Three Points for a win – is it child friendly?

BY PATRICK GYSIN

FOOTBALL chiefs have been criticised over a controversial move to impose a three points for a win ruling in the children’s game which critics say promotes a “win at all costs” mentality.

Now the SELKENT League, one of the largest youth football leagues in the country – with more than 10,000 youngsters playing in around 800 teams – has returned its coveted Football Association Charter Standard status in protest.

The Football Association introduced wide-sweeping changes in the youth game in 2013 to try and improve the game following disappointing results by the England national side.

Changes include: Five-a-side football for seven and eight year olds, nine-a-side for 11 and 12 year olds and plans to phase out competitive football until youngster reach the Under 13s age group.

But one rule imposed nationwide by the FA which almost went unnoticed was the decision to bring grassroots football in line with the professional game – and award three points for a win in league games.

While some youth football leagues have already opted to award three points for a victory, others still award two points arguing it creates better competition and makes a draw seem more valuable.

Leagues such as the SELKENT say awarding two points for a win stops weaker teams giving up half way through a season because they feel they are too far behind mid-table sides and also stops sides “running away” with the league title giving teams in second and third a hope of catching their rivals.

The league says it’s intention has always been to offer children a season of fun, excitement and development.

They say to “force” this league to replace two points with three points will change the whole infrastructure of a child friendly league.

Now the SELKENT League (South East London and Kent Youth Football League) – the largest youth league in London – has taken the rare step of returning its Charter Standard Award back to the Football Association in protest.

A league representative handed the award back to the London County FA head office in Fulham on Thursday (SEPT 4) with a letter explaining its decision.

A copy of the letter was also sent to Greg Dyke, chairman of the FA and other officials.

It has also sent a copy of the letter to the FA’s Charter Standard award sponsors McDonalds.

In the letter Sally Dolan, the league’s secretary, says: “It is with great sadness and reluctance that the SELKENT League has made the decision to return our Charter Standard Award.

“The reason for this decision is the FA’s introduction of the mandatory rule of 3 points for a win, which effectively undermines the child friendly principles on which this league founded in 2002.

“The SELKENT has always prided itself on the ethos that every child should be given the chance to achieve. To this end we established two-tier seasons; not only for Mini-Soccer but also for 9 and 11-a-side football.

“This provides children with the motivation to continue playing if they have not done well in the first season. We awarded 2 points for a win and 1 for a draw and four years ago we withdrew goal difference.

“Both measures were taken to discourage a ‘win at all costs’ philosophy and to prevent teams from being disillusioned by their inability to catch up with teams above them in the tables.

“Much to our dismay The FA introduced the mandatory rule of 3 points for a win, with effect from season 2013-2014, despite it obviously conflicting with the rationale behind the ‘no goal difference’ rule.

“I immediately raised the league’s concerns with senior officers and members of the FA who confirmed their support for an amendment to allow Leagues to retain the choice of the number of points to award.

The SELKENT League contravened the rule last season and continued to award 2 points for a win on the assumption that the rule would be revoked for Season 2014-2015.

“It was therefore with great surprise and disappointment that, on receiving the rules for the new season, we noted that the rule remained.

“The SELKENT League believes that this rule contradicts the FA Youth Review’s key message of ensuring that “all key people involved in the game need to embrace developments in the best interests of young people, constantly putting children’s interests before our own”.

“Based on its founding principles, the League is not willing to compromise its stance on providing a child friendly football environment, and we believe that our decision to return the Award reflects the strength and conviction of our feelings.

“It is not a decision that has been reached lightly and we hope that the FA sees sense and reviews its position, so that an organisation that provides an excellent football experience for over 10,000 young people every Sunday can continue to do so with the blessing of football authorities.”

Mrs Dolan – who was awarded the League Secretary of the Year Award by the London FA in 2013 – addressed the 80 clubs in the league at a meeting last night (WED) where she outlined the league’s decision.

They gave her their full support.

Speaking about the decision, she said: “It is not something we do lightly.

“We were extremely proud and honoured to be awarded the FA Charter Standard Award. We were the first league in London to be given the status.

“As a league, we worked incredibly hard for it – so to hand it back saddens us.

“But we believe we are doing this for the right reasons.”

The Football Association confirmed that the three points for a win rule was in the Standard Code of Rules for Youth Football but refused to comment any further.

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3 Points for a win

So the historic changes implemented by the FA for youth football will come into force next season.

Many of the changes are – on the whole – for the greater good of the game.

