Saving Grassroots Football

November 27, 2014 Updated: November 27, 2014
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I started playing the beautiful game of football from when I was five years old, and since then the love for game has burned inside me. 

I remember school holidays, straight after school, weekends waking up, dressing, grabbing a ball, and finding anywhere I could just to kick the ball around.

Any blade of grass was a pitch, any garage or shed door could be a goal. We would play until we couldn’t see the ball anymore, and we would hear our mums shouting for us to come home. 

I remember one of the most depressing things about the end of the football season was walking across the local parks and seeing the goal posts had been removed—it felt like the world had ended, and for such a young boy, it probably had.

As we got older and were allowed to venture further from home, we would ride our bikes to the local leisure center and play in the outdoor football courts. It would mean saving a fifth of my pocket money for the week and not buying sweets, however it was all worth it, just for that magical hour on a pitch with nets and the chance to do what I love with friends.

We all had our favorite players. Being a Liverpool fan, I was always John Barnes when I scored. That little run lasted until a lad called Dean, who was actually Jamaican joined the school and then I became Ian Rush, which was more becoming of a rather slim, tall white man.

These were the great days, when finding someone to have a “kick-about” or play World Cup took two minutes.

There always seemed to be a game going on, always bigger boys who would let you play on their team, always someone else looking for a partner to practice their passing with. 

So what has happened?

Fast Forward to 2014

Twenty-five years on, it seems things are different now.

I recently walked past a local “rec” in the summer: 11 football pitches and not one of them had a game going on.

I played five-aside recently and all of the courts seemed to be full of men my age, in their 30s and 40s. Perhaps they too were trying to relive those years of using jumpers for goal posts. 

What struck me though was there seemed to be no kids playing!

I live next to a park, in an area where there are many children living, yet in the past three months I have only personally seen one game occurring. 

Where are the parents kicking about with their sons and daughters?

I find it hard to believe that kids just aren’t playing football anymore. Is it the case though?

Muddy Goal Mouth

I started to think about why there may be fewer kids playing the game of football and I decided to see if I could do something about it. 

I was recently inspired by the work of Tacklesport, who since 1994 has been using their innovative sports coaching software to improve a variety of grassroots sports, and this made me think about what we could do online. 

I was also recently inspired by this video from Mark Finney, who himself is a grassroots football coach and has been very vocal in the problems facing grassroots football.

Mark is dad to two youth footballers, coaches for Stonnall Juniors FC, publishes his coaching video diary at thegfc.tv, and has a Youtube channel, which discusses grassroots and is passionate about improving the standards of the games. He shares his story here:

I have a similar story, albeit my football pitch was in the “backs” (the alleyways behind the terraces) of Stoke in the late ’70s and early ’80s. A big thing I see at youth football matches is that coaches and parents are all controlling of the kids on the pitch. 

There is little decision-making left for the players. Help the players at training—then let them play their matches. It was pointed out to me that “the opposition might score… it’s a free kick…” My answer as a coach may have sounded apathetic, especially given the shrug of my shoulders: “Yeah, they might.” 

But by making mistakes, by trying things out, by putting their own slant on things—by doing their own thing—the kids will learn at an accelerated rate. There is little scope nowadays for children to have a game of football themselves where there is no adult intervention.

Is it any wonder then that children play so much on consoles? It is an environment where they can hook up with their friends and where they—not the grown-ups—can control the rules and be in charge. 

Just like football was for kids up to the mid-80s. Contrast that with the “Playstation Dads” shouting out every move and every decision from the touchline. Why would a child want to settle for that when they can have far more freedom, albeit virtually, with a game of FIFA?

And that is without the bad behavior on the touchline… If anything is to change, then the adults have to have more empathy with the players and try to give the game back to the children. 

It’s not about the coach. It’s about the players.

So Muddy Goal Mouth Was Born

The desire with MuddyGoalMouth.com is to bring together coaches and parents who are helping the children improve their game to a place where they can share ideas, best practice, and tips.

We also want to create a platform where clubs needing kit sponsorship and investment can raise their profile to local business owners and entrepreneurs.

We know the Football Association is doing their share, and making efforts, however we wanted to be proactive ourselves, and contribute to the cause.

Let’s try and get kids back in the game. 

Let’s try and give them better shirts, boots, and places to play. Let’s make sure they are being coached properly in a way that’s fun and engaging to them.

Let’s encourage the children to leave the Play Stations and X-Boxes at home and get outside and play.

Will it ever be the way it was when I was a kid? I hope so!

 

Bob Fortin is a lifelong football fan and creator of Muddy Goal Mouth