Jumpers for goalposts

Recent investigations into the state of our youth football (soccer) academies triggered a massive response from managers, coaches and players. Here, TOM STATHAM, who has coached for the last 13 years at Manchester United’s academy and is director of football at Repton School, gives his personal view on where we are going wrong….

Sir Trevor Brooking says we must start getting things right with the youngest children if we are to produce players who are not lagging behind the other major European countries when it comes to technique and skill levels.

I agree, but the question is — how do we do it?

The heart of the problem is that adults run kids’ football in this country and they bring with them adult ideas, rules, values, tactics and pressures.

Many children only experience football at an official club training session where enthusiastic, well-meaning coaches deliver complicated drills, instructions and team talks. These look and sound great, and impress parents, yet they leave kids confused, frustrated, bored and asking: ‘When can we play a game?’

Conventional coaches and coaching are appropriate much later in a child’s development.

Our youngest kids need facilitators and helpers to guide and support their progress.

Why do I hold such views?

Firstly, I have researched what some of the great players did up to the age of 11 and found that, without exception, these early years were free of adult intervention, formal coaching and structured matches.

Skilful, exciting, creative players like Matthews, Puskas, Pele, Best, Maradona and Zidane developed on the streets, parks and waste grounds close to where they lived.

They played with older and younger kids, with balls of various shapes and sizes, many home made. They played on their own, one against one, three on three, 10 v seven — anything. They just played for hour after hour, day after day.

Secondly, by watching and interacting with kids for many years, I have developed ideas about how they learn and have fun. They copy, pretend, experiment, take responsibility and risks, make decisions and mistakes, use their imagination and dream.

They don’t need to be put under pressure, or told what to do and what not to do. Children need to be free to play! The key to developing happy, active, healthy, stimulated children — and the answer to the problem of technically poor players — is free-play.

This produced great players in the past and is still happening in Brazil, Portugal, Nigeria and Ivory Coast, where many of today’s most technically and physically able players come from.

Sadly, free-play, where children design and adapt games to fit their age and environment, away from the influence of adults, is virtually dead in modern Britain.

The real issue and greatest challenge today for all football lovers involved with kids is: how can we get our children to play football freely, without adult interference, for hours and hours every week?

When some of the country’s best under-10 footballers come to me at Manchester United, they bring an enthusiasm and a love for the game that is pure and very precious. If I harm this in any way, I have failed.

So I give them what they want.

I set up — or give them responsibility to create — games and challenges where they can dribble, turn, run, shoot, tackle, score, have fun, get lots of ball contact and, importantly, compete.

So what do I do? I cheer, encourage, congratulate, laugh and enjoy watching fantastic football played by happy, motivated children. I also give them firm boundaries regarding standards of effort and behaviour.

Within these boundaries they can express themselves in a safe, secure, positive environment where they are not penalised or criticised for failing.

They reward me by playing high risk, attacking football. They do incredible things, not because they have been coached and told how, but because they have never been told they can’t.

They have never been told they are incapable and they have never been told they are not allowed.

Each child is at the centre of their learning — not me, the ‘coach’. Their natural instincts are far greater and more powerful than anything I can tell them.

It has taken me many years to reach this point and it is not an easy thing for a competitive adult like me to do, but I would recommend it unreservedly.

Leave your ego behind, chill out, back off and let the kids play!


“I spent a lot of time training at Gremio. After training I went to play futsal. After that I’d play with my friends in the streets and when I got home I played with my brother. My life is football and always has been.”

“Everything I have achieved in football is due to playing in the streets with my friends.”

“I guess we were potrero (waste ground) children more than anything. If our parents were looking for us, they knew where to find us. We would always be there on the potrero, running after the ball.”

“Every time I went away, I was deceiving my mum. I’d tell her I was going to school, but I’d be out on the street playing football. I always had a ball at my feet. In Brazil, every kid starts playing street football very early. It’s in our blood.”

“I’d make for a piece of waste ground opposite our house, where the boys from the neighbourhood gathered for a kick-about. Coats would be piled for posts and the game would get under way. In fine weather it would be as many as 20 a side, in bad weather a hardened dozen or so made six a side. We didn’t need a referee. We accepted the rules of the game and stuck by them. It taught us that you can’t go about doing what you want and if you don’t stick to the rules, you spoil it for everyone else. Those games prepared us for life. When I wasn’t playing football with my pals, I’d play by myself. I had a rubber ball I spent hours kicking against the backyard wall.”

“I am grateful to my father for all the coaching he did not give me.”

“It’s all down to street football.”

