Development of Youth Football During The Pandemic
Author: Dennis Parkes
Supporting youth development during the break in grassroots football
In the United Kingdom, grassroots football has been hit hard by the pandemic. As we approach Spring, there has still been no youth football played in 2021, though early indications suggest that the proposed return date for grassroots sport is 29th March (or the 8th March in a school setting). We’ve all learned to appreciate football so much more this past year, from the muddy boots in the pouring rain, to those cold nights under the lights, it’s fair to say this winter just hasn’t been the same without playing or watching sport.
The pandemic has seen many youth footballers make the transition this season from busy training and match schedules to virtual sessions or 1-2-1 training. Across the country, a handful of coaches and clubs have had the capabilities to be able to offer some form of online education and with children enjoying being able to connect with their teammates and coaches virtually it’s been effective in maintaining an element of youth players’ social development and technical execution. Whilst most families have been faced with the challenges of online classrooms over the past year, it is pleasing to see the ease at which children can connect with their teammates online and maintain friendships through this medium.
The sessions that coaches have facilitated sessions online are primarily focused on technical skills, given the fact that players are unable to interact in person. Although many coaches across the UK would favour a game-based approach to coaching, block practices have become commonplace and it will be interesting to see how much players have improved their technical skills during the break, particularly when faced with the randomness of a match situation in the future. Additionally, some children have been lucky enough to have parents or siblings that have practised with them at home, so we could see a handful of players that are more proficient in 1v1 situations than before the break.
Keeping children active has been a challenge, with a limited number of opportunities available for exercise. It’s worth noting that in this situation, children are predominantly reliant on their intrinsic motivation, without being able to feed off the energy typically available from coaches and players during a regular season. Psychologically, this has been a real test for children, particularly younger players who are more reliant on external motivation and have been leaning on parents to take them outside to play. When we spoke to a few parents on the subject of players fitness, the results were mixed. Some players had used the break to focus more on fitness and technique, whereas others have noted that they have lost the enthusiasm for regular exercise. Those parents also spoke passionately about the disruption to their player’s routines and though the additional ‘freedom’ was wonderful for family time, the novelty has worn off and even they are missing the usual routine of taking their young players to training and matches several times week.
In order to help children missing out on these development opportunities, it is important to consider how we can influence their football-specific learning from home. Here are some suggestions for what you can do to help, assuming they are not already being carried out by your team:
- Set up regular online meetings for teammates to hang out and chat. This does not have to be football-specific, but it can help with team spirit, mental wellbeing, motivation and social development
- Watch online videos to develop techniques.
- Ensure practices are kept to a high intensity. Get players to work hard in short, sharp intervals! (30 seconds/1 minute challenges. How many X can you do in X time?)
- Keep a ‘record’ of achievements and see if players can BEAT THEIR SCORE
- Go for a kickabout with your household! Play with your player. Enjoy every moment.
Of course, the situation is different for every player, every parent and every club, but hang in there and your best efforts wll be rewarded. We hope to all be back playing, coaching and watching soon!