Do the FA need to limit the age at which young players are recruited?


We had an interesting debate at our monthly club meeting last night and I wanted to share it on here to see if the general opinion in last night’s meeting was shared by people who read this blog. To provide the context of the meeting – it’s attended by all managers / coaches who are involved in my local youth FA charter standard club and it’s a general meeting discussing everything from equipment, to match reports, to any problems/important info etc.

The debate arose at the end of the meeting and was inspired a comment from the club chairman in response to this article. His point was (summarising), “Are professional clubs limiting player potential and enjoyment within the game by recruiting players at too early an age?”.

His view being that young players, both girls and boys, were being recruited at a young age and because the clubs stipulated that they could no longer player for a youth club side, it meant that the boy or girl was unable to play with their friends anymore (park kick-abouts aside). Also, given the intensity and formality of the coaching they’d receive at a professional club it took the enjoyment out of what was, essentially, just a fun game for them.

The discussion covered a number of points, but the main points were as follows:

  • Coaches and Managers agreed that children were being recruited at a younger age than they perhaps should be
  • Professional clubs were too aggressive in their recruitment
  • There were too many instances of teenagers dropping out of football because they’d played too much too soon (i.e. were burnt out)
  • Parents were having too much influence in the decision process, i.e. they were chasing the possibility of fame and fortune

It was agreed though, that recruitment was required at a certain age to ensure appropriate development and fulfil potential, but this should start from around the age of 13.

The discussion also threw out the following points / observations:

  • There are fewer children playing organised football now than there was 20/30 years ago
  • There are some people who have no confidence in Trevor Brooking leading us forward

The club have decided to write a letter to the Oxfordshire FA to get their point across. That is, clubs are recruiting players too early in their development and this isn’t having  a net positive impact on the game or the players development. This is the point I’d welcome discussion and input on.

Personally, I’ve not got much of a view on this due to lack of experience but I can probably see both sides of the argument. If youth clubs are seeing good players drop out of football or become uninterested in the game due to the cutthroat nature of professional clubs then I can fully see their point. However, professional clubs are always under pressure to find good quality young players, players who the fans engage with and who can provide a good return on investment for them.

Given the nature of the business then clubs are obviously looking at younger and younger players but does that really need to happen? Can the FA do something to stop this? If recruitment started at 12 or 13 does that leave enough time to develop those players? Is 12 or 13 still too young? Jury’s still out I guess…

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About Simon
Grassroots Football Coach

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