Gender issues in soccer coaching

coaching girls soccer

by Steve Watson

Women’s football (soccer) is not new. In England the ‘fairer sex’ have been playing the ‘beautiful game’ since the nineteenth century and on Boxing Day, 1920 the premier women’s football team of the day (Dick, Kerr Ladies) played another Lancashire team, St. Helen’s Ladies, before a capacity crowd of 53,000 at Goodison Park with another 10 to 15,000 fans locked out. In the same year the Dick, Kerr Ladies toured the USA where they played eight games against male opposition, winning three and scoring 35 goals.

 coaching girls soccer
The Dick, Kerr’s Ladies Team which toured the United States in 1920. They outscored their male opponents 35-34, and left with a 3-3-2 record.

However, female participation in football in England was actively discouraged by the Football Association until quite recently (the FA banned women from using it’s grounds for fifty years between 1920 and 1970), and is still widely considered as a ‘man’s game’ in which women are seen as marginal, both as players and even as spectators.

Yet by 2002 football had become the number one female participation sport in England. Today it is the country’s fastest growing sport and the coverage of the England women’s football team competing in Euro 2005 on prime time terrestrial television will surely result in more and more girls wanting to emulate their new-found sporting role models.

The scale and speed of this explosion of interest in English female football is demonstrated by the facts: in 1993 there just 80 girls teams. In England today there are more than 7,000 teams and over 100,000 registered players.

Female interest in playing football is not limited to the birthplace of the ‘beautiful game’. In the USA the game really took off after 90,185 fans watched the women’s national team beat China in the final of the 1999 World Cup. Today, an estimated 6 million American girls play soccer regularly and in many other countries there are large and growing numbers of girls and women playing the game.

The fact that female soccer is so popular today inevitably means that many coaches (especially in the younger age groups) will suddenly have girls in their squads for the first time. Other coaches will be switching from coaching all boys teams to coaching all girls teams. This will, understandably, result in some anxiety for soccer coaches who will wonder if girls should be coached in the same way as boys. They won’t know if the coaching techniques they have used with boys in the past are transferable to girls and male coaches may worry about how they should treat girl players who get injured. Female coaches may have similar concerns. These worries are perfectly understandable but not often expressed.

The fact that football coaches (who are, of course, predominantly male), are so reluctant to voice their concerns about coaching girls might be because they interpret ‘equal opportunities’ as meaning that all the children in their charge must be treated exactly the same. They may believe that to consider treating one group of children differently to the others is inappropriate, old fashioned and even reactionary.

However, this ignores the fact that boys and girls have been shown to differ in their approach to sport, soccer and coaching in several, possibly significant, ways. These differences need to be understood by soccer coaches if they are to coach boys and girls as effectively as possible.

Before we look at why the gender of the children you are coaching might influence your coaching style, it is worthwhile stressing that boys and girls are more similar than they are different. For example, the reasons why girls and boys want to play soccer are virtually the same:

Girls Boys
have fun 99% 94%
improve at my sport 98% 94%
learn new skills 95% 89%
be competitive 94% 94%
be in shape 92% 88%
be with friends 92% 87%
keep busy 73% 63%

Source: Mary Healy Jonas, Do Boys and Girls View Competition in Different Ways?

Also, both sexes respond better to positive reinforcement than negative criticism, boys and girls can both kick a ball just as far (good technique, not strength is the key to distance) both can pass accurately and so on. Also, both boys and girls like their coaches to be assertive, cooperative, determined, respected (and respectable), willing to help, dedicated, ‘cool’ and energetic.1

Research into gender differences applicable to soccer coaches is pretty thin on the ground. However, The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports Report on Physical Activity & Sport in the Lives of Girls (1997), concluded that females, in general, are more internally motivated by self improvement and goals related to team success and appear more motivated by a cooperative, caring, and sharing team environment. The authors cited Garcia (1994) that some female athletes actually can be ‘turned off’ by coaches who over emphasize winning.2

However, my own experience as a soccer coach who has switched from coaching boys to coaching girls teams supports the findings of Dr Stewart and others that:

  • Girls tend to be more analytical than boys. This means girls will not take generalities at face value. They will want to know why they should do something a particular way more than boys will.
  • Team unity is more important to girls than boys.
  • Girls may place more emphasis on ‘fair play’ than boys who are more likely to bend the rules.
  • Boys are more likely than girls to blame other people (the referee, the weather, the coach) if they lose. Girls have a tendency to blame themselves for a poor performance.
  • For girls, winning is not as important as making sure every player gets an equal amount of playing time.
  • Males appear to be more ‘self’ or ‘ego’ oriented and tend to be more ‘win at any cost’ in their approach to sport.

