Will swathes of children miss out on vital sport and team experience?

Football action from the Cromer Youth Football Club tournament at Holt FC Ground - Cromer Superstars

Football action from the Cromer Youth Football Club tournament at Holt FC Ground - Cromer Superstars U10's vs Horsford U10's.Picture: MARK BULLIMORE - Credit: Mark Bullimore

In my home village of Hethersett alone we have around 400 children signed up to play organised football, from as young as five up to 18.

But the demand is such that I'm pretty sure that figure would grow to at least 600, if we had the ability and infrastructure to cope with such a rise.

Norfolk's population growth, an increased desire amongst parents for their children to do organised sport and possibly the fact some schools aren't able to offer as much sport as before, means it feels like demand has risen to record levels.

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I am a coach for the village's under 9s and receive on average 2-3 requests a week from parents asking if there is space for their son or daughter to join.

And as someone who passionately believes in the positive impact organised sports can have on children, not just in terms of their physical development, but emotional as well, it absolute devastates me when I have to say no.


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From speaking to coaches elsewhere in the county, it would appear I'm not alone and every week scores of young children are missing out on the opportunity for vital physical activity and interaction with their peers.

So why do we say no? Why don't we just sign them all up, grow our squad and hope one of those youngsters turns out to be the next Todd Cantwell?

Todd Cantwell in action for Norwich
City. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Todd Cantwell in action for Norwich City. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

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Our team currently has a squad of 26 players, overseen by three qualified coaches and one soon-to-be. With those numbers we always need at least two recognised coaches at every session we run.

When we're talking about 5 or 7-a-side games, plus midweek training, it's already hard enough to give this group the football they need to develop, without throwing more into the mix.

There simply are not enough parents and volunteers coming through and willing to go the extra mile it takes to make organised football (and I'm sure it's the same in other sports) happen.

Granted, we're never short of parents happy to do their bit and I'm always thankful when they turn up early to put up goals, mark out pitches and chip in with training where need be.

But actually running a team takes an extra level of time and commitment, a level which, for whatever reason, an increasing number seem unable to sign up for.

Life is hectic and I get the impression many, understandably, don't see how they could find the time in their busy schedules.

I fear the consequences of this on the development of those who miss out. We already face the prospect of swathes of children not benefitting from all that being in organised sport can help teach them, just because they or their parents weren't aware that if they are not in a team by the age of seven, they might face missing out when they get round to it.

Youngsters take part in the Junior Football tournament at Taverham. Picture Simon Parker.

Youngsters take part in the Junior Football tournament at Taverham. Picture Simon Parker. - Credit: Archant

While that could mean the next Todd Cantwell potentially goes undiscovered or doesn't fulfill their potential - it's more likely these children miss out on learning inter-personal skills, how to accept defeat (plenty of that in my team) and how to work well with others.

So what can be done about it?

At the minute too much onus for this issue lays with those volunteers who are already actively trying to cope with the numbers they have. Our club officials meets regularly and often discusses ways to recruit more coaches, thus allowing for more players.

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But really it's an issue that should be taken out of our hands. In the Football Association (FA) we have a body with paid staff tasked with overseeing the implementation of our beautiful game. The buck stops with them and I'd like to see more development roles within the FA where they pro-actively work with clubs to solve this issue.

If that doesn't happen, and with Norfolk's population numbers only set to grow, I fear we will never have the volunteers needed to meet the demand from our sports-hungry parents and children.


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