Thank you to David Homer (Coach Dave and Little Kickers franchsiee) for this brilliant article! -
Have you ever sat down and thought to yourself 'You know what, I don't really want my child to go to University when they're eighteen, it would be better if they went when they're fourteen and a half. They're so bright and much better than most of the others in the year'?
Unless you're suffering from delusions of grandeur and over zealous parental pride of a monstrous magnitude then the answer is most likely to be a firm no.
Though a fourteen year old may be just as, or more intelligent than an eighteen year old academically or technically, they will still be several years behind socially, psychologically and physically. Statistically 25% behind in terms of age. That's 25% less time on earth and 25% less life experience.
Common sense so far. Stating the blindingly obvious. Of course it is.
Sadly the same sound logic is often absent in the case of our children's sporting activities. So many well meaning and otherwise intellectually rounded parents are hell bent on their child reaching 'the next level' regardless of age, physicality, mentality or social literacy.
Why? That's an answer for parents willing to look for within themselves. Maybe they failed in sport and want a second chance through their own child, it could be blind parental pride or even keeping up with the Joneses. But whatever the reason, reaching 'the next level' is little short of an obsession for some Mums and Dads.
Only last week a parent of a child who'd been with us at Little Kickers since they were two thanked the coaching team for all we'd done, and then proudly proclaimed their child would be leaving Little Kickers as 'They were ready for the next level'. I thanked them for their kind words and then enquired what 'the next level' actually was. The answer given was 'playing outside with the big boys'. The child in question turned four this May. He's technically very good, physically average, and socially and psychologically he is typical of his age.
The English obsession with playing outside on muddy pitches in cold weather is another can of worms altogether. There is no good or bad place to learn football. Every surface has it's pros and cons. It's irrelevant. But the notion that children who play outside are of a higher level than those who play inside is a prehistoric thought pattern to apply.
So when little Bertie (name changed to protect the innocent) goes to play 'at the next level' he will be alongside five, six and seven year olds. I'm no mathematician but that's an age difference which is easily 25%. Bertie having enjoyed a ball mastery coaching ethic at Little Kickers will be technically sound in this company. He may even be better than many of the other older children. I imagine this will be a source of great delight for his parents. But how will he cope socially, psychologically and physically?
Every week an important part of running Little Kickers sessions and indeed any coaching is to evaluate each child's needs in accordance with the FA's excellent 'Four Corners of Coaching Model'. The following attributes are divided into four and considered of equal importance in the development of all young footballers. In no particular order they are;
These four corners apply from walking age straight through to the professional game. Though it's only recently with the advocation of sports science the latter mentioned two are being given more of the attention they deserve.
Think of your favourite players. Two of mine are Best and Gascoigne. Both technically and physically brilliant initially but ultimately declined at the expense of social and psychological neglect in their development and coaching. The four corners must work coherently like an orchestra to make a complete footballer. There's a popular theory in coaching that you coach the person first and the player second.
How many parents get excited about the day their child realises there's no Father Christmas? Surely most dread the loss of innocence and find the thought rather depressing. Yet in the case of football/sport so many parents want to deprive children of their right to being a child via their craving to see them replicating a game they watch played by multi millionaire professional elite athletes on a afternoon.
And there's nothing wrong with natural competition, life is competitive and children naturally are too. This should be encouraged of course. But not at the expense of their childhood. Children don't stay little and sweet for long. They grow into cynical, hardened adults like us. Why on earth would we want to accelerate this process?
Children are not little adults. They are children.
Children learn and develop best through guided discovery, finding their own solutions, imaginative play and most importantly fun, fun and more fun! That's not to say their coaching shouldn't incorporate a strong element of order, discipline and routine.
At younger ages of development is arguable that and social psychological development is even more important than technical and physical. And it's refreshing to see more and more parents are actually requesting children stay in their existing group for these reasons. Hopefully there is a sea change happening in our culture towards this logic. A logic which has prevailed in lands far more successful at football than ours for many years already.
So in the words of Oscar Wilde "The best way to make a child good is to make them happy".
What Oscar omitted to add to this quote was "Not yourself!"
So next time you thing about how your child should be progressing at a faster speed than they already are naturally, maybe remind yourself of the old fable about 'The Tortoise and the Hare'. We all know who won in the end. And we all know how important it is to win. But in the end. Nobody wins at the start line. Football development is a marathon not a sprint. Don't let your child be the burned out hare!
Thank you for reading. All feedback always welcome. Please feel free to comment here or tweet me @CoachDave_