The reason for these differences is not certain. Certainly, they could be highly influenced by social or cultural expectations (Gill, 1994) so presumably could be ‘unlearned’ if the conditions were right.3

Gender differences relevant to soccer coaches have also been identified by Mary Healy Jonas’ study, Do Boys and Girls View Competition in Different Ways? She considered the differences between girls’ and boys’ responses to three statements:

“I would do almost anything to win”

Occasionally Sometimes Frequently Almost always Frequently + Almost Always
Female 20% 23% 27% 15% 14% 29%
Male 11% 15% 26% 20% 29% 49%

“It is more important for key players to play in order to win than for everyone to get equal playing time” 

Occasionally Sometimes Frequently Almost always Frequently + Almost Always
Female 25% 21% 30% 14% 10% 24%
Male 11% 12% 36% 21% 21% 42%

“I get very upset when my team loses”

Occasionally Sometimes Frequently Almost always Frequently + Almost Always
Female 21% 28% 33% 10% 8% 18%
Male 10% 23% 26% 21% 21% 42%


Boys and girls should always be offered the same opportunities and given the same consideration during your coaching sessions. Don’t, for example, cancel a training session for girls because of inclement weather if you wouldn’t cancel it for a boy’s session. And if you coach mixed groups, don’t try to ‘protect’ the girls. Treat them equally but understand the differences.

It’s not insulting to females to consider if they need to be coached differently. It is, rather, an indication of your desire to coach them as effectively as you can.

To quote Dr Stewart:

“If differences exist, coaches need to be aware of them. That awareness could assist coaches in varying coaching styles to meet the individual needs of the gender being coached. If individualization is achieved, coaches would be assisting both the team, and the individual player, in achieving the highest performance possible. It could also reduce the frustration experienced by coaches who switch between teams of different genders.”4


1, 2, 3, 4: Dr Craig Stewart, Should boys & girls be coached the same way?

Sir Norman Chester Centre for Football Research, Fact Sheet 5: Women and Football

The FA Annual Review, 2004-5

Soccerhall.org, The Dick Kerr Ladies Football Tour 1922

Mary Healy Jonas, Do boys and girls view competition in different ways?

Mentalhelp.net, Gender differences in values, purpose, self-esteem, and orientation



Football rules, OK?

In 1857, former pupils of the Sheffield Collegiate School established the Sheffield Football Club at Bramall Lane and published their own set of rules for football. Players were allowed to push opponents off the ball with their hands. It was also within the rules to shoulder charge players, with or without the ball. If a goalkeeper caught the ball, he could be barged over the line.

In 1862 a new set of rules were established at Cambridge University. These specified 11-a-side, an umpire from each side plus a neutral referee, goals 12ft across and up to 20ft high. An offside rule was added. A man could play a ball passed to him from behind, so long as there were three opponents between him and the goal. It was also decided that each game should only last one hour and a quarter. The first game under these rules took place between the Old Etonians and Old Harrovians in November, 1862.

Also In 1862, one of the teachers at Uppingham School, John Charles Thring, published his own set of football rules:

1. A goal is scored whenever the ball is forced through the goal and under the bar, except it be thrown by hand.

2. Hands may be used only to stop a ball and place it on the ground before the feet.

3. Kicks must be aimed only at the ball.

4. A player may not kick the ball whilst in the air.

5. No tripping up or heel kicking allowed.

6. Whenever a ball is kicked beyond the side flags, it must be returned by the player who kicked it, from the spot it passed the flag line, in a straight line towards the middle of the ground.

7. When a ball is kicked behind the line of goal, it shall be kicked off from that line by one of the side whose goal it is.

8. No player may stand within six paces of the kicker when he is kicking off.

9. A player is ‘out of play’ immediately he is in front of the ball and must return behind the ball as soon as possible. If the ball is kicked by his own side past a player, he may not touch or kick it, or advance, until one of the other side has first kicked it, or one of his own side has been able to kick it on a level with, or in front of him.

10. No charging allowed when a player is ‘out of play’; that is, immediately the ball is behind him.

Thring published his rules under the title, The Simplest Game. Some teachers liked this non-violent approach and several schools adopted Thring’s rules.

The Football Association was established in October, 1863 with the aim of establishing one, unifying set of football rules.

Percy Young has pointed out that the FA was a group of men from the upper echelons of British society: “Men of prejudice, seeing themselves as patricians, heirs to the doctrine of leadership and so law-givers by at least semi-divine right.”

Ebenezer Cobb Morley was elected as the secretary of the FA. At a meeting on 24th November, 1863, Morley presented a draft set of 23 rules. These were based on an amalgamation of rules played by public schools, universities and football clubs. This included provision for running with the ball in the hands if a catch had been taken “on the full” or on the first bounce. Players were allowed to “hack the front of the leg” of the opponent when they were running with the ball. Two of the proposed rules caused heated debate:

IX. A player shall be entitled to run with the ball towards his adversaries’ goal if he makes a fair catch, or catches the ball on the first bound; but in case of a fair catch, if he makes his mark (to take a free kick) he shall not run.

