Would kids play video games if all they got to do was hold the controller?
The short answer to this question is, no. Kids play video games because they are a continuously active player in the experience. Video games are incredibly good at stimulating a kids brain, games are a sensory overload, and the individuals who manufacture them understand how important it is to engage the user.
Kids like to be actively involved in whatever they do. Why? Because it’s FUN.
So I beg to ask the question:
Do you think it’s fun for a 12 year old to stand around on a full size pitch and touch the ball a handful of times in a 90 min game? It’s not, trust me. The only reason he/or she signed up to play the sport in the first place was to touch and kick the round thing, no? If that was going to be the case then maybe taking up track and field would have been a more suitable option.
Therefore, I suggest players do not start playing full sided, 11v11 games, until u14 or even u15.
Most kids, at this age, haven’t even developed enough physically to handle such a large space. The word ‘most kids’ is a good segway into my next point. Having a full size pitch at this age only benefits the bigger kids, who are often great athletes, but not great soccer players. As a result, this only increases the falsification of what proper player development actually is. A bigger pitch allows the earlier developed kids to have even more space to run into and a larger net to kick at.
More so, it’s not uncommon for a kid, playing his first year of eleven a side soccer, on a full size pitch, to touch the ball under 10 times in a match. That’s once every nine minutes, which equates to…borrrrring. What happens when the kid actually does see the ball? Well, it’s typical they’re so pent up, nervous, excited, and overwhelmed that when the moment comes along it goes all wrong. The chance to make an impact goes as fast as it comes and the player is left to relinquish their role from the game, patiently waiting for another ten minutes, while thinking about what they did wrong.
I tip my cap to professional players who can stay engaged for a 90 minute game, rarely see the ball, but when they do make the perfect decision. I guess that’s why they are professionals, not 13 years old…
Check out this video for a good laugh:
There are a plethora of reasons why small sided game are better for a young players development. Basically it’s because,
Small sided games = more touches = more decision making moments = increase in technical and tactical awareness.
Full side games = little touches = little development
The German federation is the leading example of a nation that understands this. They implemented the use of 9v9 games on ¾ of a field to impact their players development, and if I have to refresh your memory, they were also the winners of our latest World Cup.
But, the overarching reason I think we shouldn’t be pushing kids up to the full sided game, at u13, is because it will make the game less fun. On a smaller pitch players will enjoy more time in the action and less time wondering why soccer turned into a fitness test.
It is encouraging that BC soccer has finally implemented the retreat line rule, something that I have been seeing teams slowly adopt throughout my coaching season. But, if we want to see success at the national team level anytime soon, that’s just the starting point.
One simple solution would be to slightly shrink the field size. All you need to do is move the goals up to the 18 yard line and bring the width of the pitch in by 10 yards on each side. Simple. You will be shocked at the difference with those simple adjustments. I challenge you to do this on the weekend. Talk with the other teams coach and just go for it. The kids will love it.
How can Play Better solve the problem of a frustrate kid, who only touches the ball five times in a 90 min game?
Play Better changes the reward system from wins (scoring goals) to various developmental metrics. If you have a player who see’s little of the ball in a match, then reward him when he does other proper developmental metrics. For example, reward the player if they check over their shoulder before receiving the ball. Reward the player if they make a great run to drag players out of position. Reward the player if they tuck in and play proper positional defense when the ball is on the opposite sideline.
Do this and the player will feel involved, important, and active in the game. We need to rethink the way we look at the sport. Soccer is full of subtleties, it’s a moving chess match, and even the slightest positional mistake will be exposed at the highest level. There are so many things kids need to learn as they continue to develop as players and people.
So think outside of the box, reward your kids for doing the right thing even if that’s without the ball, and while you’re at it sign your team up here.
Greg Sawers – @gasawers