Cross country runs with the ball!? New sport? No, is an 11v11 football game played by U12-U13! Are they really ready for it?

I know, I know this sounds silly, perhaps controversial or different, but is it really? Football coaching is very conservative. Most coaches have already established thinking habits that very difficult to break it. Nonetheless I will make an effort to challenge these conservative thoughts that has been hanging on coaches’ neck for long time. Over the years, perhaps decades coach education reduces coaching to data, systems, planning, periodization, tactics in which majority coaches operating. These are quite easy to measure and learn but have very little impact on human learning potential. On the other hand, there are human traits that we can’t measure, at times difficult to recognize, but these are the difference between success and failure. I am referring to unique human (child) development attributes. Sadly, only few coaches understand that and have ability to turn learning potential into successful performance. That is the main, but not the only reason as to why we rush kids to play the game they not ready for it. Here are few other reasons that have negative impact on child, person and player non-linear development:

Reason 1: Team tactics is what we after! Really-with U12?!

The picture below is self-explanatory really. There are very little benefits move U12-U13 to 11v11 game to early. My experiences tell me that, most of these kids are not ready psychologically in first place. Their brain can’t cope with so many new information. Technically and Tactically coaches prioritise team tactics to early over continuation of individual tactical development. The gaps in individual tactical game understanding lead to even more problems with understanding unit and team tactics. The consequences are, if you can’t understand how to play you can’t play!

Source (FA AYA Course)

Reason 2: Do you understand what lines of interactions are?

Lines of interactions are maximum number passing options between the players in the game. More players mean more interactions, more information to take and more complex game in general. No wonder why kids struggle as majority can’t cope with challenging tactical situations on the pitch. Again, they simply not ready. What the coach do then? Most are frustrated and blame kids for not knowing where to move or positioning themselves on the pitch. The problem is, young players did not put themselves in these situations, don’t they? The basic positioning (do not confuse with position on the pitch i.e. Full Back), movement, distance, angles are best learning with far less numbers in SSG. These is where youngsters preparing mentally, tactically and socially for next transition. I am argued that, kids need to master individual movement and positioning tactics first before they be able to adapt and play in proper 11v11 game. What would you prefer as a coach? Eleven players understanding positioning and movement or eleven players pigeonhole to geographic position on the pitch? Where is the future game going?
Below is the table that gives you clear indication of number possible lines of interaction between players. Think about what are the implications for coaches and coaching?
(Source: Book- “Play to Learn, learn to play. A fresh approach to coaching players 5-16 years of age”. M. Critchel, B. Bosma, R. Cheetham and M. Hurst-2013)

3v3 4v4 5v5 6v6 7v7 8v8 9v9 10v10 11v11
30 lines of interaction 56 lines of interaction 90 lines of interaction 132 lines of interaction 182 lines of interaction 240 lines of interaction 306 lines of interaction 310 lines of interaction 462 lines of interaction

It’s clear that for learning process, development of game understanding LESS is MORE, why rush then?

Reason 3: Current and future game of football: position or positioning and movement?

Below is just the one example of many as to what are the game requirements at the top-level of professional game. Have a closer look at David Alaba versatility this season:

What coaches can learn from David statistics? Is clear that adaptation, versatility and positioning is where the future game is heading. Would he be able to play all these roles if he does not possess greater understanding of individual positioning and movement tactics? Finally, he would not learn all these competencies in 11 v11, if anything he would be struggle like many others who were thrown in deep end to early.

Reason 4: Human-Child-Person what is matter, player is just an addition!

Too many and too often shift their focus on young players performance rather than learning potential and learning process itself. This is no surprise as majority coaches follow the well-established ideas, rules. Worst, they often claim they have 20 plus years of experience. In my view, when you do virtually similar things and the only change is the place you work, you have only 1 year of experience not 20. Simply because, most afraid to be different, innovate and invest in creative coaching. This have negative impact on youngsters as humans. Coaches focus what is measurable such as data, science, systems etc… and evaluate kids based on that only. The real impact however is hidden is what you can’t measure, is difficult to see and have massive impact on players learning potential. I am referring to human characteristic such as determination, resilience, confidence, passion. This is where potential is turning into performance and in longer run success: more players play at the top level of professional game.
I will conclude with Richard Branson quote: “You don’t learn to walk by following rules, you learn by doing and falling over”