Irish Grassroots Football

Ireland's Small Sided Game, is in self destruct mode!

“Under 7's or Under 8's are not permitted to play in leagues where results are collected, not in Ireland, surely!

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Competitive leagues, not meeting kids needs, not having fun, parents, pressure on winning, just some of the problems associated with our junior game….

The simple answer is that our players are technically just not good enough. When did one of the leading non-English European clubs last sign an Irish Player? Do we see Inter, Real or Barca talent spotting around the Premiership grounds?

We do…on the lookout for the likes of Fabregas, Torres, etc

Who is to blame?

Much of the blame has to lay with the way we develop players in Ireland. Probably quite a lot of the blame, to be honest and the problems we have are deeply rooted. The SFAI for one is made up of people who are too far removed from the game to even care or understand what at 10 year old need and wants. Over enfaces on winning over playing and too many people with their own agendas.

Here are the development related reasons I found:

Competitive youth leagues

Other countries run their youth leagues much differently, they don’t have competitive leagues or the emphasis is only on player development or at least, they delay competitive leagues and cup competitions much later like u13s and even u14s in some countries. So, in the younger age groups, players (and their managers) aren’t pressured to win the league, the Cup etc. We have 6,7 and 8 years old travelling long distances to play 30 minutes of football and touch the ball 15 times over a weekend.

Success is judged by Player development and progression to the next level.

Grassroots coaching philosophy

Too many small sided games managers and coaches believe that the judgement of how good they are as a coach is determined by how many games their team wins. Where as in many other countries, the emphasis is on Technical development, Ball retention, Players ability to change a game and game intelligence not winning games for league results. We look at sort term success instead of looking at long term development.

Quality of coaching

We lack quality in coaching. We lack professionalism and we lack real leaders and mentors. According to FAI files we have 488 Uefa B Licence holders, 183 UEFA A, 19 Pro Licence.  In England according to the FA, they have 3,991 UEFA B, 849 UEFA A and 135 Pro badges, its top qualifications.

According to European football’s governing body Uefa, Spain had almost 15,000 Uefa A and Pro Licence coaches in 2008 – more than double the number of any other European nation. And that is despite it taking 750 study hours to acquire a Pro Licence in Spain, compared with just 245 in Ireland and England.

How does this compare to other European countries…..?

  • Spain has 23,995
  • Italy 29,420,
  • Germany 34,970
  • France 17,588.

So if other countries have ten times as many highly qualified coaches, what chance have Irish kids got of developing their skills to the highest level, not forgetting that at roughly age 16 many of our best kids are snapped up by English clubs who have far fewer qualified coaches then other Countries.

Here are some interesting stats:

  • On average 50 kids go to England every year, 18 sign contracts.
  • 94% who are good enough to get deals with an English club, don’t get as far as a second contract.
  • 75% come home and never play at League of Ireland level.
  • Liverpool Academy stated: 98% of players who are taken in by the English academy fall out by the time they are 18

Coaches Need To Get Qualifed

Like the vast majority of coaches I came into the role with no experience of playing high-level football and very little experience of working with children. The most important thing that formal coach education can provide is information about kids. Would you walk into a park and leave your child with a person you never met before? you, might say no now but thousands of parents are doing this every year. I have witnessed grown men bullying kids on the sidelines and parents look on as if nothing happening.

“Having a qualification doesn’t make you a great coach but it shows that the coach is determined to continue their education and has met certain standards of assessment at the very least” – Royal Spanish Football Federation

Great coaching is about tailoring the practice to the participants, it’s about preparing kids for life and it’s about respect and hard-work. . So without a thorough understanding of your player’s motivations, experiences and perceptions, it’s very hard to communicate with them in a meaningful way. The Coaching courses are great for getting an understanding about the game but they teach you nothing about how to coach the individual, how to be mentor them and how to be fair coach. How to focus on improving the individual and most importantly that it should be fun for everyone involved, including the coach.

