Friday, November 17, 2006

The state of youth football

Since I became involved with youth football a couple of years ago, I have found it an uplifting, but often depressing experience. There are two main reasons for this.

Firstly, there are managers of very young teams who live vicariously through their young charges. I've seen teams of five year olds sticking rigidly to tactical formations imposed on them by their managers. I've heard half-time team talks that wouldn't be out of place at Stamford Bridge, and I've seen managers take advantage of helpfully flexible league rules to put out bigger and older teams against their opponents so that they regularly win by more than five goals.

Generally, the games are played in a great spirit and the FAW Football Leaders Award has created a generation of coaches who understand that their responsibilities lie in the development of young people as much as the production of a winning side. But there are some who refuse to accept this lily-livered liberalism, and like to win at all costs.

Even more soul-destroying is the lack of playing facilities for youth footballers, and sports participants in general. When a Government understand the disastrous social and economic future for a country where sport is sidelined, you would think that it would be desperate to provide playing fields and facilities to offset the coming obesity epidemic.

But no. The lack of facilities in North Wales at least is shocking. Clubs often have a single field to serve all of their junior teams. Only last week, I was forced to play 15-a-side in one match, on a small pitch due to the tight schedule of games that morning. I readily agreed, because otherwise there would have been 7 young children sent home disappointed without having kicked a ball.

It isn't the fault of the clubs. Staffed by hard-working volunteers, they have to make the best of what they've got. But European friends of mine are dismayed by the level of political support that is offered compared to countries like Holland, where even a small village will run a dozen sides, using high quality facilities provided by public funds.

Cardiff has vast areas of land given over to public playing fields. Pontcanna, Llandaff Fields, Blackweir are all buzzing with activity on a weekend. In Gwynedd, we have a couple of fields at Treborth, but I think that's it. I realise that there is a massive disparity in population levels, but surely Caernarfon and Bangor needs an area of ten or twenty pitches for public hire?

The flip side of this is when a local community has the facilities but no team. I was at Rhosgadfan yesterday, and saddened to see a good pitch laid to waste at Mountain Rangers FC, which I understand is no longer in existence. I don't know the reasons for this, but it's a sad sight.

There are efforts being made, such as the recent FAW/EUFA initiative to provide 21 pitches around the country. But this is a drop in the ocean. I have seen with my own eyes the enormous social and health benefits to be gained from junior football, and it is shameful that matches are regularly postponed due to pressures on the playing surface, and that clubs have to travel away from their village to train in private facilities where they have to pay to play.

Football should be free for all. The Goverment would earn the money back via the relief to a creaking health service provided by healthier children. But until the public decides that it is worth playing a little extra tax to support sport in its communities, then I suppose we will have the facilities we deserve.


Livzy said...

As a fellow kids team manager (Llanfairfechan Under 10's Juniors)I 100% endorse what you are saying. As we have no lights or winter traiing facilities in Llan we have to go train at Aberconwy School - a 40 mile round trip from bangor - and pay for the preiveldge.

It;s a farce and it will be the same politicians refusing to grant funds to the county coubncil to improve stadards that will then complain that the national sides arent good enough. well how can they be if from the age of 5,6 or 7 onwards football is a chore?

it is also these same politicians that will take the many a various "freebies" around europe to watch international matches. Get them down to the rec in llnafairfechan on a wet sunday moring in December to attept to erect mini goals in a force 5 easterly wind.

uncle Lance said...

I spent almost 5 years working with community sports groups to fund essential redevelopment of our sports facilities . the rugby club did nothing. the senior football club did nothing. as soon as the facilities had been completed the mini football was run into the ground and the senior football took the new facilities the original pitch was abandoned to the sheep. the funding and support is there but in some areas of south Wales children dont get the support fom the community.

Gary said...

I am also, for my sins, a kids team manager (Valley under 9s) I have to say that we are really lucky in our village as we have two full sized football pitches and a small pitch set aside for the juniors (under 11s and 9s).

We also have access to the former rugby pitch in the village which is floodlit for winter training sessions.

Having said that I totally endorse what you say about managers living their dreams through their young charges and have spent many a disillusioned Sunday wondering what satisfaction anyone can take from seeing a team of 8-year-olds bneing humiliated by a team of sharp shooting 9-year-olds.