If your child is playing youth football in Scotland then understanding the National Player Pathway is important to you.
Why? Because the youth recreational game across Scotland is now structured in a pathway proven to provide the right environment and challenges for each player at their age and stage of development.
The National Player Pathway fundamentally promotes the small-sided game, where young players will get plenty of touches of the ball, opportunities to score a goal, chances to make a successful pass, and find themselves in plenty of 1v1 situations.
6 to 8-year olds: 4v4
At 6 to 8-years old our young players should be playing 4v4 on a small pitch with a size 3 ball, small goals, no goalkeepers and they should be refereeing the game amongst themselves.
Although this may not seem like 'real' football you should be content in the knowledge that this format of the game is best suited to your child's developmental needs at this age.
In 4v4s the young player is getting plenty of touches of the ball, which is the best way to develop their skills. They are feeling confident and successful as it is easier to score goals, beat a player and pass to a teammate, this also breeds a love of the game, a desire to play more and a confidence to try new things. They are also learning the basic principles of the game by controlling and dribbling the ball, trying to pass to a teammate, defending a goal and scoring into another. And, by having no referee they are learning to develop an understanding of fairplay amongst their teammates and opponents.
This format of the game should be fun and pressure-free and should not be associated with winning a trophy. Kids want to win, and there is no harm in that, but winning is more that the final result. Every child on the pitch can win if they are rewarded for their effort rather than the final score and that is what will breed good, motivated players with a great work ethic, as well as a generation of young players who want to stay in the game. (Learn more about Positive Coaching Scotland and a parent's role here: www.scottishfa.co.uk/positivecoaching)
Age 9-12: 7v7
At around the age of eight or nine, depending on your child's stage of development, they will move up to the 7v7 game format. The game is growing with them and in preparation for the full game of football the 7v7 game provides an excellent transition platform during these years in a player's development.
The 7v7 format remains trophy-free. The goalkeeper position is introduced but a retreating line is encouraged so the opposition side move back and allow the goalkeeper to roll the ball out to a player without instant pressure. This rule is important as it encourages players to get on the ball rather than punting it up the pitch.
In the older years of this age band, players are required to play to more rules, for example, they are not allowed to pass back to their goalkeeper and they move from kick-ins to throw-ins.
Age 13+: 11v11
Not until 13 years of age is the full 11-aside game introduced. Trophies are competed for at this age group but we still believe strongly in the positive coaching approach and the 'effort goal' driven techniques of developing young players, find out more here.
The Scottish FA work in partnership with the Scottish Youth FA and our community football partners McDonald's to deliver on and support the National Player Pathway.
The Associations researched best practice both in Scotland and across the world (Brazil, Portugal, Spain, Holland and Croatia amongst others) to produce a strucutre that will fit into a Scottish context and help young players to reach their potential.
Research has shown the undoubted advantages of small sided games (more goals,more 1 v 1s, more successful passes, more touches) and some excellent work by youth leagues in Scotland has demonstrated the benefits of moving through small-sided games formats to the adult version of the game.
The Player Pathway will continue to develop over the years and we are involved and studying various pilots of 5v5 and 9v9 transition games.
Fun Fours (6-8 years old)
Soccer Sevens (9-12 years old)
11-a-side (Under 13 onwards)