Football

Standard of pitches among chief concerns at football's grassroots level

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The standard of pitches is one of the biggest impediments to football's growth at grassroots level, a Football Association survey has revealed.

The study of more than 28,750 of the game's participants also showed notable concern about the standard of coaching at recreational level.

The figures from the grassroots survey - an online poll which sought views from players, coaches, referees, staff and volunteers - showed that players with access to better-quality pitches tend to play a third more than the average. Those playing on poorly-maintained pitches play 21 per cent less.

This issue was already on the FA's agenda under its 'National Game Strategy for Participation and Development' and a "significant slice" of its ?260million budget for the next four years has been allocated to the matter.

At present there is a high dependence on local councils to maintain facilities, with 83 per cent of pitches in England being publicly owned, and the FA recognises a need for greater involvement. Part of this will come under the 'Parklife' scheme which will see the creation of 'hubs' of floodlit 3G artificial pitches in cities across the country. Plans are also in place to improve around 2,000 existing turf pitches and it is hoped the investment will encourage further funding from other sources.

Pete Ackerley, the FA's head of participation, said: "We are seeing a lot of players will play more if we get the environments right. We're finding that the better the pitch, people will play more, and absolutely more people will play."

In terms of coaching, respondents aged 10-15 expressed high levels of satisfaction but this declined as the age range increased. Poor coaching was identified as having a negative effect on the appetite of players to play regularly.

This area is also one of the FA's priorities with a network of county coaches charged with improving and supporting coaching across grassroots football, with club mentoring programmes, being strengthened.

Ackerley said: "I don't think anyone is expecting Pep Guardiola or Louis van Gaal on the touchline when play in their local Sunday league but they are expecting some sort of structure - for example playing in a shape, knowing how to defend a corner, what to do from a free-kick.

"It is just about getting organised and being organised and getting some structure as opposed to throwing a ball onto a pitch and smashing it at a goalkeeper for 20 minutes during sessions."

The survey also highlighted some dissatisfaction around cost of coaching courses, but also indicated that those that have completed them believe they represent value for money. Costs vary by area but the average price paid for a level one coaching qualification in the last 12 months was ?90.56 and ?208.23 for level two.

One statistic that buoyed the FA was that 52 per cent of respondents view football as the best 'value-for-money' sport ahead of cycling and running.

Ackerley said: "We're delighted with the number of people that have sat down and told us what they think. Nearly 30,000 is a significant number.

"We need to understand what the thoughts of anyone involved in the game are and keep listening to them.

"This is the first time we have done a survey of this nature, so we don't have anything to compare this against, but this will become an annual survey so we can look at where we are improving or getting worse."

Meanwhile the FA has reiterated its guidance to clubs and leagues concerning the publication of results and league tables for junior teams, up to under-11s level, in the local press. The FA believes that such publication is detrimental and in recent years have stressed it be avoided.

Ackerley said: "We want to get away from the league table and results being published that say, 'Team A have beaten Team B 34-0'. It isn't in the best interests of developing those young people and young players, and ultimately could drive them away from the game.

"We have put in a range of measures to ensure we have a really child-friendly approach rather than the win-at-all-cost mentality that quite often coaches and parents want to instil.

"Since we brought this in there has been a 17.5 per cent rise in the number of teams. That tells us this is the right thing to do."

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