Government could damage youth development
Post-Olympic plans go against FA vision
26 August ~ The success of London 2012 has rightly been pounced upon in an attempt to increase participation in sport across the country. However, government proposals regarding its competitiveness may harm the ability of Britain's young footballers. At the end of the Games the prime minister David Cameron said: "We need to use the inspiration of the Games to get children playing sport more regularly. I want to use the example of competitive sport at the Olympics to lead a revival of competitive sport in primary schools. We need to get children playing and enjoying competitive sports from a young age."
This autumn's national curriculum will require primary schools to provide competitive team sport in activities such as football, hockey and netball.
Football's role as Britain's most popular sport may see more emphasis placed upon winning matches rather than developing technical ability, even at such a young age. This has long been cited as a pitfall of the English coaching system. José Mourinho once said: "In England you teach your kids how to win. In Portugal and Spain they teach their kids how to play."
The government's plans go directly against recommendations made by the Football Association's Football Player Development Review of 2011. One of the key suggestions made in this report was "Promotion of The Future Game as a best practise guide to future development".
Gareth Southgate, the Head of Elite Development at the time, wanted to prioritise enhancing technical ability in young players, rather than winning matches. "At the very youngest age there wasn't much emphasis on skill development," he said. "We had all of the great English traits: team spirit, great worth ethic, a never-say-die attitude. But the emphasis on our coaching has never totally been around skills and technical ability."
The FA proposed to scrap all league tables for any children of primary school age as part of the review. The aim is to remove the oft-criticised demand for victory among children, in favour of increasing the focus on a coach's attempts to turn them into technically gifted players and bettering their chances of becoming a professional in the future.
The more talented players there are, the more likelihood there is of England being a genuine force at international level. If competitive team sports are made compulsory in the curriculum, as the prime minister hopes, these aims will not be made reality.
While the government's attempts to encourage an increase in sport participation in the wake of the Olympic euphoria is correct and commendable, some of its proposals should take into account the impact it may have on its various national sides in years to come. Matt Ramsay
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