But one change I cannot get my head around is ordering that ALL youth football leagues have to award teams 3 points for a win.

Many leagues up and down the country already give 3 points in their divisions for a win. That’s fine if that’s what the member clubs want and have voted in.

But I know there are also leagues who have always awarded just 2 points for a win.

Their reasoning is to stop strong sides running away with a league and taking an unassailable lead and – more importantly – teams struggling for a win at the bottom of the table folding.

They would argue that awarding just 2 points provides greater competition for kids’ football so that a draw can be a valuable point in a title race or for avoiding relegation.

And I tend to agree with them.

The FA says that they are making it mandatory for all leagues to adopt the 3 points for a win to bring the grassroots game into line with the Premier League and the World Cup.

Well it’s not is it?

For the vast majority of teams it’s Sunday morning football for many kids learning the game!!

I wish the FA would stop making these rules mandatory. Why not make recommendations that leagues can either sign up to if they wish, or, disagree with them?

It’s OUR game after all.

I like some of the changes the FA are making to youth football such as 5v5 and 9v9 for all under 11s games.

This will enable kids to get more time on the ball and learn the game.

But I don’t see how ORDERING leagues to award 3 points helps all teams.

My club’s league awards 2 points and it’s great. The table is always tight, no one can rest on their laurels and you have to look over your shoulder as well as look to climb above teams ahead of you. And with a few games to go, you can’t say who would win the title.

It keeps the kids interested.

Sorry The FA, don’t think you thought this one through properly……

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The Thoughts of a 10 year old football star!!! Little Football – By Ben

Here’s a poem written by a 10 year olf by called Ben. It’s quite a poignant read and gives the perspective of youth footballl through the eyes of a child.
It’s published in one particular youth football league’s handbook every year.

The Thoughts of a 10 year old football star!!!
Little Football – By Ben

My name’s Ben and I am ten.

When I was five my Dad said to me Son you’ve got ability,
I started to learn football tricks, when I was barely six,
Mini-soccer was for me, Mum, Dad and family,

But the age of Seven, I had scored eleven,
I was told by my Dad I played great,
At the age of eight.

Mums and Dads they came to cheer, I the tackle I had no fear,
When I was nine I still played fine.
Mum and Dad watched all the time.

Boots, shin pads at the door, I’m feeling fit and I’m ready to score,
Tackle, run, pass, parents would shout
As both teams run about.

I heard a voice out of the crowd, hack him, stack him, make me proud
It was my Dad, there were no cheers,
I couldn’t do it, I had no fears.

Is this the game I love to play?
Listen Dad, hear me say,

You played before as you did, leave me alone I’m just a kid,
You said you played and was really good,
I wonder if you ever could.

You cannot relive what you have had I’m your son and you’re my Dad,
Let me enjoy playing football with my friends
Before my football career ends.

I love you as much as you can see,
You cannot and must not play football with me,
Don’t forget my name is Ben and I am ten.

Parents on the line in defeat say Ref! You’re blind and you’re a cheat Get Up! Shut Up! You sometimes hear, in amazement they sometimes swear.

Joy and fun it’s meant to be, Parents on the side can make it misery.
Don’t forget my name is Ben and I’m only ten,

I’m not as good as I used to be, most of the team are better than me,
Standing on the line in the cold and rain, wondering if I’m ever going to play again,

Little football it is no more, everyone wants to know the score!!!

You must not forget, my name is Ben,
And I really, really, really am only ten.

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The Times They Are A Changing

