Entering into my eighth season as a youth football coach, I am looking forward to it as much now as when I was a overwhelmed 23-year-old almost getting lost driving to my first match, writes Will Sparrow.
Being part of a larger group of volunteers making sure the whole process runs smoothly is a hugely-rewarding experience.
Fifty clubs with multiple teams will compete in the Arun & Chichester Youth League this season ranging from under-seven to under-18. Alongside the league secretary there is a referees secretary who looks after more than 100 referees who will be used to cater for matches played from September to April.
The fixture secretaries have a key role especially in the younger age groups, ensuring competitive development matches are scheduled which aid the progress of boys and girls.
A real focus is put upon keeping track of results and ensuring evenly-matched teams are playing against each other week in week out. I, along with all other coaches, fully appreciate the time and effort given. All this hard work culminates in brilliantly-organised cup finals held at Arundel FC during March and April.
Seeing parents, some of who had little or no interest in football, turn into knowledgeable and immensely-proud ones forming a new mutual interest with their children, is great to see.
Friendships, personalities and team spirit evolve during training sessions, matches, presentation evenings and the old favourite six-a-side tournaments with the fundamental goal being an enjoyable learning experience.
The FA has taken great steps to ensure exposure to competitive football doesn’t occur at too young an age. Competitive football, which in the eyes of the FA is classified as published league tables and results, begins at the age of 11.
Before this boys and girls are playing mini-soccer – five, seven or nine-a-side development matches. And 11-a-side football on full-size pitches is now not played until the under-13 age group.
This system allows players to learn the basics and put them into practice on pitches of a relevant size without the added burden of league tables, relegation and promotion. This approach will bear fruit in years to come; young players will be better prepared for the progression into competitive football.
So, forget the Premier League, the Arun & Chichester Youth League kicks off this Sunday (September 7)... and I for one can’t wait!
* Will Sparrow will be writing regular football articles for the Observer and this website during the season.
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