X. If any player shall run with the ball towards his adversaries’ goal, any player on the opposite side shall be at liberty to charge, hold, trip or hack him, or to wrest the ball from him, but no player shall be held and hacked at the same time.

Some members objected to these two rules as they considered them to be “uncivilised”. Others believed that charging, hacking and tripping were important ingredients of the game. One supporter of hacking argued that without it “you will do away with the courage and pluck of the game, and it will be bound to bring over a lot of Frenchmen who would beat you with a week’s practice.” The main defender of hacking was F. W. Campbell, the representative from Blackheath, who considered this aspect of the game was vital in developing “masculine toughness”. Campbell added that “hacking is the true football” and he resigned from the FA when the vote went against him (13-4). He later helped to form the rival Rugby Football Union. On 8th December, 1863, the FA published the Laws of Football.

1. The maximum length of the ground shall be 200 yards, the maximum breadth shall be 100 yards, the length and breadth shall be marked off with flags; and the goal shall be defined by two upright posts, eight yards apart, without any tape or bar across them.

2. A toss for goals shall take place, and the game shall be commenced by a place kick from the centre of the ground by the side losing the toss for goals; the other side shall not approach within 10 yards of the ball until it is kicked off.

3. After a goal is won, the losing side shall be entitled to kick off, and the two sides shall change goals after each goal is won.

4. A goal shall be won when the ball passes between the goal-posts or over the space between the goal-posts (at whatever height), not being thrown, knocked on, or carried.

5. When the ball is in touch, the first player who touches it shall throw it from the point on the boundary line where it left the ground in a direction at right angles with the boundary line, and the ball shall not be in play until it has touched the ground.

6. When a player has kicked the ball, any one of the same side who is nearer to the opponent’s goal line is out of play, and may not touch the ball himself, nor in any way whatever prevent any other player from doing so, until he is in play; but no player is out of play when the ball is kicked off from behind the goal line.

7. In case the ball goes behind the goal line, if a player on the side to whom the goal belongs first touches the ball, one of his side shall he entitled to a free kick from the goal line at the point opposite the place where the ball shall be touched. If a player of the opposite side first touches the ball, one of his side shall be entitled to a free kick at the goal only from a point 15 yards outside the goal line, opposite the place where the ball is touched, the opposing side standing within their goal line until he has had his kick.

8. If a player makes a fair catch, he shall be entitled to a free kick, providing he claims it by making a mark with his heel at once; and in order to take such kick he may go back as far as he pleases, and no player on the opposite side shall advance beyond his mark until he has kicked.

9. No player shall run with the ball.

10. Neither tripping nor hacking shall be allowed, and no player shall use his hands to hold or push his adversary.

11. A player shall not be allowed to throw the ball or pass it to another with his hands.

12. No player shall be allowed to take the ball from the ground with his hands under any pretence whatever while it is in play.

13. No player shall be allowed to wear projecting nails, iron plates, or gutta-percha on the soles or heels of his boots.

In 1866 the offside rule was altered to allow a player to be onside when three of opposing team are nearer their own goal-line. Three years later the kick-out rule was altered and goal-kicks were introduced.

Football (soccer) poetry

by Simon Icke footballpoets.org

Touchline Shouting

Touchline shouting, that’s all I ever hear,

I’m so confused and filled with fear.

I’m only ten years old and football should be fun,

But with all this noise I don’t know which way to run.

“Get back in defence!” my manager shouts.

Dad shouts, “Get up front and deal with these louts!”

Loud mouth supporter, who knows all the rules.

(He takes the rest of us for fools)

Shouts, “What are you doing lad? Your head’s in a spin!”

Is it any surprise, with all this din?

I am only a boy, so why do you all try to destroy, what I’d love to enjoy?


© Simon Icke

‘published with permission from the author Simon Icke Copyright 1998 Aston Clinton, Bucks, UK’

This poem is dedicated to all old grumps in every road, avenue and street who has forgotten that they were once a child and played in the street.

Imagine in the old days before ‘Football Schools of Excellence’ etc existed…..How would the likes of Denis Law, Bobby Charlton , Stanley Matthews and George Best of learned their skills if they had been banned from kicking a ball in the street?


Down our street it’s ever so neat,

You rarely hear the sound of children’s feet.

Tidy gardens and pretty flowers,

No factory chimneys or towers.

Commuters who come home in their company cars,

That look at us as though we’re from mars.

We are supposed to be seen and not heard,

Dare we not say a word?

They don’t want us to be normal kids playing skating

Football in the road.

