Chris Johnson

Chris has extensive, varied experience within grassroots and professional football.

He has coached his own junior team for six seasons, holds the UEFA B Coaching licence and offers 1-to-1 coaching as part of a football development programme.

He also works as a scout for an EFL League 2 club and has completed FA Level 2 in Talent Identification.

Previously he's been the assistant commercial manager for a club in the EFL Championship.

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Children's participation in Football is a topic that garners mixed feelings among parents, coaches, and child psychologists.

While sport can be a lifesaver for some children, offering structure, camaraderie, and a sense of belonging, it can also be a source of damaged self-esteem and selfworth when the focus is solely on competition and winning.

There is an age old debate surrounding Junior Football and whether it should primarily be about competitive success or personal enjoyment.

Within Junior sport in general, two predominant approaches can be identified: the ego-driven approach and the task-driven approach.

Those who are ego-driven place high importance on competition, aiming to win medals and assert their dominance.

They possess a natural competitive instinct.

Kids playing football

In contrast, those who are task-driven approach sports as an enjoyable activity that facilitates learning new skills, offers social interaction, keeps them relatively fit, and brings enjoyment.

Junior Football is structured to theoretically accommodate both ego-driven and task-driven children.

However, as soon as a child becomes proficient in the basic skills of football, the selection process often shifts the emphasis towards ego-driven children.

The prevailing culture and expectations surrounding Junior Football push children to commit substantial time and effort, attending training sessions multiple times a week and participating in weekend matches.

The lure of league medals, promotions, and victories becomes the primary motivator for their participation.

This culture is often perpetuated by coaches who set the tone for the team.

Task-driven children who don't share the belief that winning is everything, those who aren't prepared for intense weekly commitments, and those who play for the love of the game and not to be berated for their mistakes often find themselves sidelined or choose to leave the game voluntarily in the end.

The structure of Junior Football prioritises elite players over casual players, leaving little room for those who do not share the same level of commitment.

Many would argue that this is absolutely right, but should there be room for players to dip in and out more as their interest and personal circumstances dictate? Junior grassroots football in the United Kingdom serves as the foundation for nurturing young talent, instilling values, and providing children with a sense of belonging to a team.

At the heart of this experience lies the balance between competition and enjoyment.

Striking this balance is crucial for the healthy development of young players, as it ensures they not only grow as athletes but also have fun and foster a lasting love for the game.

All too often we see an imbalance towards the importance of competition and whilst it is a fundamental aspect of Junior Grassroots Football it is so easy to see why it becomes the dominant driver.

Competition challenges players to push their boundaries, set goals, and work hard to achieve success.

Healthy competition not only drives individual improvement but also fosters team spirit and camaraderie.

Competition is a key driver of: Skill Development - Competing against others of similar or higher skill levels compels young players to enhance their own skills.

The desire to win motivates them to refine their skills continuously.

Resilience - Facing both victories and defeats instils resilience in young players.

They learn to handle disappointments, adapt to challenges, and persevere in the face of adversity.

Teamwork - Competition encourages teamwork.

Players understand that they must cooperate and communicate effectively to succeed as a team, helping them develop crucial life skills.

Goal Setting - Setting and achieving goals is a vital aspect of competition.

Young players learn to set realistic targets and work hard to attain them.

While competition is important, few would argue that it should come at the cost of enjoyment.

For Junior Grassroots Football to continue to be a positive experience, it must be fun and engaging.

Enjoyment is equally crucial because it helps with: Retaining Interest - Children are more likely to stay in the game if they enjoy playing.

When football is enjoyable, it becomes a passion they want to pursue.

The love for the sport often begins with the joy of playing.

When children have fun on the field, it ignites their passion for football, leading to long-term involvement.

Positive Memories - Happy memories of playing football at a young age can have a profound impact on a child's lifelong relationship with the sport.

These positive experiences shape their perception of football.

Physical and Mental Well-being - Enjoyable experiences on the field promote physical activity and mental well-being.

It encourages an active and healthy lifestyle, which is vital for child development.

The challenge for the game and the coaches and parents within it is to strike the right balance between competition and enjoyment in Junior Grassroots Football.

There are a number of strategies to help achieve this equilibrium around Age-Appropriate Expectations, an emphasis on participation, having a supportive environment and a player-centred approach.

Junior Grassroots Football in the UK must be a space where competition and enjoyment coexist harmoniously.

Striking this balance ensures that young players not only grow as players but also as people and develop a lifelong love for the game.

Grassroots football match

The importance of fostering both competitiveness and enjoyment cannot be overstated, as they together create a positive and enriching experience that prepares children for the challenges and joys of football and life beyond the pitch.

The harsh reality is that in Junior Football less than 0.1% of players will ever reach the elite level.

By definition, this leaves the other 99.9% as varying degrees of casual players anyway.

However, Junior Football predominantly concentrates on providing the breeding ground and nurturing the 0.1%, often at the expense of the remainder.

This disconnect between perception and reality is highlighted by the fact that 26% of parents believe their child is capable of becoming a professional football player, a statistic that inevitably leads to a high number of disappointed parents.

Even the concept of junior Football, traditionally associated with fun and enjoyment, has undergone a transformation.

Young athletes following diet plans and undergoing strength and conditioning coaching sessions have crept into the game and this trend toward intense commitment and competition extends right down to junior levels of the game.

Once the shackles of expectation are removed by adulthood and the realisation that a career as a professional football player is not going to materialise then players are free to participate purely for their love of the game.

In adult sports, participants often have the freedom to engage with sports in a more social and flexible manner.

Activities like five-a-side football are arranged through informal text messages.

Players can opt in or out based on their availability and desire, without the pressure of rigid schedules or the weight of competition.

This flexibility allows participants to stay engaged for longer periods and continue playing well into adulthood.

I’ve heard the existing Junior Football structure often described as "all or nothing," and there is an argument that it is failing many children.

So many young players give up due to the intensity, the belief that they're not good enough, or the overwhelming time commitment.

The need for a more balanced and modern approach to Junior Football is becoming increasingly called for by some.

In an era of on-demand services and more bespoke experiences, Junior Football may have to evolve to accommodate different levels of commitment and diverse motivations.

The ongoing debate around striking a balance between competition and enjoyment has been around for ever.

While some children thrive in a competitive environment, others seek enjoyment and personal growth through their football.

The current system, which leans heavily toward competition, can deter many young players, leading to high dropout rates.

It may become necessary to consider restructuring Junior Football to offer a more balanced and inclusive model that focuses on fun, learning, and social interaction, encouraging participation well into adulthood.

A more modern approach would potentially better cater to the diverse needs and motivations of young players, making playing Football a lifelong pursuit for many.

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