Footblogball guest writer Aidan Isherwood reports:
This week the Stockholm football federation announced a new set of rules that will quite dramatically change how football is experienced by children under the age of 14. The package of rules comes into effect in 2012 and clubs not signing up to them will be unable to receive certification to play in the Stockholm football leagues.
The rules have been drawn up according to the findings of a lengthy survey of coaches and perhaps more importantly, players. The announcement has not so far received a great deal of coverage, but there must be at least some concern in the boardrooms and boot rooms of the bigger clubs.
There are four main criteria in the certificates, one concerns communicating the aims of the new football strategy to players and parents and another aims to further the zero tolerance campaign aimed at eliminating abusive language and behaviour. The two new rules the clubs must promise to adhere to are:
No poaching until 14. Clubs will no longer be able to approach and recruit players aged under 14 that are registered with other clubs.
There will be a “start guarantee” for players in matches. All players must sometimes be in the starting line-up and all substitutes must play. To help ensure this, there will only be three substitutes allowed in 7-a-side matches.
A further significant change is not one they can sign up to, it will be imposed upon them by the organisers of the St Erik’s Cup (the Stockholm football league structure), it is that:
There will no longer league tables for under 12s. Only when 11-a-side is played at age 13.
I imagine clubs are already working out fairly obvious ways around the laws:
How to let players and their parents know it might be a good time to contact a certain bigger club themselves to enquire about a try out, for instance.
Calculating league tables in-house so everyone involved knows how they are faring. And I guess the leagues will still be divided into “Easy”, “Medium” or “Difficult”, as they have been in lower ages until now.
Substitution rules only affect those actually summoned to the match, hopefully there will be self-regulation ensuring that all players in a squad get a fair share of call-ups.
Of course, we will have to wait for a season or more to be able to properly evaluate the effects. I guess they will one day hope to measure a reduced drop-out rate amongst 11-13 year-olds. Bigger clubs may well warn that the more talented players will not get the dedicated training they need. While others will argue that having more players still playing the game at a later age will lead to a greater pool of players at the top end later: late-developers should be less likely to be lost for ever.
The federation is offering a variety of training for club officials and trainers to help push the strategy forward. I feel optimistic that it will eventually lead to more children playing football with less pressure, for longer.
I hope I am not proven wrong.