Maybe it’s because they are getting old?

Have they forgotten what it’s like to be a child?

Expecting us to be so meek and mild.

Did they ever kick a ball in the street or

Make the sound of childrens feet?

© Simon Icke

This poem was first published in Nov 98 in Aston Clinton School’s anthology of Football Poems…’Poetry in Motion..Football! Football! Football! Priced £2.99 plus postage. All profits to the school. Published by Simon Icke ISBN 0 9534562 0 X

Folk football (soccer)

The first football in Britain was played by huge numbers of people on vast ‘pitches’ with very few rules.

folk footballVillages were divided into two sides, often based on where they lived. The games were usually linked to special dates in the calendar and some of these traditions have survived today. For instance, on January 1 in Kirkwall, Orkney, street football breaks out at 10.00am each year. There is a Hocktide (first Sunday after Easter) game at Workington, Cumbria, and July sees ‘Reivers Week’ at Duns, Borders, where the ‘ba’ game’ is between the married and single men of the town. But the biggest day of the year for folk football in Britain is Shrove Tuesday.

“When the pancakes are sated,
Come to the ring and you’ll be mated,
There this ball will be upcast,
May this game be better than the last.”

Old English Sports, 1891:
“…..but the great game for Shrove Tuesday was our time-honoured football, which has survived so many of the ancient pastimes of our land, and may be considered the oldest of all our English national sports. The play might not be quite so scientific as that played by our modern athletes, but, from the descriptions that have come down to us, it was no less vigorous. “After dinner” (says an old writer) “all the youths go into the fields to play at the ball. The ancient and worthy men of the city come forth on horseback to see the sport of the young men, and to take part of the pleasure in beholding their agility.”

There are some exciting descriptions of old football matches; and we read of some very fierce contests at Derby, which was renowned for the game. In the seventeenth century it was played in the streets of London, much to the annoyance of the inhabitants, who had to protect their windows with hurdles and bushes. At Bromfield, in Cumberland, the annual contest on Shrove Tuesday was keenly fought. Sides having been chosen, the football was thrown down in the churchyard, and the house of the captain of each side was the goal. Sometimes the distance was two or three miles, and each step was keenly disputed. He was a proud man at Bromfield who succeeded in reaching the goal with the ball, which he received as his guerdon. How the villagers used to talk over the exploits of the day, and recount their triumphs of former years with quite as much satisfaction as their ancestors enjoyed in relating their feats in the border wars!

The Scots were famous formerly, as they now are, for prowess in the game, and the account of the Shrove Tuesday match between the married and single men at Scone, in Perthshire, reads very like a description of a modern Rugby contest. At Inverness the women also played, the married against the unmarried, when the former were always victorious. King James I., who was a great patron of sports, did not approve of his son Henry being a football player. He wrote that a young man ought to have a “moderate practice of running, leaping, wrestling, fencing, dancing, and playing at the caitch, or tennis, bowls, archery, pall-mall, and riding; and in foul or stormy weather, cards and backgammon, dice, chess, and billiards,” but football was too rough a game for his Majesty, and “meeter for laming than making able.” Stubbs also speaks of it as a “bloody and murthering practice, rather than a fellowly sport or pastime.” From the descriptions of the old games, it seems to have been very painful work for the shins, and there were no rules to prevent hacking and tripping in those days.

Football has never been the spoilt child of English pastimes, but has lived on in spite of royal proclamations and the protests of peace-loving citizens who objected to the noise, rough play, and other vagaries of the early votaries of the game. Edward II. and succeeding monarchs regarded it as a “useless and idle sport,” which interfered with the practice of archery, and therefore ought to be shunned by all loyal subjects. The violence displayed at the matches is evident from the records which have come down to us, and from the opinions of several writers who condemn it severely. Free fights, broken limbs, and deaths often resulted from old football encounters; and when the games took place in the streets, lines of broken windows marked the progress of the players. “A bloody and murdering practice,” “a devilish pastime,” involving “beastly fury and extreme violence,” the breaking of necks, arms, legs and backs—these were some of the descriptions of the football of olden times. The Puritans set their faces against it, and the sport languished for a long period as a general pastime. In some places it was still practised with unwonted vigour, but it was not until the second half of the present century that any revival took place. But football players have quickly made up for lost time; few villages do not possess their club, and our young men are ready to “Try it out at football by the shins,” with quite as much readiness as the players in the good old days, although the play is generally less violent, and more scientific.”

A short history of football (soccer)

history of soccer

history of soccer

The International Football Association Board (IFAB) may possess a proud reputation as having preserved the foundations of the game as it enters a third century, but there are still a few things about the way football was once played that might raise a few eyebrows…

1. During the very first international football match between Scotland and England in 1872, players not only wore “knickerbockers” or long pants but bobble hats or caps too. The head dresses were a normal part of the footballing attire at the time and lasted well into the 20th century.