Grassroots youth football in England faces the most testing changes for more than a decade.
But next season, we will start seeing a dramatic difference on pitches up and down the country.
There has been a lot of support for the wide-sweeping alterations to the national game at youth level which – it is hoped – will produce a potential World Cup winning side sometime in the future.
There does need to be change – that is accepted.
But as a coach, I feel like we’re standing on the edge of a cliff.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a “dinosaur” as one concerned football club secretary was apparently called when he questioned the changes at a so-called “consultation” meeting (in which apparently there were only pre-selected questions people could actually ask the panel, by the way).
Small sided games will mean more touches of the ball for kids which can only be a good thing.
I totally agree that having 10 or 11 year old kids playing on a full size pitch and with full size goals is ridiculous.
I think the benefits of mini-soccer go straight out of the window once youngsters start playing on a massive pitch.
But I can see the other side of it too.
I am concerned about how these changes will affect youth club football in England.
On paper the changes look great. It looks like the master plan which will guarantee England beat Germany or Brazil in a future World Cup final….job done!
But if you’re working with kids from different backgrounds in parks, playing fields and sports & social clubs week in week out, then the changes will create a logistical migraine.
Four or five different sized goals and pitches will be needed for many established clubs: 5-a-side, 7-a-side, 9-a-side, 11-a-side (youth) and 11-a-side (senior) – don’t forget many youth set ups share their grounds with grassroots senior sides.
It’s all very well saying ‘play a small-sided game across a coned off area on a bigger pitch’ which was suggested to me by one policy maker – but when do you fit that game in to the Sunday schedule when the 11-a-side pitch is being used all day?
More coaches will be needed to run five-a-side teams. And of course they will all need to have the Level One qualification and be CRB checked.
If you’re at a fantastic facility such as the brand new multi-million pounds St George’s Park National Football Centre – you can have all the different size goals, pitches, coaches and Respect barriers you like.
But what if you’re a small club in an economically deprived area where coaches are doing vital work in the community but cannot rely on subs from their players to help fund the sport?
Yes there are grants to help pay for equipment and training etc. But I think the powers that be forget that coaches and club organisers also have day jobs and families as well as the vital voluntary work they do for FREE.
It’s hard enough trying to fit it all in at the best of times – let alone having to cope with more admin.
Non-competitive football up to Under 12s could also have a knock on effect.
Could we see breakaway leagues forming away from affiliated leagues as coaches and parents get ‘bored’ with playing friendlies?
I hope not, but it is a real possibility.
The game does need to change. To be fair, I don’t think the FA had much of a choice really.
We want kids getting more time on the ball.
We want coaches encouraging their kids to keep possession and pass rather than ‘lump it’ up the pitch to the big forward.
But I think it’s going to take a generation before we see any real benefits.
It will only come when children aged four or five now go through the football system and become parents themselves that we see any real sweeping changes.
I’d love to see an infrastructure put in place by the FA to help grassroots football.
I feel that the FA sees grassroots as the poor ‘rough and ready’ cousin compared to the professional club academy system.
More money needs to be pumped into grassroots level to make these changes work so clubs can have the confidence to hire more pitches, buy decent goals and make the changes work.
It’s almost as if they’ve said: “Here you go, we’ve decided on these changes – now get on with it.”
The grant system also needs to be more accessible and easier to complete.
Only thing that could be improved and hasn’t been addressed is coaching qualifications.
I would go as far to say the Level One course is not sufficient to create skilled coaches.
I’d like to see new coaches carry out their safeguarding children & emergency aid within six months of taking on a team.
But I’d also like to see some sort of combined Level One & Two hybrid for all new coaches – Something that does not take as long as a Level two to pass but is more substantial than a level one.
That would give the coaches more confidence and knowledge to take back to their teams.
We have something very special in this country.
We have thousands upon thousands of skilled volunteer coaches and officials working week in week out with youngsters from all walks of life teaching them not only the beautiful game but also life skills, respect, discipline and in some cases, a sense of belonging.
It would be a shame if all that was put in jeopardy.

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Who’d want to be a kids’ football coach?

If you had told me 20 years ago that I would end up coaching a kids’ football team I’d have laughed my head off and had you carted off to the nearest funny farm.

But here I am!

My wife (yes - believe it or not she is still with me) thinks I’m mad – my non-football mates think I’m mad.

Weekends are a blur and then, of course, there is the sleepless nights in the middle of the worst recession in living memory worrying about who should play where and whether ‘little Johnny’ should start or come on as a sub.

But I have to admit – I love it!

I was “volunteered” five years ago to run a team of Under 8s in the South London area.

I used to play a bit of Sunday league football and ran a men’s team until our kids started to come along.

I was watching my two sons play for their team from the sidelines, cheering them on along with the other parents.

Then I got asked if I could help out running the team. Before I knew it, I was the coach.

I remember getting into the car with the wife and kids after that rain soaked Sunday lunchtime match and say: “Have I just agreed to be their coach?” “Yes” was the reply.

And that was that.

Well five years down the road, I’ve had some highs and lows and now run an Under 12s team and as well as the Under 7s – oh and a vets team too. You can imagine who gives me the most aggro!

I’m going to be doing a regular blog for PlayerWanted.co.uk and I hope many of you will be able to relate to it. And if you are not involved in kids’ football, it might inspire you – or put you off all together!

Enjoy the ride.

Football Coach

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