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It’s always raining in Manchester, at least that’s the stereotype that has grown legs and now depicts the North-West as a whole. To be fair you could argue that most of the United Kingdom receives more rain than the majority of Europe but what impact does our climate have on the development of footballers?
In my youth I played pretty much every position on the pitch except for Centre Back as I was a short arse. My abiding memory of these games though was the pitches we were expected to play on which were not in the best condition put it that way. Pitches that resembled the moon with craters all over, others which were swamps and the Amazonian ones with knee high grass.
Pitches that were designed to avoid playing the ball across and led to the game plan of many sides where they needed to keep the ball in the air. Teams as a result looked to recruit the kids who could kick the furthest and were the tallest/strongest.
Can you see where I’m heading with this?
Southern Europe and South America have produced the most World Cup Winners and successful sides of modern memory so could the climate be playing a bigger part than we think?
The biggest argument levelled at England and its development of technically accomplished players is the number of qualified coaches available. What good is qualified coaches though if the areas they are given to train on are unsuitable to develop a child’s skills?
I ran a youth team for 5 years and it was only at that point I realised what a difference the environment made when coaching kids. The team I had were technically poor players who just wanted a chance to play so my focus was on improving their technical skills. As these skills improved I hoped confidence would get better as well.
Summer training made this difficult as the pitches had been so over used during the winter; they were in a state of divots, holes and dust bowls. Teaching players the basics of controlling a ball and crisp passing was tough in these conditions. It was only in the autumn and winter months when training went ‘indoors’ that I encountered surfaces which were suitable to train on. The winter training for my team was actually conducted outdoors at a local school. The school had recently installed 4 caged 3G pitches which could be used in pretty much any weather. The beauty of these pitches is that provide a truly level and flat playing surface which for youths up to 12/13 years of age is vital in helping to develop ball control skills. The improvement of the kids during the winter was fantastic and a lot of it was due to the level of facilities available to them.
The problem here however is twofold because access to such venues and the cost of hiring is out of the reach of many youth clubs. I wanted to hold a two hour training session as by the time kids arrive and you’re ready to start a one hour session, you may only have time to run a 30-40 minute session. The cost of covering this though for a team of 16 kids would be £5 each per session. £5 for a two hour hire each week is just not possible for some parents and the last thing you want to do is price kids out of the game.
I now referee youth games on a Saturday morning and every centre that the league I work for has 3G pitches available. A few years ago the league did use several grass pitches but these have been mostly phased out now as in the winter months they became bogs that only led to long ball football. The standard of football from the 9/10/11 year olds on the league has come on leaps and bounds since playing each week on 3G pitches.
The chairman of the youth league is also chairman of a non-league side nearby and openly questions why sides would want to play on grass. He had been told by the grounds man for the non-league team that even the best pitches cannot handle being played on more than 4 times a week so what chance would junior sides having training/playing on council managed pitches?
3G pitches give kids the best chance possible of developing the skills required to stand a chance of making it in the professional game and also gives coaches an environment to coach more effectively. Rather than just bleat about the lack of qualified coaches in the UK the focus for the Government/FA should be to also provide suitable training facilities for the current crop of coaches.
It’s all well good having coaches but unlike other countries which benefit from location and weather, we need to ensure those coaches have the best facilities to use as well.
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