This is one of the most commonly asked questions that we hear.
There is no correct answer other than; when they want to play, they are old enough to play. But hopefully this post will provide some helpful insight.
There are organizations that specialize in football practice for toddlers, that often allow parents to join them in the session and help to keep the children focussed on the task. These sessions are usually designed to provide the very basics of football and allow the players time to get familiar with the ball in their hands and at their feet. They are very useful at providing some early motor skills.
At Goal Coaching we start our Minis football sessions for ages 3-6. In general we find that children aged 4 often have the concentration and social skills to participate fully in the sessions. However we have had plenty of 3 year olds who have also shown full engagement in the practices. It really depends on each individual child.
Children in School Reception classes regularly take part in our football classes. These practices are specially designed ‘Adventure football’ classes. The idea behind these sessions is to provide a fun and exciting environment by telling a story whilst playing football. For example, instead of asking a player to dribble slow or fast whilst taking small touches (quite a boring instruction for a 4 year old) the coach may tell the players that they are going to be motor cars and will need to go faster on the motorway whilst taking care not to crash into other cars. They will go on car journeys where they need to stop at traffic lights, fill up with petrol and visit different destinations. This helps to make the session more engaging by capturing the imagination of the young players. However, behind the window-dressing the coaches are tasking the players to learn the basic skills of Ball Mastery that they will need in a football match, often without the players realising the technical, social and physical skills that they are developing.
By school year one players are often fully motivated to participate in a more traditional football practice and their competitive nature often flourishes. “When can we have a match?” Becomes the most frequently asked question. At this age we try to provide as much opportunity for match experience as possible. Small sided games such as 2v2 and 3v3 provide a good preparation for U7s football that will begin the following year. These games also provide each player with plenty of touches of the ball and more involvement in the match, along with a better understanding of the laws of the game.
The modern FA model for youth football is to break the game down into smaller sided games that allow players more involvement, more touches, more passes, more shots, more dribbling in each match, thus allowing them to develop quicker. They do this by growing the game as the players themselves grow, below is the current FA model;
Under 7s and 8s play in a 5v5 format
Under 9s and 10s play 7v7,
Under 11s and 12s play 9v9,
Under 13 upwards play 11v11.
At Goal Coaching we believe that by reducing the matches to a 3v3 format for U6 and younger age groups it follows the same structure as The FA’s model and has a greater impact on the development of our young footballers.