I remember going along to a Saturday morning football training course called Mini Soccer at my local sports centre aged 6 or 7. Looking back it's amazing how perceptive you can be at that age, as I remember how the young coaches (maybe 18/19) used to mess around, not focus on the kids safety or enjoyment and generally act as if they didn't really want to be there. Lucky for me I was fairly a resilient child and enjoyed playing (even if it was 9 a side on a 5 a side pitch) and nonetheless 20-something years later, I still have a deep love for the beautiful game. I do remember however, kids going off crying, children laying on the floor injured without a coach intervention and many wanting to go home before the session had ended. If only those teenage lads had realised the powerful position they were in at the time, with the opportunity to give positive, scrap that, wonderful experiences to children in their formative years.
A child's early experiences in everything set them up for life. Whether it be that inspirational guitar teacher whose passion for music inspired you to join a band, the French teacher at school who made it so much fun or the football coach that showed you that girls can enjoy football too. Teachers, tutors, instructors and coaches have an opportunity to build the platform for hundreds, maybe thousands of children to enjoy something. Be it a sport, craft, language, or another activity. It is with this gift and the drive to create innovative, educational and inspirational experiences for thousands of girls and boys of any age, ability or experience level, that the Football Fun Factory was formed.
There is a small 'window of opportunity' when engaging a child in a new activity in their formative years and I urge sports coaches, tutors or teachers of any kind to take stock and appreciate the power that they have. If you're a teacher and you have a group of 30 six year olds that you're teaching maths to... make it exiting! Make it engaging, make it 'two pink fluffy dinosaurs plus three pink fluffy dinosaurs', or make it whatever their imagination creates! Chances are that Miss Clarke, that amazing maths teacher inspired a few of the 30 to become an accountant or at the very least not hate working with numbers in the same way that I do after my experiences with Mrs Ellison!
So taking it back to football. A four year old playing an imaginative game about elephants, that grows into a six year old who loves their inspirational and enthusiastic coach, develops a thirst for knowledge and a passion to not only enjoy the game but love getting better at it. A simple and powerful message for a child at the end of their football session is... well done, after that you're now an even better player! I'll regularly say this and the kids' beaming smiles tell me it went down well and that they can't wait for the next session.
Whilst I believe that every child should want to get better, I am not so keen on the parents that push their child beyond enjoyment and to a place where training or matches become a chore, or worse, a fear. It's so sad. It is often a Dad who feels he didn't fulfil his own potential or Mum’s friends’ son has just joined the local professional club's development centre, who put pressure on their child to achieve and worse; give technical or tactical advice with limited knowledge, experience or indeed qualifications. Having worked in a professional club's Academy I am not saying that parents and children shouldn't aspire to sign for one. Academy football can not only be an incredible football experience for a child, with trips to Premier League training grounds, European tours and UEFA standard coaching, but it teaches valuable life skills too. However only the very best make it even that far. So enjoyment should be the number 1 purpose and outcome of playing the game.
In my opinion (and everyone is very much entitled to theirs), fun comes first. Without fun, enjoyment, excitement and passion for football, how can a child excel at playing it? If opportunities come along then great, grab them and make the most of them. But do it with a smile on your face, love playing the game and saviour every moment. The Football Fun Factory creates a fun and enjoyable environment through innovative games that will educate and inspire children. Every child that interacts with us and takes part in an FFF session will develop a life-long association with the game. Luckily for me, my early experience of that Saturday morning session didn't put me off, but for many it did. I look forward to working with your child and giving them an amazing early experience with the beautiful game that is football.