Less is More – What game format is the best way forward to learn for foundation phase kids? 

champion football

We remember our school days, don’t we? Do we equally remember how we started to learn maths when we were in our early days of childhood? We had to learn numbers in the first place before anything else. Then, when we were ready, we started to learn more complex maths. Similarly, with reading. I don’t remember reading Macbeth when I was let’s say, 7 years old. Do you? Instead, books with simple, short words and small sentences were the way forward to learn how to read better.

In football however, we asked children to read Macbeth first too often these days. What I mean by saying that is, coaches focus too much attention on larger number games (7v7, 9v9) rather than spent equal or even more time playing very small number games. I am not saying playing 7v7 is wrong as I do think kids have to experience smaller and bigger spaces, but they must be ready for it. That is why I would argue that less is better for foundation phase kids and here is why?

Educational logic- Ask yourself this: How often child touch the ball in 7v7 or 9v9 game compare to 3v3? Less numbers means also better decision making due to stimulate and activate entire brain, more engagement, more fun due to amount of touches of the ball, better learning game sense and movement (distances, angles) and more importantly a lot of smiles on children faces.

Game understanding- when you learn to play in less numbers more often, is logic that you will be ready and able to play when players numbers are increase on the pitch. The problem is, children games on the weekend are played in 5v5 to 9v9 format in which case coaches like to do the same on practice. My argument is children are experience what the game or league format required rather than what stage of brain and personal development they are at. Negative consequences of this system are to exposed children to what adult people think is good for them rather than what their brains able to absorb (see the below)

Lines of interaction-Have you heard about it? In simple terms this is maximum possible passing options between the players in a game. That means if there are more players on the pitch, then more passing options will be available and therefore more complex game situations to solve. For foundation phase players this have direct impact on their learning. How? Have you seen the goalkeeper trying to start the game in 7v7 or 9v9? What happen to him or her when other kids want the ball at the same time? Does he or she looks confused and not really know to whom play the ball to? Now would that be a problem in 3v3 since there is only 2 options to chose from and therefore far less lines of interactions between 3 players only. 

Too much information- following from my previous point, children are lack of huge memory capacity and therefore unable to cope with so much incoming information’s (to many players, to many lines of interaction). Is completely opposite when playing numbers are low and brain respond well to learning process.

Why this kid is not in correct position- How often you scream to little Joe, because of his lack of understanding correct positioning? Well, there is a reason for it. Basic tactics such as positioning and movement (distances, angles, I am not referring to an adult game positions on the pitch) are far easier to learn in 3v3 than 7v7 game for 8 years old kid. Why, because in 3v3 the child is almost always involved in the game in which case learning take place consistently thru trial and error. Bigger number format does not offer constant involvement and therefore provide far less opportunity to learn better movement and positioning. 

Conclusions, I do believe we as coaches are fall in trap of what game looks like on Sunday and Saturday regardless of experience and cognitive maturity of the youngest children. Although I am far away from any criticism, I would like to see coaches seek knowledge about development of child’s brain and understanding kids. Why, because then will know that child must have good perception skills to solve complex tactical situations with more numbers on the pitch. Since these skills is not fully develop in foundation phase, less numbers are good to help their learning process and be better prepared for 7v7 or 9v9 game formats.