How young players suffer in a "Win at all costs" soccer culture

Eamon Scott, Evening Herald, Monday 5th December 2011

Many young players are forced to play competitive league football at a very young age all around the country, even before they have hardly learned to kick a ball. On top of that, the games themselves are far too complex for the age-groups concerned which creates more mistakes and, even more shouting from the sidelines.

With the pressure on to win from coaches and parents, only the biggest, strongest (and indeed mentally tough) kids will survive. The easiest way to win a game is to play “Big Boys Football.” Give the ball to the biggest most athletic player on the team, as the other players look on and watch him win the match. Or hoof the ball up the pitch as far from your goal as possible and force the opposition into a mistake.

This game of “kick and rush “ is not just prevalent in Irish youth football, (although we would like to acknowledge the many brave coaches who try to stem the tide) but also can still be witnessed in the premier league on any given weekend.

Unfortunately, though, at the development age this approach causes one major problem –  many kids get left behind, and indeed will drop out of the game forever as teenagers. The kids can get left out, either through very little participation on the pitch (as they watch the bigger “stars” run the show)  or indeed spending too much time on the sidelines, or else they are given very little attention during training, not to mention the criticism they will often incur for their “ineptitude”  or just simple mistakes. The kids that mostly fall into this category include:

Shy kids and quiet kids – those kids that buckle under the pressure and shouting first.

Smaller kids – some kids are genetically smaller than their peers (usually they are not much good for winning headers and kicking the ball up the pitch or shooting from distance with oversized balls).

Late-developers – All players do not mature at the same rate and there can be years in the difference between two kids of the same chronological age.

Late-born kids – a high percentage of the kids that fail to advance to the highest level for their age are those kids that are born later in the “playing year,” i.e. if the cut-off for a given age group is the 1st of January, then those kids that are born in early January  are almost a year older than kids born in late December of the same year. Because they are usually bigger, kids born in the first quarter of the year often get the greatest playing time and associated advantages and indeed this persists right through to the professional game.

The result is that many drop out of the game without ever giving it – or it giving them – a fair chance.

It also begs the question, how many smaller, or late-developing  talented players are lost to the game every year because of the pressure to win rather than develop young players. Indeed, one could ask the question, “How would messrs. Xavi, Iniesta or even Messi have fared if they had the misfortune to be born into such a culture?”. In Barcelona, they quite likely will not play 11-a-side until 12 years of age nor play competitive league soccer until even later than that.

Dermot Dalton, The Beautiful Game