Play the Game is a new initiative delivered by Heart of Midlothian Football Club which has been developed to support the thousands of people involved in the grassroots game. It is inspired by street football of yesteryear, encouraging more play and game-centred activity within grassroots football.
Play the Game features five core programmes that support grassroots players, coaches and volunteers.
- Schools: Promoting playground football
- Centres: Partnerships with grassroots clubs
- Street Games: Resource for grassroots coaches
- Clubs: Support for grassroots teams
- Expo: Festivals for grassroots teams
Through each programme we promote ways in which the players themselves can take increased ownership and responsibility of their games while simultaneously encouraging and promoting the importance of small-sided activity during training sessions with grassroots coaches and parents/carers.
Benefits of Small Sided Games:
- More activity
- More touches of the ball
- Improved decision making, problem solving and improvisation
- Greater player/child ownership of the game
- Less pressure and time constraints on coaches/leaders planning sessions
- More enjoyment for players
But why Play the Game?
We recently conducted a grassroots survey to ascertain how often young players train and play. General opinion from those involved in the game is that kids don’t play out on their own down the park or in the street nowadays compared to years ago when this was commonplace. TV, computer games, phones and devices have all been blamed for the decrease in outdoor, child-led play. Very often it seems, the majority of kid’s football activity is overseen by an adult coach or leader and this appears to take place, on most occasions, during organised training sessions or matches. Potentially a far cry from street football that was almost always organised in an impromptu fashion back in the day.
The Scottish FA’s National Player pathway for primary aged children feature formats that include Football Fours, Super Fives and Soccer Sevens. Given the huge apparent reduction in informal play, these can be considered as the modern day replacement for street football. That’s why we feel the need to help bring the essence of street football into the weekly training sessions and kids matches.
Former Hearts defender and Play the Game Ambassador, Alan McLaren commented:
“I used to go out every afternoon after school for four or five hours with my friends and play games against the garages – we didn’t realise this at the time, but we were honing our technique and learning to play. The only time you saw an adult was when you were being called in for your tea. While there is no doubt recreational coaches have the kids best interests at heart, there are times when we need to back of a little and allow for the kids to make mistakes, to have the confidence to improvise and not have a fear of failing on occasion.”
Backing the initiative, Hearts Manager Craig Levein said: “Kids are more creative and imaginative than adults – it’s important that today’s organised football provides them with the space and the opportunity to use that imagination on the pitch which will lead to developing players of the future who are confident and inventive.”
Hearts’ Head of Community, Alan White, added: "Back in the day when playing in the street or park, we usually didn’t have an adult providing instruction from the side-line. We picked the teams, the positions, the type of game and how long we played for. Usually we played until the player that owned the ball had to go home! With this programme we are not saying “don’t coach”, but simply endorsing the fact that kids need to be allowed to be kids. We are suggesting that increased game-like activity is a great way of engaging them more and helps maintain a ‘love to play’ attitude.
Here are some of the key findings from our survey or grassroots players (primary age):
- The average modern day grassroots player plays up to 14 hours less per week than that of their predecessors in the 60s and 70s.
- Today’s grassroots player experiences 66% less game time during training and matchdays than players 40-50 years ago.
- Young players today participate in 60% more drills base activity (non-game) than in previous generations
- Today’s players spend on average seven hours per week playing on computer games or devices
- Play the Game Ambassador, Alan McLaren amassed 9,310 hours of training and game practice before he made his Hearts debut aged 16. The current grassroots player, up until the same age, totals 2,064 hours
During the survey the kids also told us how they prefer their matchday environment:
- 73% of players preferred that parents/carers avoided giving them pre-match advice during the journey to their game.
- 84% of players preferred that when they were in possession of the ball during a match, they were left alone to make a decision as opposed to being instructed by the coach.
- 94% of players preferred that when they were in possession of the ball during a match, they were left alone to make a decision as opposed to being instructed by their parent/carer.
- 77% of players would rather they get the opportunity to work out a problem or recover from a mistake themselves as opposed to an adult telling them what to do next time.
- 88% of players, after making a mistake, would rather the coach asked them what the could do the next time as opposed to telling them what they should do.
- Only 6% of players preferred that their parent/carer gave instruction during the match as opposed to the coach.