Football; soccer; the world game; the round-ball sport – call it what you will, it’s as popular as ever in Singapore. Here are some tips, insights and profiles for families wanting to get involved.
The Right School?
If you’re a non-footballing parent who doesn’t know much about the sport, it’s likely to be difficult to appraise the quality of your son or daughter’s currentfootball school. It’s easier for those parents who played the game when they were young; having said that, training concepts have evolved since we were kids. So are all football schools equal? Is your child receiving the football education you’ve paid for? To decide for yourselves, here are some pointers from Lee Taylor, co-founder and director of ESPZEN.
Q. Has your school got the correct size ball?
The FA (UK), like many other football regulators, has highlighted that all players under the age of nine should be using a size 3 soccer ball for maximum development. The right size soccer ball is crucial: too big or too heavy and your child will struggle to perform basic moves, leading to frustration. Since the first quarter of 2012, the Football Association of Singapore, following recommendations by ESPZEN, now uses size 3 balls for all young footballers in its Junior Centre of Excellence.
Q. How long is the downtime for your child during a training session?
As a parent, you’re paying for a football lesson of a particular length, and this is the amount of time your child should receive in tuition. In football schools with large classes, players are often asked to sit down while the minority are taking their turn dribbling around cones or shooting, or while coaches are simply trying to work out what to do with so many children.
Q. How many children are there in a training session and how many coaches are managing them?
A small class means more attention and more touches of the ball. Small classes are crucial for your child to be able to participate in “small-sided games” which accelerate and facilitate learning. The maximum coach-to-child ratio should be 1:12 – that is, no more than 12 students training with one coach.
Coaching versus supervising
Q. Would you describe your child’s current coach as a supervising coach or a “coaching coach”?
There’s a clear difference between coaching and supervising. A supervisor may provide one instruction to the group of young footballers and then let them play, overseeing things and perhaps throwing the ball into the field from time to time. He or she may offer some technical advice from time to time, but other than that, as long as noone is injured, the supervising coach will feel that the job is done.
A coaching coach creates a learning environment, challenges players to be imaginative and reflect on their performance, offers advice, encourages children to think for themselves, often stops a drill to explain or replay a scenario and relate it to an actual game situation, gets involved in the session, customises games according to the ability of the group, and introduces innovative exercises that are entertaining and engaging.
Type of instruction
Q. Does your child play small-sided games or simply dribble around cones each week?
When you have a large number of young footballers under the responsibility of one coach, small-sided games are impossible. Many schools will instead keep children entertained before the “big match” by performing simple dribbling exercises around cones, and perhaps 10 minutes of ball juggling.
Small-sided games (six against three, one against one, four against one, for example) are crucial for development. Some of these games require players to work on passing skills in competitive scenarios, while others are more tactically focused. Either way, players develop core skills through the sheer number of touches that each game guarantees. They also develop “soccer vision”, or the ability to see spaces on the pitch.
The big match
Q. How many touches and how much possession does your child get during a match?
All young footballers look forward to the big match; they want to score a goal and be the hero. However, there are methods to engage this enthusiasm and use the big match as a learning exercise rather than a time for the coach to relax before the players disappear back to their parents.
It’s recommended by the FA (UK) that footballers under the age of eight shouldn’t play more than five-a-side, under tens shouldn’t play more than seven-a-side, and full teams of eleven shouldn’t be introduced until age 13. These guidelines are crucial for player development; too many players on the pitch means too fewtouches.
Rather than a simple kick-and-run game, the big match should present challenges to young footballers, forcing them to think. Carefully researched games can:
|•||improve spatial awareness using zones on the pitch;|
|•||teach the benefits of switching play – for example, by introducing four goals;|
|•||encourage possession, perhaps forcing players to complete two passes before shooting or simply awarding points according to the number of completed passes;|
|•||introduce the vision of turning by using diagonal goals.|
The examples above provide a small insight into how a big match can be much more than too many children running around with no structure, trying to score into a single goal.
Q. Does your child’s coach actually have a license to teach football?
How would you feel if your child was being educated every day at primary or secondary school by a man off the street claiming to be clever – and, moreover, you were paying for his services? If you’re paying for a football education for your child, your child deserves a qualified coach.
ESPZEN Soccer School’s 360 young footballers train weekly at the Canadian International School – Lakeside. For more information or to watch videos of ESPZEN teams in action, visit www.espzen.soccerschool.com or facebook.com/ESPZENsoccerschool.
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