We were late to football, with N only joining a team at the end of Year 6. It’s been a very different experience to playing an individual sport like tennis, but there’s also some similarities. I thought I’d pull together some thoughts on our experiences, good and bad. And the benefits of grassroots football for players and parents.
- What is grassroots football?
- Is grassroots competitive football or just for fun?
- How expensive is playing grassroots football?
- When is the best time to join a football club?
- What are benefits for kids in playing football?
- Benefits for parents with kids in grassroots football
- Learnings from our grassroots experience
What is grassroots football?
Grassroots football is community level, non professional and non-elite football. It includes football played at local clubs, juniors and youth, schools, disabled, walking and veteran football.
The aim of grassroots football is to bring everyone who wants to be involved together to play. Whether it’s coaches, players, referees, and regardless of age, race, gender or ability and more. It’s primarily recreational (which sometimes can be forgotten by some involved with children).
Is grassroots competitive football or just for fun?
Grassroots covers both competitive and recreational football depending on the age and club venue. Younger children have broader age range and start with fun coaching and games rather than playing against other teams. Then children can play for a team in a leagues, cups and friendly tournaments as they progress through the age ranges.
Age groups can be mixed girls and boys. Some larger clubs have girls only training and teams as well as running separate boys teams. We had a girl playing for our team up to Under 12s, when she then decided to switch to play for a girls team.
While football will always the competitive element, for the junior age groups, it should always still be about fun. For those who want to strive for elite football, if successful, they would move to academy football, sign for a club, and move out of grassroots.
How expensive is playing grassroots football?
Compared to other sports football can be inexpensive. After all, you only need a football, and potentially football boots. But if your child is joining a team, there will be some costs for clubs who’re part of the FA.
For our club we have to complete player forms each season, sign up to the FA website for our child if they’re going to play for a team, and pay a club annual subscription. We also pay referee fees at the start of the season to help cover the costs for the team’s matches.
For training most of the year we don’t pay anything when it’s at the club. But in winter our team train indoors so there’s a small cost for that. In the past we’ve trained outdoors all year which didn’t cost, but it doesn’t help the pitch recover, you’re playing under mobile floodlights, and it’s not nice to play in the cold and wet in the evenings. So as a team we decided to pay to train indoors.
While football boots can be expensive (especially if your child wants both moulded and then softground metal stud football boots), some clubs have recycling points for grown out of football boots which can be taken for free. And look out online for discount places like M&M Direct who sometimes have heavily discounted boots.
All grassroots clubs have to fundraise to maintain and keep the club going, they have committees to manage the club. They usually rely on parents to play their part in volunteering for committee positions and stepping to do the training to be coaching. Coaches often follow their child through the age groups.
When is the best time to join a football club?
I found it amusing that they have a ‘transfer window’ at grassroots level as well as elite football. My son just missed the sign up for his team over the Christmas period, so he could join to train with them, but could only play in friendlies until the new sign up period over the summer.
So if you have a child who wants to play matches for the team, then either find and join a team over the summer school term, or look to join in November/December. Do bear in mind that teams fill up fast so you may have to try several local clubs to find one with spaces for your age group. Asking somewhere like local facebook groups may help your find teams looking for players.
What are benefits for kids in playing football?
N was late to playing football. He started at school in Year 5, then in Year 6 decided to join the local club and team. He knew a lot of the players from school and other clubs, but everyone was welcoming.
Benefits of playing in a grassroots football team
Team work vs individual sports he played before. It means more thoughtfulness and empathy towards playing and teammates.
Learning strategy, placement, thinking ahead not just for yourself but for the team around you.
Social friendships are improved, and new friendships are built.
Increase in confidence as there’s encouragement and feedback from coach and team mates who see you play all the time.
Camaraderie and motivating play and effort from team mates.
Learning respect, fair play and onpitch behaviour. Understanding what’s appropriate. They can compare their behaviour to other teams, see what gets pulled up by approved trained referees (whereas in tennis for example, they’re scoring their own matches).
