Is Grassroots football being taken too seriously?

After recently having a conversation with a client’s parent about their grassroots football team, it became apparent the grassroots football scene seems to have a lot more elements creeping in from the professional game than I thought.

The Professional Game

Now anyone who knows and watches football will be able to build up a picture of the professional game, such as what is involved, how things are run and how games are played. For me when I look at this environment, it is high pressured, severely commercialised and in some cases can be very very cliche. Now I am not saying there is anything wrong with this in the professional game, because when you look at the prize pots available for some competitions it is understandable there is this type of environment.

This environment includes players getting dropped for players who are supposedly better than them, or performing better at the time of choosing the team. It is also managers having lots of 1 to 1 conversations about players, speaking to them about their performance, how they can improve, even putting pressure on players to try and perform using sort of “pressurising tactics”, such as saying “if you get this game, you have got to show me you deserve it.” It is also managers bringing players in to better the team, getting rid of the so called weaker players to make way for these in the squad or team.

Now we all know this is what happens at the highest level in football and as I said in the first paragraph, I can see why it happens because managers and clubs are under all sorts of pressure to win trophies, meet targets and become the best team in the world. However, after speaking to people involved in the grassroots game in my local area I was alarmed to see some of this stuff happening in the local grassroots football scene with younger players.

What is Grassroots about?

For me, grassroots is the heart and sole of football in this country, because without grassroots football we wouldn’t have players coming into the professional game and this is why, I think everything possible should be done to maintain a grassroots environment, which is enjoyed by all, therefore keeping as many players in the game for as long as possible, giving the chance of more players making it. The reason I say this is because far too often I have seen it/heard it that players of a young age leave the sport far too early i.e. 14 years old, due to demands which are being put on them which just should not be happening.

For us grassroots football is about giving people a chance, giving young children a chance to excel within the sport which 11 million people in the UK currently participate alone. This area of football is all about development, no matter what ability, gender or age the whole focus is about how can we develop young players to achieve THEIR best potential. Yes I completely understand developing players is difficult, and when you may have to do this in a group environment where you have so called weaker and stronger players, but really is there any better feeling than seeing players master something which has evaded them, knowing you have helped them?

Why do we see this?

As I said at the start of this blog post it was a recent conversation which got me thinking about this topic. Throughout this conversation we discussed many factors which may cause these issues, and throughout I was thinking are we talking about grassroots football here, or the professional game?

Topics of conversation included managers wanting bragging rights over other managers, such as wanting their team to be seen as the best team in the area. It also included mangers seeming to have pressure to perform, translating this pressure onto the children to then perform when they are given “their shot.” Now what does this do to a young child who really wants to play, get’s their chance and doesn’t quite perform? It absolutely shatters them, their confidence decreases and bit by bit you can see the love of the beautiful game seeping out to be replaced by frustration, anxiety and nervousness when they play.

Now coming from a sport and exercise science background this is no good for the player, because not mater which model you look at not one of them tells you performance will increase when they are the most nervous/anxious. These models include, Sport Anxiety Scale, Competitive State Anxiety Inventory or the Mental Readiness Form. Instead it states there is an optimal level of stress/anxiety, and usually most young player create this themselves, so shouldn’t need any extra, such as having to win.

Having to win brings me on nicely to my third and final point to why I feel there is elements of the professional game creeping into grassroots football, which is the fact some coaches seem to have a win at all costs mentality. When we look at it properly what is there to win at grassroots football really, especially as the competitive leagues have been taken out in lower ages especially. The answer is not much. What does a trophy at grassroots really mean to a manager? Yes it means a lot to the players, and I understand players need to learn how to win and lose in order to reach the higher levels, but it shouldn’t come at a cost of development. For me there would be a lot more enjoyment to come from watching a team grow, as a team from start to beginning to then compete for a trophy as they get older, especially if you can see the enjoyment throughout the whole process.

Final Thoughts

Now for one minute, this post is not us saying all grassroots coaches have this kind of attitude because we see and have the privilege to work with so many who are doing great things, and really helping the grassroots environment thrive, keeping players in the game for as long as possible. This is the key message for us because going in on a deeper level, grassroots football helps people with so many other factors, rather than just being a game. Having played myself for so many years I have gained so much such as:

– Stress Relief

– Lasting friendships, developing into business partners

– Role models to learn from

– Being able to work as a team , which is relevant in so many job roles

– Determination, from playing in all sorts of weathers 

– Self Motivation, wanting to develop myself which stemmed from the values implemented by my coaches

– Keeping healthy and most of all enjoying things a lot more when I was playing football

I could go on for ever about some of the things I feel grassroots football helps people with, but I don’t want this post to be too long. This is the exact reason why we as coaches need to ensure the environment we coach is an enjoyable one, where all players are given the chance to thrive and reach their individual potential.

Conclusion

Grassroots football is all about a journey, from taking players at whatever ability they come to you and taking them as far as you personally can with their development, all whilst maintaining the values of what grassroots football is all about.

We hope you enjoyed reading this post, and we would like to thank you for taking the time to read through this. We would love to hear any thoughts or opinions you may have on this!!

Thank You

James Redford

JCR Sports Coaching

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