Around ten years ago, when my eldest lad had just turned six years old, I decided to make use of the rather expensive football boots that I’d bought him for kickabouts in the back garden and ran him down to a Saturday morning fun session that I’d been hearing about from a few other Dads with boys of similar ages.
I walked away incredibly impressed. With one significant exception, the parents and helpers at the session seemed completely dedicated to one thing – The enjoyment of the game. I was issued with a code of conduct that explained the desire to install a love of football into the hearts of influential youngsters and that winning wasn’t the \’be all and end all’ of providing organised football for a six year old child.
Fairly soon, I was encouraged to help out and eventually had the privilege of running an under 7’s team made up of boys and girls who wanted to experience the game at a team level. We worked on a principle of trying to provide organised football for as many children as possible and boasted a squad of over 35 players with varying abilities who all got a game on a Sunday morning.
I loved every moment of running that side and managed to build lasting friendships with a group of eager young players who continue to stop me in the street for a quick chat about their progress to the present day. Unfortunately, work commitments saw me move away for several years and I passed on the mantle of team manager to another parent who continued to look after the bulk of these young players until they turned 16.
A few years later, I arrived back home and managed to find another side to coach at Under 13’s level. We started from scratch and took on boys that, in all honesty, didn’t have the ability to earn regular places in teams that were already focused on winning titles, tournaments and cup competitions.
We still had a great laugh in that first season even though we were getting hammered most weekends, and it was fantastic to see the steady improvement in several of the kids who’d never played at a competitive level before.
The following season, a new batch of boys turned up to pre-season training and the standard rose a little. We eased the new boys into the side but continued to give every registered player as much playing time as possible. Although results improved, we still lost the majority of our games. It didn’t matter. We were still having fun.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realise that a few of the new parents on the sidelines didn’t quite understand what we were trying to achieve and eventually we had a cluster of moaners at every game who felt obliged to shout a variety of different instructions to a gaggle of confused children above the voice of a manager who had completely different ideas on what junior football should be about.
I survived several heated arguments, one poorly-aimed bottle of Lucozade Sport and a weekly diet of shaking heads. By the end of the season, I’d already decided to move on and the club eventually appointed a friend of the resistant parents as my replacement. Strangely enough, it was the same fella who had been the significant exception at a meaningless fun session many years before.
The new manager managed to finish 3rd in the table the following season, but the team of kids that I’d nurtured had already been ripped apart by this stage and had been replaced with local lads that arrived with good footballing reputations. Because of their lack of natural ability, most of my old charges didn’t find another team to play for.
It’s a sad state of affairs when the pressures of megalomaniac parents ease willing volunteers out of the game but they tend to have a tendency to shout louder than most people. Coaching kids is a labour of love and it still seems that most adults involved in the junior game consider themselves to be a few steps ahead of Messrs. Ferguson, Mourinho and Benitez.
Kids don’t have much time to enjoy football from a playing perspective anymore. The pressures heaped upon them to win at all costs from a very early age are still very much in force. The FA has done much to make the right noises about participation being the most important aspect of the junior game, but you get the impression that they rarely venture towards park pitches on a Sunday morning to see the continued howling of blood-thirsty parents who won’t take second-best as an option.