Fitness – they’ve been trained a lot harder this year (and more regularly), and he’s able to see how he’s doing when they do the bleep test regularly.
Ambition – there’s always something to learn and improve. He can see what roles different teammates play, and how to learn from them.
Communication – they have to learn to talk to their teammates, and work out their strategies from what the coach is teaching them.
Inclusivity – grassroots football promotes diversity and gives opportunities for everyone to play. It teaches children to accept and understand everyone in their squad and to work out their differences.
Build skills that can transfer to other sports, whether ball skills, spatial awareness and strategy understanding.
Discipline – in attending training, having kit, being on time, listening to coaches.
Benefits for parents with kids in grassroots football
The social aspect – you meet other parents from the team, and especially if it’s a village club with only 1 team, there’s lots of support and help with lifts.
Bonding with your child over their hobby. Lots of men take their children to football, but as a mum it’s always great to be able to support them and understand more about what makes them tick.
Get outside – if you’re like me, working from home and not getting out much, it’s a great excuse to get outside for a decent amount of time.
Volunteering opportunities with the local club, or the team. This can include education and skills if you need to do courses for your role, like safeguarding or coaching.
Seeing what makes your child spark and smile is a great way to help understand them through the awkward tween and teen years.
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Learnings from our grassroots experience
It’s been really interesting being part of such a large community such as junior football. It really is a community having a child in a team. It’s a big part of their life – largely twice a week for much of the year. You experience the highs and lows with them, and learn about them, and how they cope with wins and losses.
There have been plenty of surprises moving from a competitive tennis environment which is so much more lonely and focused, to a team environment. Here’s some of our learnings.
There’s always going to be some kind of politics going on amongst teams, club or parents. As a parent you can’t totally stay clear of it because you need to be involved and knowing what’s going on until your children are old enough to take themselves along.
It can get really rough. There’s usually one or two teams in each season who’re renowned for it in a league or tournament. As children get older, it gets rougher. They have to learn to be tough to avoid being walked all over.
Getting a yellow or red card is pretty unusual (even with strict referees), but there are fines if the children do get them. These tend to come in at Under 13s once they’re on full size pitches. We’ve not seen one yet although there have been plenty of children having the ref talking to them about behaviour.
The parents are often worse than the kids. We’ve stood next to opposing team parents who’ve sworn at our players, or blatantly told their kids to carry on after they’ve just studded someone intentionally. The FA are trying to stamp this out, bring out the respect expectations which are always really visible at clubs (or should be). The aim is to create a respectful community of footballers and supporters.
It’s easy as a parent to get involved and not interfere. There’s plenty of parents (usually dads) who stand on the sidelines and try and coach their child as they’re playing. This isn’t always helpful. Surely it’s offputting for their child, and undermining the coaches.
Some of the junior refs can be better than those adults from clubs. And there’s a lot of variation between referees, so the players have to be willing to listen and adapt to ensure they’re not picked up for something they’d have got away with the week before.
Children seem to prefer a strict ref who’s fair to both teams. After all, they want a fair run at winning, and also want to win fairly.
It’s a great experience to be able to watch your children enjoy their hobby and be involved with it. Sharing their love of the sport, and bonding can help get through the emotionally charged teenage years when they might become non communicative and withdraw more from normal family conversation.
The support and growth you see from the team as they grow up together is amazing. The friendships grown, and they become a team rather than when they’re younger, it can be more about singular players, and blaming others for mistakes. It’s great to see how they develop in their game and off pitch friendships.
While I do wish N had continued with his tennis in terms of improvement and progression vs just the social side, I’m loving that we’re still involved with competitive sports.
Football’s so accessible given there’s so many clubs around. And there’s so many benefits of grassroots football for both children and families to get involved. Hopefully we’ll be involved for a few more years yet.
Have you had any grassroots football experience with your children or yourself?