2. Balls were not exactly round when the first club and country matches took place. A pig’s bladder was blown up like a balloon, tied at the ends and placed inside a leather case, affording it an egg shape. The discovery of Indian rubber in the 1860s gave the ball greater roundness.

3. While it is true footballs of yesteryear gained weight in wet conditions, they were in fact lighter than today’s ball. In 1889, the spherical object used had to be between 12-15 ounces (340 – 425 grams) but this increased to 14-16 ounces (397 -454 grams) in 1937.

4. In the FA rules of 1863, there was no mention of a crossbar. As in rugby today, a goal could be scored at any height as long as the ball went between the sticks or posts. A tape was used to close the goal during the first internationals before a crossbar replaced it in 1875.

old footballA 450-year-old football, made from a pig’s bladder and pieces of leather, laced together and found in the rafters of Stirling Castle

5. Mob football, a descendant of the modern game, stormed into England around the 12th Century and caught on to such an extent it was banned by Royal decree by many kings and queens. It was a violent game in which “murder and manslaughter” were allegedly the only barriers to transporting the ball to village ends. King Henry VIII, however, is believed to have been a keen player.

6. Contrary to some beliefs, football was very much an upper class sport in England during its infancy. The rules of the game were largely drafted by students belonging to public schools and universities. The working class adopted the sport during the late 19th Century.

7. The first meeting of the Football Association on 26 October 1863 in London did not end in total agreement among the 12 attendees. One club walked out, refusing to accept the non-inclusion of hacking (kicking below the knee) among the original rules.

8. Early football tactics resembled those of today’s rugby. Teams were top-heavy with forwards and because of the offside law, which prevented advanced players touching the ball, attacking often meant players grouping or scrimmaging together around the ball to move it towards goal.

soccerThe ancient Greek “Maradona”, playing “Episkyros” with a pala (National Museum of Archeology in Athens)

9. Penalties or referees found no place in the original rules of the game. Gentlemen would never intentionally foul, it was assumed. In fact debating techniques were almost as important as ball skills in those days as players could appeal against decisions first to captains and then to umpires before referees, named so because they had originally been referred to by umpires, found their place on the pitch in 1891.

10. It was only in the 20th Century that the penalty spot was introduced. In the decade before penalties, originally called the kick of death, could be taken anywhere along a line 12-yards from goal.

11. The word soccer does not come from the United States but was a term used by public school and university students, most notably at Oxford, in the 19th Century to shorten the new game “Association Football”. The predilection to shorten words with “er” extended to Rugby too, known as rugger.

12. Many of football’s terms and expressions are of military origin: defence, back line, offside, winger, forward, attack, etc

13. The FA’s 1863 rules of the game permitted the use of handling. Although a player could not handle the ball if it was on the ground, he was able to catch it in the air and make a mark to gain a “free” kick, which opposing players were not allowed to charge down.

14. There were no David Beckhams or Roberto Carlos’ before 1927 as goals could not be scored from direct free kicks.

15. Goalkeepers, in their own half, could handle the ball both inside and outside the penalty area before 1912.

16. London’s Kensington High Street traffic lights are the inspiration for the red and yellow cards used in today’s game. English referee and then FIFA’s Head of Refereeing Ken Aston was driving through central London thinking of ways to better illustrate a caution or sending off when the change of green to yellow to red of the lights gave him the idea.

soccer boots17. Before 1913 when a corner was taken, instead of deciding on an inswinger, outswinger or taking a short one, there was nothing to stop a player dribbling the ball by himself. The rules were changed after several players teed themselves up before scoring.

18. Not surprisingly with hacking only a thing of the recent past, shin pads or guards were first permitted in the rules as early as 1874. They first appeared as a cut down version of the cricket pad.

19. The first act of a goalkeeper on a Saturday morning was not always to throw open the doors of his wardrobe before selecting his mood colour that day. Back in 1909, he was given a choice of royal blue, white or scarlet. If a goalkeeper became his country’s number 1 in 1921, he wore yellow.

20. Referees attempted to catch up with play around the turn of the century decked in black trousers, blazer and bow tie!

A neuro-physiological basis for developing future skilful players

By Rick Fenoglio

Senior Lecturer in Exercise and Sport Science, Manchester Metropolitan University / Cheshire

Co-Founder:  Give Us Back Our Game

The reason that most traditional football (soccer) teaching techniques and commercial coaching programmes often fail to deliver is because they are based upon outdated models of how young children actually acquire new skills.

