Youth football is an important part of a community because football is capable of achieving so much. Football can bring the best out of people and help young people develop skills, friendships and memories that they will keep with them for the rest of their lives. It can also be the source of community building events that can make positive changes to the lives of everyone.
At the beginning of the season there was a massive turnout at a charity seven-a-side competition called ‘Kids, Doing it for Kids‘. Around 125 local children (pictured, right), all from the 2001 age group, took part in an attempt to raise at least £500 for the Yorkhill Hospital for Sick Children.
Throughout the tournament, parents, coaches and even passers-by gave generous donations time and time again, further to the entry fee they had already paid to get in. Their generosity was only matched by their support as they cheered all the teams involved from start to finish. In the end, the event raised over £800 for Yorkhill and was a perfect example of how youth football can benefit a community.
The event’s organiser, Mossend FC Secretary Billy McQueen, said at the time: “Recently one of the boys in our 2002 squad was diagnosed with leukaemia. Thankfully he is now in remission. He did spend a lot of time at Yorkhill, where he received his treatment.”
There was a tremendous feel-good factor to the ‘Kids Doing it for Kids’ festival. It was a fantastic event, full of good humour, good football and saw every single person leave with a smile on their face. Everyone contributed to the event in one way or another and it succeeded in bringing the community together with the common goal of raising money for a good cause.
Youth football is much more than forming footballers for the future, it has a role in shaping the future of the country through how it develops young people. Football provides a sense of unity. A sense of “We’re all in this together”. Youth football offers a means for people to come together and share a passion for the game, through which children and young people are given the opportunity to develop new skills and knowledge. It’s something that can only benefit a community if the skills and values of the game are taught properly.
It’s coaches that make it happen; they are the ones that teach young footballers not only the game, but the lessons that sport and competition offer in terms of personal social development. They are the drive of the game at grassroots level. The manager for Glenvale‘s 1996 team (pictured, below left), Danny McKim, has coached youth football in Paisley for fifteen years. He said:
“I would say that youth football plays a massive part in the community. There must be thousands of kids training every night of the week all over Scotland, preparing for their games at the weekend. These days its not just a case of a boy going along to training on his own and then heading off on a Saturday or a Sunday, also on his own, for his fixture. I would say in most cases the full family is involved. Probably most of these families arrange their weekend around games and also become socially involved with other families within their clubs.”
The idea of families building their weekends around youth football is a positive one in so many different ways. Once again, it’s communities coming together with youth football as the catalyst. Danny is in his fifth season at Glenvale and prior to that he coached the 1990 age group at another local club for 10 years. He said: “During this time I have seen friendships within players and families develop on and off the field.”
Youth football can teach youngsters important life skills such as respect, competition, communication, leadership, responsibility and the ability to build relationships. Youth football can give young people everything they need to develop into adults, not to mention the physical benefits it can bring to their health and general wellbeing. Danny said:
“Kids can now start playing football from age 4 and I would say that by the time they are 18 most will have moved onto different things. If you think about it, this is probably more years than they would attend school. This means that players are growing up in a competitive environment, but also most coaches will encourage that they respect their opponents.
“Within teams, players will go to school together and also go to school with players they play against at their age group. Growing up like this in most cases encourages friendly banter, mutual respect and takes away the gang culture we grew up in. I would say that if a boy or a girl grows up playing football they will get to know far more people and enjoy social activities that they would not come across in other pastimes.”
Youth coaches are actually important community figures - it is the coaches after all that give so much of their time to developing their players. What is it the coaches get out of it? Danny’s reward is seeing his players progress. He said:
“I would say that most coaches are not looking for any return for their time and effort. Personally, I look for improvement when I’m working with various teams. When I started coaching 15 years ago with the 1990 age group, I learned as I went. We progressed as time went by. We went from 20th out of 24, to 12th, 6th and 1st over 4 seasons. We also won 8 cups over 11 years. I would say that as long as the coaches and the players work hard at training, and also have a bit of fun, with players constantly given positive encouragement and also a new player here and there to freshen things up, it won’t guarantee success but it should keep both the players and supporters committed to your team.
“The 1996 age group I am involved with just now is hopefully going along a similar pathway. When we started 5 seasons ago there were 36 teams at this age. We were last to start and were the bottom of the pile. Thanks to the hard work of the coaches and players I would say we are now in the top 6. We also managed to win The den bosch cup in Holland at easter 2011. This is fantastic progress considering all the other teams had a good few seasons start on us.”
It’s the shared sense of ambition and achievement - important elements that good communities are built upon - that drives them and keeps everyone involved and feeling the rewards of their efforts. Coaches and players are constantly trying to improve and better themselves and this is a fantastic mentality to bring to a community.
Youth football has also been actively used as a means to get young people off the street and onto the pitch, to benefit communities. In 2006 the Coalfields Regeneration Trust (CRT) joined the Bank of Scotland and the SFA in the Bank of Scotland Midnight Leagues for young people in Scottish former mining areas. The first programme ran in just 8 locations but it proved so successful that CRT in 2007, increased its support and extended its involvement. In the last five years, the leagues have run in over 20 locations with over 1,100 young people taking part each year across all of the former Scottish coalfields.
According to those involved, the initiative has had a massive impact on communities through; improved health and motivation for the young people involved, less anti-social behaviour and crime in local communities, involvement of young people in grassroots football, encouragement of adults to support the leagues as volunteers and the signposting of wider opportunities to young people involved in the leagues.
Convenor of Sport and Recreation for Clackmannanshire Council, Cllr Bobby McGill, said:
“In Clackmannanshire, our Midnight Leagues, held at Alloa F C’s Recreation Park, are one of the biggest in the country with well over 100 young people taking part. A great achievement for the Wee County! The Council, our sports development staff and the local police are delighted with the impact of the leagues and very pleased to receive the support of CRT, the SFA and the Bank of Scotland in making them happen. The young people and local communities across the County are benefiting from the initiative”
Through the project, CRT has also funded equipment, coach training and first aid for youth football clubs in the ex-coalfields areas further to the support from the Bank of Scotland and the SFA. SFA Football Development Officer, Jim Grant, said:
“The leagues which myself and colleagues from West Lothian Council run in Blackburn and other locations in the County show very clearly the positive impact on the boys and girls who come along. Youth service staff and community police officers who are building better relationships with young people and local communities very much welcome the initiative. But as a ‘football man’ I just love seeing so many young people playing our national game, keeping fit and really enjoying themselves.”
It is clear that youth football is a huge benefit to communities and should be celebrated for the role it has in the lives of all who are involved.
The obvious benefits to the physical health and character building of young people offered by football must never be overlooked nor should the role it can have in bringing a community together and raising money for causes.
The Dan Wakefield quote about the importance of being part of a good community can also be applied to youth football. To be part of the same quest, such as being part of a team, is very meaningful as is the shared sense of achievement. The pillars that form a community and youth football are not very far apart.