Football Association plans for a radical overhaul of youth football in England are just one step away from becoming reality.
The youth development proposals include a revised player pathway focused on small-sided football – including new 5v5 and 9v9 formats – up to the under 12s age group and a child-friendly approach to competition up to under 11s.
The ambitious plans received the approval of the FA Council earlier this month, leaving just one more hurdle to negotiate – a vote by FA shareholders at the AGM on 28 May – before work can begin on implementing the proposals.
If 75% of FA shareholders approve the rule changes relating to the revised player pathway and new competition formats then they will become mandatory practice, being phased in from the youngest age groups from the 2013/14 season onwards.
The most controversial element of the original proposals – a de-coupling of school and grassroots football age groups to combat the Relative Age Effect – was omitted from the proposals put to FA Council, although the FA will revisit this issue in due course.
For Nick Levett, the FA’s National Development Manager for Youth and Mini Soccer and the man behind the proposals, the AGM vote represents the final hurdle of a two and a half year project featuring extensive research and a nationwide consultation procedure, including over 125 events and engaging over 4,000 parents and coaches.
“I think we’re in a good place,” Levett told Club Website. “I hope that we’ve done enough. This is the next 15 to 20 years of youth football we’re talking about here.”
“[LMA Chairman and author of the FA's 1997 Charter for Quality] Howard Wilkinson stood up at the Council meeting and said that this was the most exciting and aspirational piece of work that he’d seen the FA do in years.
“If he recognises that it’s the right thing to do for the development and support of young players in the game, then we must be on the right track.”
The omission of the Relative Age Effect element of the proposals represents the biggest change to the FA’s final recommendations published in January.
This exclusion, says Levett, was due to “some concerns around it being the right solution, so it was decided it was best not to take that forward.
“That doesn’t mean that it’s off the agenda. It’s still a hugely important thing that we need to address. We can’t pretend it doesn’t exist, but maybe that wasn’t the right solution.”
Levett concedes that, were it down to him, the proposals being put forward to FA stakeholders might look slightly different, but he is happy that they represent the views of the majority of the grassroots community – the very point behind the FA’s extensive consultation.
Whilst the original plans may have been whittled down, the two proposals being put to the vote on 28 May still represent the biggest change to youth football since the introduction of mini soccer in 1999 – and they arguably go way beyond that.
If voted in, for the first time ever children will only begin to play on full size pitches at under 13s level while, for teams up to under 11s, the traditional league format will be replaced by three six-week ‘trophy events’, allowing all teams to play ‘competitive’ football for 18 weeks of a 26 week season, rather than all compete for a single league trophy over an entire season.
Club Website will bring you further details of the two elements of the proposals before the AGM on 28 May, so watch this space over the coming weeks for more details of what’s in store.
Got a question? Let us have it!
If you have any questions on the final proposals, please leave us a comment below. We’ll collate your feedback and will put your queries to Nick Levett and his team.