Is small-sided game the best way forward?

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The small-sided game is now very popular, but I ask, is it the best way forward?

I do not intend to answer the question, but rather put forward some views of others.

Youth soccer action from the under-13 game between Lisburn Rangers and Hillsborough Boys. US1441-506cd  Picture: Cliff Donaldson

Youth soccer action from the under-13 game between Lisburn Rangers and Hillsborough Boys. US1441-506cd Picture: Cliff Donaldson

There are over 50 teams waiting to compete this season in the under-11 and under-12 sections of the Lisburn Junior Invitational League, which are the nine-a-side sections. By contrast the other five age groups will probably have around the 70 to 80 mark.

These figures suggest there is a lot of support for this type of football and most people will tell you it is the best means of coaching youngsters at an early age.

For example, goalkeepers learn more because they are playing with smaller goals and it is not a case of another player lobbing the ball well over their heads into the top of ordinary goals.

The opportunity is there to give the kids more coaching and this can be the rock for further improvement as they get older.

The IFA placed a restriction on the number of competitive games the 11s and 12s can play and in the Lisburn League they only compete in the Shield and Cup competitions, meaning the other “League” weeks are mere friendlies.

When talking to managers last year I discovered there were those in favour of not playing competitively, allowing the kids to develop their skills, but there were others who thought the competitive spirit should be introduced.

One manager said: “I am in favour of competitive games and believe that those who say they are not competing to win are misguided. My experience is that everyone wants to win even if a game is meaningless.

“It is how you react to being beaten that is more important and the young players must learn to shake hands afterwards as well as learning how to play the game.”

I must admit that when playing sport I was almost as competitive when playing friendlies as when playing competitively and I always congratulated the other team when we lost.

The Lisburn League has attracted many clubs to the small-sided game from Irish League circles and many of them believe this is the only way forward.

Certainly, if you go along to Lisburn Recreation Centre any Saturday morning during the season there is a lot of support for all the teams in the 11s and 12s and this can only be good. But, there is a lot of competition among the players.

The other down side is that there is not the same media coverage, for no one wants to read about a meaningless match and the hype only comes in the knock-out competitions.

What do you think?