He will make a cracking box to box midfielder!

He’s cracking centre half – How many times have we heard parents or coaches waxing lyrical over kids that they believe excel in certain positions at ages as young as 6? It is absolute madness that many coaches are pigeon holing young kids into set positions at such young ages. This practice is unbelievably harmful to a child’s development and ultimately enjoyment of the game.

Without wishing to bring up old war stories if I could briefly share my own experience as a younger. I joined a local under 9’s team in 1988 whilst technically still an under 8. After one of the first training sessions the coach came and spoke with me and my Dad and informed me that I was going to make a cracking left back, he knew all about left backs because he had trained David Burrows (ex Liverpool) when he was a kid. I embarked on my next 3 years solely as a left back; I was left footed, what was the point of me playing elsewhere? I did eventually begin to play with my own age and after a growth spurt became a centre half, probably because I was one of the biggest kids! Needless to say when I played centre half at a high level I often struggled when having to play on my right side. A direct consequence of being pigeon holed as a left back at 8 years old, maybe if I had played right back I would have become a far better footballer?

Fast forward 25 years and one would naturally assume that such poor practices would have been long gone, we surely must have evolved. Unfortunately such poor practice is still very much in existence today and in fact it is even more disruptive to creativity and development because kids are joining organised settings so much earlier. I believe that our obsession over positioning is a cultural problem, we are a nation that loves order and correctness; we really do not embrace anything slightly out of the ordinary. Take a moment to analyse how in general British managers set their teams up, organised and often very rigid and seriously lacking creativity. The polar opposite to creative forward thinking coaches such as Guardiola and Biesla (two of my favourites). The English national team play very much in set positions and in straight lines. During the World Cup you only had to compare where our forward players (Welbeck, Rooney, Sterling & Sturridge) played in comparison to the Germans. We were rigid and restricted; the German’s were fluid and creative!

I see the same issues every week during under 7,8 and 9’s matches in England. The coach and in some instances the parents are the driving factor behind the need for set positions. What would happen if we left it up to the kids? All of them would end up attacking and defending, playing on the right, left and centrally and ultimately working problems out for themselves and definitely having more fun. Surely this is what we want as parents and coaches; our kids having fun and developing ALL areas of their game. So why do coaches insist on set positions? I have identified 3 possible reasons:-

  1. So that the team stands the best possible chance of winning.
  2. A lack of education and realisation that coaching/managing 6,7,8 and 9 year olds is worlds apart from dealing with adults.
  3. Cultural issues, we must have order and correctness.

Step back and examine the very best players in the world the vast majority of them can play in a variety of different positions. Messi could play anywhere across the midfield and forward line (he’d probably do ok at the back as well), Ronaldo could play in any position and be a top player; the same applies to Sanchez, Lahm, Di Maria and Luiz (I guess that will raise eyebrows) to name a few.

I find it impossible to comprehend how playing a kid as a centre half or a centre forward for 2-3 years during 5 and 7 aside matches is going to develop them? It is restrictive; it limits their skills and limits the number of situations they encounter during each match. The kid that is allowed to play with freedom will attack, defend and be in positions to use both feet every match as well as being placed in a wider variety of different situations that will develop their game intelligence. They won’t get the right answer every time but as with everything in life we make mistakes and we learn.

The kids that play in the teams with set positions might win more matches for the first few years but each individual player will develop at a much slower rate than those in the team that is allowed to just play with freedom and expression. Think about anything in life, how can we learn if we are never (or very rarely) placed in certain situations? That brings me back to the point that from a development perspective to be a top footballer now you have to be good at everything (hence the dying art of the traditional goal poacher).

Coaches and parents being so obsessed by positions often stems from a serious lack of education and our cultural need to structure and organisation. Such a negative and uninspiring approach goes a long way to killing creativity and game intelligence. Did players like Messi, Augero, David Silva, Sanchez and Hazard to name a selection of Premier League stars get so restricted at such an early age? I don’t know for a fact that they didn’t but I’d be as sure as sure can be that they were allowed to play with complete freedom. They were exposed to different situations all over the pitch both in attack and defence, organically developing their attacking and defending skills, technique and game intelligence. Many youngsters in England are subjected to the coach drilling into them that they must keep their shape and stick to positions! If the centre half wonders into the opposing half he’s often berated when the opposition counter, even at the tender ages of 6,7,8 and 9. No wonder we generally produce technically average and less intelligent footballers!