However, doing more courses has allowed me to grow in confidence and given me hunger to learn more. Getting the kick start 1&2 relieved a lot of the pressure associated with parents watching critically from the sidelines. Similarly, going and completing the Youth Cert and now doing my UEFA B qualifications has afforded me more credibility in the eyes of my players and more respect within my club, where, despite being one of the country’s best junior clubs, not everyone  of coaches have gone beyond the mandatory Kick Start. This confidence allows me to experiment with new ideas and, I believe, become more effective at what I do but more people need to follow. More need to get qualified and the clubs should be putting more pressure on coaches to do so.

I know some of you might say that “you don’t need badges”  but I firmly believe that the badges are a must (doing courses, learning) they are the first step to becoming an even better coach, having structure and a way of getting rid of those bad habits and if clubs made it an necessity this would also help weed out the bad coaches at your club. In lots of cases this is never going to happen because we need these people to survive.

What is the common structure of our Small sided leagues compared to Europe?

Lets me take a look at our closet neighbours England – The FA Laws were updated on the 15th May 2008. I have taken a few points directly from the FA website which states: –

  1. “Under 7’s or Under 8’s are not permitted to play in leagues where results are collected or published or winner trophies are presented, this is deemed to be detrimental to the development of the player and the game and will not be sanctioned”.
  2. Players should not be allowed to begin to play until the Season of the 7th birthday.
  3. Players must play with and against players only from their own age range.
  • In England: – Under 7s-8s play 4v4, 5v5, & 6v6 in non competitive leagues. They start competitive leagues at U9 and they play 6v6 & 7v7 until U11, then they switch to 11 aside game at U11. Cup can start U9s
  • In the majority of leagues around Ireland:- leagues start at U7 and we play 7 aside at U7s-U8s and then switch to 9 aside for U9s-U10S and then 11 aside at U11s.
  • In Holland: – they play 4 aside from U5s. The play internal leagues at U7s & U8s. At U8s, they move to 7 a side until U12s and at U13s they finally move to 11 a side. Regional Cup competition starts at U12.
  • In Barcelona:- the academy start at 6, Leagues start at U7 and they play 7aside football all the way until U12,(last year it was until U10) they use bigger goals then the Irish small sided games but slightly smaller than full size. U13 they move to 11 aside game. Cup comes in at U14.
  • It’s a similar setup in France, Portugal, Belgium, Italy and Germany.

Just quote the English FA rule 5

Rule 5. “The main theme of Mini-Soccer is to meet the needs of children. 11-a-side Association Football does not meet those needs. Children require a modified game that suits them; too often, children have been modified to meet the requirements of the game. Mini-Soccer is a modified version of Association Football which retains the essence of the adult game. All available research and observation shows that children will have more fun and learn more playing a game with smaller teams and modified rules. Mini-Soccer is, therefore, a game children can actually play rather than struggling to understand a game created for adults”.(Source: FA Level 1 Club Coach Handbook)

So the English FA is clearly doing something to improve the development of their kids for the future of the game. But why have they decided to do this?

To quote “Well, clearly what we doing previously, was not working and what the rest of Europe are doing is. Even more critically, we need to invest in better coaching”.

I know many grassroots coaches who would sign-up for Level 2 and UEFA ‘B’ licence courses tomorrow if places were made available to them and the cost wasn’t so high (More expensive than the rest of Europe), financial help and running many more courses, (probably unlikely to happen in these times).The FAI could rapidly create a broad base of UEFA-qualified coaches and disperse them amongst schools and junior clubs to pass on good practices but this is unlikely to happen with the current debts.

So tell me, which of the 4 models gives kids more opportunity to develop basic ball skills and gives the kids more touches of the ball, allow them freedom to express themselves and doesn’t put emphasis on winning?

I’ll let you decide….

Let’s re-structure our leagues and get in line with the rest of Europe, before we become a 3rd rate football nation.

  • Help me change the coaches attitude, the clubs & the Leagues.
  • Lets all sing from the same hymn sheet.
  • The earlier we start the quicker we will start producing.
  • Be the change, change your way of thinking and become one of the few who is thinking differently.

The time is now, we couldn’t be doing this at a better time!


I always like to hear your opinions. Please comment below or email me If, you don’t have anything to add then please forward this on to a friend. Thanks for reading. I’m also on twitter @Coachdiary

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