Gareth Southgate has heralded changes to youth football which could have an impact “for decades to come”.
The FA’s head of elite development was speaking to club coaches and league administrators from across the East Midlands at the penultimate ‘Your Kids Your Say’ Roadshow event at Nottingham University.
The Roadshow has visited 16 towns and cities across the country this summer, and showcases radical proposals which aim to improve technique, prevent kids dropping out of the game and ultimately raise the standard of English football.
Part of the FA’s youth development review, the proposals entail scrapping league tables for children below secondary-school age, the introduction of five-a-side and nine-a-side football, and a change in the date that determines which age-group children play in.
They follow 18 months of exhaustive research led by the FA’s national development manager, Nick Levett, who also spoke in Nottingham.
Southgate said: “I think we have been pleasantly surprised with the reaction we have had.
“We had some good debates, some good questions come in – it’s not been a totally smooth ride.
“But I think people have appreciated that we have come out and explained what we’re looking to do.
“I have found that invaluable. I have really enjoyed the interaction over the last six months with people from every level of the game. It’s been fascinating.
“Of course the unknown is the people who haven’t come, which we can’t affect too much, but we can hope the message filters through.
“I think people are seeing it as commonsense now, that’s the perception I am getting as I travel around. There is a groundswell of opinion, certainly around the formats, and particularly around the win-at-all-costs attitude.
“I really think people are buying into that and realising we have got to keep kids in the game as long as we can.”
The child-centered proposals are designed to alleviate the pressure on kids and educate parents and coaches who often expect too much, too soon from young players.
The roadshow is part of a consultation process and it is hoped the new measures, if rubber-stamped, will start being adopted in the 2012-13 season with mandatory introduction for the following campaign.
The FA, led by Levett, have consulted more than 300 youth clubs, hundreds of grassroots coaches, more than 150 youth leagues and, most importantly of all, 42 different groups of young footballers aged from eight-12 from both professional and grassroots clubs.
Levett also recently attended UEFA’s conference of grassroots coaches across Europe and feedback from other top footballing nations suggests the FA are on the right track.
For example, Spain recently moved 11 v 11 up to under-14 level, with their grassroots director claiming it is “pointless” playing 11 v 11 before 13.
Southgate added: “Now we have to get the legislation through. I think this impacts for decades to come.”