One size doesn’t fit all: not in training sessions, not in matches, and not in the personal profile of coaches. To solve this problem, three years ago the Belgian football association made a brave decision to change to a much more tailor-made approach. In short, it means that we now adapt to who is in front of us, not the other way around!
For more than 10 years we have broken down the 11 v 11 game into smaller formats: 8v8 and 5v5 to start with, and more recently, in 2014, we created even a smaller football format introducing 2v2 games at U6-U7 age.
At the very beginning, a lot of parents didn’t appreciate the innovation because they were still evaluating the project from the point of view of the adult athlete. They didn’t quite like that we changed the regular format of their favourite team sport. So, we had to explain them that we were just focusing on the individual child of 5-6 years old who has just started playing football.
At that age, the only skills that they are ready to develop are dribbling and scoring (shooting) skills. This fits with the psychological and mental capability profile of these young children, who let’s face it, are rather egocentric. They aren’t able to deal with complex decision making required to know when to dribble and when and whom to pass?
This high level of complexity of the full form of the game doesn’t fit with the cognitive capacities of U5-U6 and even some U7 players.
Some parents were really angry and told me that we were crazy at the FA when I presented them the new format in January during the winter break: “Football is a team sport…!” they cried angrily. But, only a few months later, one of these ‘angry’ parents sent me a text message (sms) : “Kris, now I understand the change, my son scored 4 goals today. Last year he didn’t score one in the whole season….”. This father had finally taken off his adult glasses and looked at the game with through the eyes of a child that comes to football just to enjoy it and to, yes, SCORE GOALS!!
The point is, before we start developing in the kids the notion of football as a passing game, we must focus on the development of skills that suit where they are mentally and cognitively, like keeping the ball, running with the ball and scoring.
By thinking about what 5 and 6 year-olds are like, we created a new kind of football: Dribbling Football, play on mini pitches and with an adapted goal format. It looks a lot more like the street football we played back in the day where we could freely express ourselves without a coach and even without a referee. Just playing like we wanted to play… 100% FUN!
Kris Van Der Haegen
Kris is a former high school language teacher (22 years) who made a career switch 13 years ago by joining the football association. In his new job, he combined his 2 big passions: education and football. As Director of Coach Education he has an impact in Belgian football: his mission is to create the best possible training and learning environment for coaches and players. As a UEFA Jira panel member, he is responsible for quality control all over Europe to protect the quality of coaching in the future. As a founding member of ICOACHKIDS, he contributes to help all the coaches all over the world to become the best possible Children's coaches.