The majority of methods used by coaches to develop football skills in our young children consist primarily of skill drills with lots repetition of the skill to be learned.  Approaches such as these are based upon the notion that as a child first attempts to learn a new football skill, the body begins to lay down a neuromuscular or motor ‘pattern’ of the movement that the player can access whenever he or she plays football.  The young player, in terms of skill acquisition, is viewed as a ‘motor pattern learner’ and, so the theory goes, by repeating or practising the movement or skill, the ‘pattern’ eventually becomes engrained into the player’s neuromuscular football-related arsenal of skills.  Possibly, the coach may have ‘demonstrated’ the technique to be learned.

There are several problems with this very common approach.  The first problem arises when the player has to use the skill in the ever-changing environment of real football play. Techniques learned by the player on their own usually do not transfer into effectiveness in matchplay or games.  Why? Because, essentially, the player has to ‘re-learn’ the skill (almost from scratch) within the ever-changing context of playing the game.

Consequently, it makes you wonder whether the skill would have been better developed within the game context in the first place in order to minimise transfer time.  Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, this ‘motor programme’ approach grossly underestimates the abilities of children (and their neuromuscular systems) to learn highly complex movements quickly if given the correct environment and stimuli.  Furthermore, by trying to duplicate the demonstrated movements of the coach, the player-learner will be less likely to experiment and find his/her own ways of manipulating his/her body (and the ball) in order to be successful on the pitch.  History shows that the best players developed their own way of playing and being skilful.

The Give Us Back Our Game approach to player development is different.  The not-for-profit campaign views the player-learner as a whole child whose learning and skill acquisition comes not from repetition or mimicking a coach’s demonstration, but from ‘interacting’ and playing within adapted matchplay and games (e.g. small-sided games).  Instead of a theoretical basis that has the development of ‘motor patterns’ as its goal, Give Us Back Our Game draws upon ‘constraint-led approaches’ in skill acquisition and a ‘dynamical systems’ approach to learning new tasks. These relatively modern approaches to skill acquisition and player development view young players as very highly developed, adaptable and responsive learners who are highly reactive to the changing environment and stimuli encountered during football.  Real and lasting learning and skill development arises out of interaction with the game, the environment and the other players on the pitch.  Stated another way, the constraints upon the player-learner are his/her own body shape and mechanics, the immediate challenges of play and the environment in which the game takes place.

As a result, these relatively modern approaches redirect the focus of player development back onto the use of play-based activities and adapted, small-sided games that most effectively and most quickly advance a player’s football development.  Real and lasting football learning and skill development during play is the result.  From a neurological perspective, the billions and billions of ‘neural networks’ in each young player help him or her to first analyse, and then develop, skilful solutions to the problems encountered.  If the boy or girl plays enough small-sided games, the ability to the child to be a successful problem-solver on the pitch (that is, to be skilful) within the context of the game increases dramatically. Physiologically, performing successful skills in football is a highly complex task involving coordination, strength, spatial awareness, body control in the context of the immediate challenge facing the player.  To young players, each of these challenges is unique and children need as much gameplay as possible to decipher situations and find solutions using their new skills their way.  Hence, the dicta…let the game be the teacher and let the children play!  The coach’s role is to manipulate and adapt the small-sided game so that particular skills and abilities are developed in context where players (and their neural networks) are provided with plentiful and varied opportunities to analyse, synthesise, act, react, make mistakes, try new things and have fun during football play.  Several of the games and the abilities they develop can be found on www.giveusbackourgame.co.uk.  The results are a more matchplay-related, faster and more robust learning of the skills needed to successfully meet the challenges that playing football offers and that young players so enjoy.

But you won’t get this by playing 7 v 7, 8 v 8 or 11 v 11 where players hardly touch the ball and play in set positions.  You won’t get it in the current system because the physical requirement for young players is too high and there are too many influences distracting children from learning, such as spectators and, too often, coaches.  Furthermore, studies from our Department found that in terms of number of touches of the ball, number of passes, number of shots and number of 1 v 1 encounters, 7 v 7 and 8 v 8 were very similar to 11 – a –side football.  We concluded that 3 v 3, 4 v 4 and 5 v 5 were the optimal small-sided games for the 5 – 12 age groups as they combined optimal number of touches of the ball without being too strenuous (as is found in 2 v 2 or 1 v 1 football).  Certainly Rinus Michels and others had no knowledge of current learning theories; they simply used commonsense to decide that smaller-sided games, and 4 v 4 in particular, were most appropriate and effective for developing good young footballers.  It is only now, from current theoretical data and what we see on the pitch, that we see that the approach has too many merits to ignore.  Add to this the Give Us Back Our Game demand for more ethical playing environments and more child-centred approaches and you have a solid blueprint for developing young, gifted British players.  But we are already playing catch-up with other countries!

