The Future Game, the FA Technical Guide for Young Player Development, was introduced in 2010, and outlined a philosophy and vision for youth development in English football. It included guidelines for coaches, and a clear playing philosophy when in, and also out of, possession.
- A possession-based approach played through the three-thirds of the pitch.
- Quality passing and intelligent movement, and support off the ball.
- Penetrative, incisive and varied attacking play, allied to good finishing.
- Counter-attacking whenever opportunities arise.
Out of possesion:
- A tactical approach to defending, in which all players contribute.
- A controlled, calculated and assertive approach when and where necessary.
The coaching philosophy made the recommendation that ‘flexibility and adaptability’ were crucial skills for effective coaches of young players, and that specialist age-appropriate coaches, with the knowledge and skills to work effectively with specific age-groups, were central to the plan.
In May 2012, a Youth Development Review finalised a change to the formats of football at various age groups. The changes included a mandatory 5 v 5 format at U7 and U8 level, 7 v 7 at U9 and U10, and 9 v 9 at U11 and U12 – allowing children to play on smaller pitches with smaller goals, and therefore benefiting from more involvement in a game, more touches of the ball, and more enjoyment.
With these changes phased in by the 2014-15 season – though many regional leagues around the UK introduced the revised formats far sooner than that deadline – it should forever banish the notion of junior footballers struggling to get anywhere near the ball on a huge, adult-sized pitch.
ST GEORGE'S PARK
The opening of St George’s Park, the FA’s new centre of excellence, in 2012, was seen as the start of a successful new era: a world-class training and development base for all 24 England representative teams, from senior to junior level. The £105m complex, spread across a 330-acre site in Staffordshire, was conceived following extensive consultation and research, and visits to comparable national football centres, including France’s famous Clairefontaine Academy.
Facilities at St George’s include a senior training pitch, replicated to the exact dimensions and mix of grass and artificial fibres as the playing surface at Wembley Stadium, 11 outdoor pitches, a full size indoor 3G artificial pitch, the first FIFA Centre of Medical Excellence in England, and football and other sports-specific screening, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation. Crucially, it has also been created to be a national home for coach education, and to help establish coaching as a recognised profession, instead of a weekend pastime.
Football coaching and development in England will always be under the microscope until the national senior team achieve success, but change and evolution is being pushed through, and the pathway to a coaching career has perhaps never been more structured or established.