I saw a quote on twitter recently regarding the development of 5-8 years olds he said “lose it and it doesn’t matter, just go get it back, laugh at mistakes, show off but have humility and desire to practice”

What a fantastic ethos and if every coach at grassroots level would adopt a similar attitude and just allow the youngsters to play, develop and work problems out for themselves we would begin to produce much better rounded and ultimately creative footballs not just robots.

Barring an educational blitz from the FA targeting all grassroots coaches and grassroots clubs, which let’s face it isn’t going to happen because I do not believe they embrace such freedom themselves I cannot see our culture changing. It will be the minority fighting against the tide. I recently saw a suggestion around creating a street soccer league; kids just turn up as a group, no coaches or parents allowed in the game area (who cares what the surface is!), no ref just someone keeping an eye on the game. Kids play where they want, play with freedom, they decide free kicks etc and after the game they will have made new friends or bonded with existing peers and certainly improved their skills. I guarantee the kids would enjoy that more than the constant pressure placed on them by coaches and parents to play set positions in an organised match every weekend.

With the nations love for football and our participation rates we really should be developing better players. Set positions are just one of a plethora of issues we are constantly fighting against.

Any shares and feedback are much appreciated in advance.


Twitter – @contactcounts


6 thoughts on “He will make a cracking box to box midfielder!

  1. I agree entirely and it hampered my older son’s football until he took the initiative – described here

    Now watching his younger brother play, I insist to the other Dads that the lads should play different positions. But already the stereotypes have started helped along by the boys, who want a role. It will take a major change but worth pushing for.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Great blog – spliting teams into percieved abilities at U7 is crazy and illustrates the club/coaches need/desire to win. Puts so much pressure on the kids and destroys freedom, creativity, game intelligence etc and ultimately their long term development.

      Very sad to see so many kids not enjoying their football. Most parents cant understand why their kids love playing in the garden or park but dont show the same desire when at a club (i will be writing a blog on this).

      My lad is 6 and used to attend an after school ‘coaching’ session. They insist he plays with the year up because “hes too good for his own year”. He is technically very good, two footed, quick & agile and even against the year up he dribbles around them for fun. I would pick him up after the sessions and he would often be miserable and sometimes even cry initially making an excuse as to why he was crying. I established the coach kept pulling him up for dribbling too much and he must pass more. As a result he went into his shell, he doesn’t do that coaching anymore but it took about 6 weeks for him to get over it!

      Such a shame so many kids are destroyed 😦


  2. Steve says:

    Interesting post. However, I’m not sure born you last attended an FA course or in service event but actually, all their courses and approaches talk about the benefits of individualism, creativity, playing in different positions and not specialising in football at too young an age.
    The FA definitely tries to educate, persuade and guide clubs and coaches in this way/approach.
    I suspect the ones that take on these ideas are the “converted” but it’s reaching the others that is the challenge.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the feedback Steve. What % of entry level grassroots managers/coaches (U7,8 & 9) are attending these courses and continuing to be educated? Very few is my edcuated guess. Anyone can pass the level 1, it doesnt educate the coaches i refer to, many of these coaches dont even have any badges!

      Ultimately i think within the heads of development at the FA there is progress in promoting more creative approaches but at the moment its miles away from being implemented within grassroots clubs. It will cost big money but having an exceptional mentor at all grassroots clubs would be great, much better than investing in stupid amounts of 3g pitches.


  3. Steve says:

    Well, there is a coach mentoring scheme in place which was implemented, initially as a pilot, last season by The FA.
    It has been expanded this year but won’t cover all clubs. Having said that, I act as a coach developer/ mentor at a club at which I volunteer but despite having over 15 teams, we rarely have more than about 8 coaches attend any events I plan.
    My experience of The FA’s mentoring scheme is also that, despite quite a lot of interest, there are even more clubs/coaches which show no engagement in the scheme at all.
    Practically it is virtually impossible to force grassroots clubs to take up the approach we discuss but I know there are more and more clubs formalising a Vision and Philosophy and starting to hold volunteer coaches responsible for adhering to and delivering on their principles.
    Typically, in the past, clubs have thought ” You can’t tell volunteers what to do / how to behave, they’ll just leave.” However, now clubs are realising that major charities hold their volunteer staff accountable for upholding their values and see the parallel with the club as the volunteer organisation.
    I believe there are many steps in the right direction. I am unsure however when we will reach the “tipping point” and the majority start to see the value of the approach you highlight.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Why kids should play in different positions growing up | Dip and Swerve

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