Tips for coaches:

  • Use the GUBOG 80/20 rule for training and matchplay (if possible).  80% (or more) of the training time should be spent with the children playing adapted small-sided games.  The remaining 20% can be used for warming-up, instruction and other fun non-football games that develop multilateral co-ordination.  Small-sided games are a more effective and more matchplay-specific method for learning skills than drills.  Drills are too far removed from actual play to be highly effective;
  • Mistakes are good!  Mistakes allow the player to recognise and, in time, discard unsuccessful strategies.  Praise the bravery that goes into trying!  Studies show that children either take no notice of criticism or play worse as a result;
  • Evidence shows that the first coach a young player has is vital for instilling a love of the game by creating a safe, non-threatening and enjoyable environment in which children can learn.  By giving some ownership of training to the boys and girls themselves and by letting them make some decisions, you foster empowerment, independent learning and their own personal love of the game;
  • Training should be variable so that learners can explore and discover their own solutions to football problems.  Remember that history shows that the best players developed their own way of playing skilfully and achieving success on the pitch.
  • ‘Instruction’ from coaches can be used – but this should be in the form of ‘nuggets of information’ that the player can quickly and repeatedly attempt in a small-sided game.
  • Demonstrate only briefly then let players experiment and try to find their own way of performing a movement or skill.
  • Use guided discovery and question-and-answer techniques rather than prescriptive coaching.
  • In the Give Us Back Our Game approach, coaches shape and guide rather than direct; and know that game intelligence and skill can be more quickly and more effectively developed by the use of adapted, game-related activities.
  • Let the Children Play!

© Rick Fenoglio, November 2007


Davids, K., Button, C. and Bennett, S., Dynamics of Skill Acquisition (2008),

Human Kinetics Publishers, Champaign, Illinois. ISBN:  0736036865.

Fenoglio, R. (2005), A 4 v 4 Pilot Scheme for U9 Academy Football Players.  A Research Report.  In-house publication.  Manchester Metropolitan University.

Verheul, M (2004) Constraints on Coordination:  Intrinsic dynamics, behavioural information and asymmetry in bimanual rhythmic coordination.  PhD Thesis, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, ISBN 90-9018278-0.

Whitty, A.G., Spinks, W., Murphy, A., Watsford, M.L. & Pine, M. J.  Coordination changes of a complex motor skill under differing practice conditions.  The University of Technology, Sydney Australia.

Williams, A.M. & Hodges, N.J. (2005).  Practice, instruction and skill acquisition:  Challenging tradition.  Journal of Sport Sciences, 23(6), 637-650.

COPYRIGHT 2007 Mr R Fenoglio Manchester Metropolitan University.  All rights reserved.


Circuit training for young players

This particular circuit allows for a cardio-vascular work out followed by a strengthening task. It can be easily adapted to suit the ages and needs of your children.

I set up the stations below going in a clockwise direction around the hall. We begin with 20 seconds on each station, and we change very quickly, no rest! That’s why I have built in alternating stations, it allows for a rest.

We then build up in 5-second intervals, until we have reached the maximum of 30 secs. They quickly learn that their only competition is themselves, and work really hard to do more each time.

I work the children in pairs, getting them to rotate anti-clockwise after each activity. 1. Line jumps: Jumping across a line, making sure that the whole foot touches the floor. Adaptation: skipping.

2. Squats: with backs against a wall, slide down so that the legs are bent and the knees are bent at 90º. Adaptation: squat without the wall, making sure there is a straight line from ankle to knee and that bottom goes out behind the feet, back straight.

3. Star jumps or jumping jacks: the movement of arms above the head makes it a much harder workout. Jumps may be slow or fast, depending on the ability of the child. BEND KNEES on landing, making sure knees don’t go further than toes.

4. Bean bag hold: arms are parallel to the floor and they have to hold the beanbags up for the whole time. This exercise can be made more difficult by asking the children to slowly rotate their arms!

5. Running on the spot: if children have bare feet, make sure this is done on a thin, gymnastic mat. Again this can be made harder by encouraging the children to get their knees higher.

6. Ball roll or hoop-la-hoop: the idea is to exercise the waist and stomach. They can either roll a football around their waists, making a large circle with their hips at the same time (large range of movement), or they can twirl a hoop around their waist. The boys tend to prefer the ball rolls. This can be made more difficult by using a small ball/ different shape ball etc.

Note: If you have a helper or two, you should record your children’s’ scores as they progress around the circuit. Over the weeks you can then work out how each child has progressed and congratulate them on their success. In this way, you add value and interest to the circuit training. You are also emphasising how much you value hard work and improvement and not just technical excellence.

Have fun!