vote against the change, he stresses that it was only due to the quick time frame of implementation and not the reasoning behind it.

“I agree with the decision in principle, my only problem was that I would have liked to have seen it brought in more gradually,” said Head.

“I can see that the rationale behind it is sensible, but the short timescale to implement the changes might make things difficult. I hope everyone can deal with it this year because, in the long term, I don't think it will cause many problems.

“Football will always be competitive - you can't put two teams in front of each other without them wanting to compete - but the idea is that, without league tables, some of the sideline issues with competitive parents will be alleviated.

“This is going to be controversial but I think you'd be hard pressed to argue against the principle.”

Martin Taylor, the Chairman of the Felixstowe & Ipswich Youth League, also accepts the reasoning behind the decision, but is concerned that more rural leagues such as his own might suffer from the change.

“In our league we allow teams to operate over a two year age banding because, for some teams, they simply do not have enough players in their to form a side in one age group alone.

“The new ruling will obviously mean that under-8s and under-9s will not be able to join together and form teams anymore.

“The worry now is that, in order to get around the ruling, teams will go off and arrange their own competitive leagues that are not affiliated to the FA.”

Allan Girot is another man to have been heavily involved in the consultation process leading up to the rule change through his role on the Suffolk FA board of directors.

Girot, who is also Chairman of the Ipswich & Suffolk Youth League, is firmly behind the change, so much so that he would like to see non-competitive football made compulsory higher up the age groups in the future.

“If a young player loses a football match they do get disappointed, but you often find they have overcome that within just a few days. However, the parents and managers do not recover so quickly and put enormous pressure on the young players.

“This goes right up to 11, 12, 13 years of age in youth football at the moment so this rule change is perhaps the start of something that may start to sweep throughout mini-soccer.

“There are no plans that I know of at present to do this, but I could see this rule continue to move up the age groups in future seasons. That is something I would certainly like to see.”