Organising matches for children’s and youth football teams now involves special facilities, as the Football Association (FA) has stipulated specific pitch, goal and ball sizes for age-group games.
Some of the regulations were brought in as a result of the FA Youth Development Review, which was ratified in May 2012. The recommendations in the report were drawn up following extensive research and consultations with both youth coaches and children.
It is hoped that reducing the size of the football goals, pitches and teams in youth games will bring about a change in attitude. Jose Mourinho once claimed that “in England you teach your kids how to win, in Spain and Portugal they teach their kids how to play”, and that the focus on results at such an early age stopped children having fun and developing even basic skills.
The move to smaller pitches, goals and sides is designed to ensure teams play with a short passing style so that all young players get more touches. This should allow all of them to stay involved in games and enjoy football more, while also giving them opportunities to work on their technique.
Nick Levett, the FA’s national development manager, told the BBC: “As soon as you put kids on massive pitches, adults want to win and pick bigger, stronger and faster kids. They’ll get kids just to whack it over the top and when they get through to a huge goal and a tiny little kid, there’s no challenge for them and it’s very easy for them to score.
“So in theory, with the changes to smaller pitches and smaller goals, you can have much more of a focus on technique and skill development for the future generations.”
The benefits of this approach are obvious, but it does require grass roots football clubs to have a rethink about how to use their pitches and what equipment they require. One thing clubs will need to invest in is portable small and intermediate-sized goal posts for junior games, as detailed below. The posts must meet all the relevant safety standards – BSEN748(2004) / BS8461:2005+A1:2009 / BS8462:2005+A2:2012.
Sticking to the recommended pitch sizes will also pose a great challenge to clubs, as many recreation areas consist of full-sized pitches that are very close together. However, the FA is happy for clubs to slightly adjust the measurements of mini and youth pitches to fit the space available and suggests having two small pitches marked in blue running across the width of a senior pitch as a possible solution.
Under 7s and Under 8s (mini soccer)
The FA now recommends that children of this age play 5 v 5 matches, with a size 3 ball and goalposts that measure 12 x 6 ft. The pitch should be 40 x 30 yards, with penalty areas of 16 x 9 yards.
The governing body also recommends using FA Respect Designated Spectators’ Areas for all age-group football, to prevent over-enthusiastic parents from standing on the sidelines and shouting at the kids and referee. The area should be clearly marked and, if possible, be at least 3 yards back from the pitch and only run down one touchline.
Under 9s and Under 10s (mini soccer)
Matches at this level should be 7-a-side and played with mini soccer goals measuring 12 x 6 ft, on a pitch measuring 60 x 40 yards with a penalty area of 18 x 10 yards. A size 3 ball should be used for Under 9s games, but the Under 10s need a size 4.
Under 11s and Under 12s
There is another step up at this age, with all games played as 9 vs 9 on pitches measuring 80 x 50 yards, with penalty areas of 32 x 13 yards. The goalposts should be 7 x 16 ft and size 4 balls must be used.
Under 13s and Under 14s
At this age youngsters can start playing 11-a-side matches, as they see their heroes doing, but the pitches and goals are still not full size. The posts should be 21 x 7 ft, while the recommended pitch size is 90 x 55 yards, with penalty areas of 35 x 14 yards. A size 4 ball should still be used.
Under 15s and Under 16s
The recommended pitch size at this level is 100 x 60 yards, but everything else is as you would find in a senior game. A size 5 ball and 24 x 8 ft goals should be used, while the penalty area will be 44 x 18 yards, with the penalty spot 12 yards out.
Under 17s and above
Youth teams at this age should play on a full-sized pitch of 110 x 70 yards like senior sides do, with standard goalposts and a size 5 ball.
Take a look at our easy to follow Football Goal, Pitch and ball size graphic.