Early engagement for players as young as 4 years old into the game helps allow the children to opportunity to discover the game, provide for learning basic fundamental movement skills and create positive football experiences.
- No competitive game
- Children play together informally to meet the personal/emotional needs of the youngsters
- Lots of chances to score goals and enjoy mini challenges
- Encourage participation in a variety of additional activities to develop physical literacy (e.g. running, jumping, throwing, etc)
- Parents and game leaders bring out the fun of football through guiding and supporting their children to understand the basic rules of first kicks football
McDonald’s Fun Football (7-8 years)
At this age, football should be primarily played in a playful environment that emphasises self-discovery. This continuity into early engagement develops crucial factors for the future of the players such as the love for the game, game intelligence and physical literacy.
Built on a common fundamental skills base, all players can be empowered to progress back and forth between the different pathways at a later stage. Players are more aware of the rules of the game and start to recognise the opportunities to play with and for each other. They are able to develop basic football techniques and during training can be exposed to games that have specific technical outcomes such as developing shooting techniques under pressure by an opponent.
It is the role of parents and game leaders to support their understanding through enabling all players the opportunity to play without restrictions and too much instruction.
- Emphasise playing games with minimal interference from game leaders and parents
- Favour as many opportunities as possible to play football – ‘let the game be the teacher’
- Offer activities where excitement and enjoyment are the main objectives and extrinsic factors such as winning are not emphasised
- The recommended number of hours in a formal environment is 2-3 per week across a 20-25 week season
- Football activities outside the formal environment (Fun Football Centres and Holiday programmes) along with others sporting activities should be encouraged to reinforce physical literacy and initial game understanding.
- Let the player’s play with minimum restrictions and little instruction – ‘keep it simple’
- Keep the adult pressures of winning out of fun football
McDonald’s Mini Football (10-12 years)
These ages are the skill hungry years. Motivationally, children are geared to learn skill at this time, providing ideal opportunity for building football specific skills into fundamental movement ability.
These golden years of player development require coaches to work on cementing individual technical excellence so that well rounded and technically proficient players are ready to make the step to youth football and the 11v11 game. Pitch sizes and player numbers increase with the progression in the small sided games concept from 7v7 to 9v9 Mini Football.
Players are cognitively more capable of understanding how to play more effectively with their teammates to either score or prevent goals. At this stage basic positions within simple team structures are introduced to develop a basic tactical understanding of the game.
Pre-selection or initial talent identification of gifted and committed players is conducted as players are teamed up with others of similar ability.
- Focus during this period should still be around deliberate play with key opportunities to refine technical skills and develop further game intelligence with increased number of teammates (5v5, 7v7 to 9v9)
- Develop confidence as a vital ingredient for future participation and performance by fostering and reinforcing the achievement of basic goals for each player
- The recommended number of hours in a formal environment is 3-4 per week across a 20-25 week season. For the most talented and willing players it is recommended that 4-6 hours per week are accumulated across a 40 week season
- Football activities outside the formal environment and other sporting activities are encouraged to reinforce physical literacy and game intelligence
- Leagues are introduced at this stage, however emphasis is on learning opportunities and fun
- Speed and agility are the key physical qualities to develop in every training session
Youth Football (13-15)
During this period, players enter puberty and associated growth spurts (i.e. peak height velocity). Growth and maturation, as well as interest in the sport, does not develop at the same rate for all individuals and most of the players will orientate themselves toward community football (recreational and participation).
As the talented players move into the specialisation years, they are involved in football to a far greater extent. Technical/Physical abilities are no longer solely sufficient for success, and a high level of dedication, self-determination, hard work and discipline play an important role in the progression through football. Identification and selection is used as a tool to ensure the best players are able to train and play with and against the best. Since talent development is non-linear and dynamic, opportunities are available for players to move back and forth across the different pathways.
- Differentiate between early, normal and late maturers and adapt training to meet the players needs
- Provide ‘Football Based’ Physical training opportunities to develop strength, aerobic and anaerobic power as athleticism becomes an increasing part of the game
- Regulate a balanced training to game ratio to avoid overload
- Training must not be focused on preparing a team to win but on developing the individual players, their positional understanding and how they interact with their team
- Introduce simple playing models and develop player understanding of their roles across the 4 moments of the game
- Ensure the door remains open between the different pathways so players are able to move across throughout adolescence
- In the talented pathways, develop psycho-behavioural skills such as self-determination, winning mentality, and goal setting to help players cope with the increased demands of the sport
For information regarding coach education for all ages or about football development in general please contact AFF Football Development Officer Nic Downes on 021 826 052 or email him here.