There is much evidence to support the fact that grassroots football hasn’t been thriving over the last decade; in fact, the suggestions are that it is in decline, especially among children.

This is being tackled by the Football Association, who since 2015 has pledged a record £260 million in investment until 2019, specifically to encourage participation in the grassroots game. But with the significant investment and many initiatives that have been introduced, we wanted to know what barriers were still preventing children from playing football. Here’s what we found:

The above data is from a survey of 750 people (some of who didn’t have children, so their answers aren’t included). The findings should provide an insight into the factors at the forefront of both the children’s and parents’ minds.

Other Interests

Roughly 50% of parents responded by saying their child had other interests, such as preferring to play computer games.

In many ways, it’s hard to combat ‘other interests’. However, the survey question did give ‘computer games’ as one example of ‘other interests’, and if parents took this into consideration then it’s fair to say that a large portion of these results will have been accounted for by gaming. And with titles like FIFA selling over 150,000,000 copies since its release, this suggests many children are simply choosing virtual sports over real sport.

If the interest in football is still there, let’s look at what could be causing children to stay in the house at weekends!

The lack of opportunity

Around 14% of parents said that they did not have a local club with available spaces.

Forming and running a football club at grassroots level is difficult. Even providing football kits and team-wear can be a struggle to new clubs, which we explored in depth in our previous piece giving advice on how to find a sponsor.

However, even with the above difficulties between 2011 and 2015, the FA still introduced 5,000 new youth teams.

So why do parents still see a lack of opportunity?

There are a number of potential reasons here, firstly, knowing where to look. There isn’t going to be a football team in all areas of a city, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a club close by. Local FAs usually have a locator which allows you to search for all the clubs — the Sheffield locator can be accessed here.

The second reason is visibility. Local clubs, aside from ‘superclubs’, tend to have poor visibility online — to put it bluntly they are very hard to find. Searching locally and seeing the same few teams repeatedly could lead parents to believe there isn’t an alternative, and be costing managers of clubs potential players.

The trend data on Google shows around as much search now as there was years ago, which would indicate that the same level of desire remains. There are multiple services dedicated to giving clubs an online presence, with Club Website and Pitchero being two of the most popular.

The British Weather

A total of 13% were put off by the weather, preferring not to spend their weekends in the cold and rain.

This question was left for either parent or child to answer, so the results could have come from either group. However, they suggest that a sizeable proportion of children don’t take part in football due to the weather (whether it’s themselves or their parent who don’t like it!).

While it’s hard to argue that the conditions are rarely perfect, it really shouldn’t be the issue it has become. Fortunately there are solutions at hand.

The first way this can be combated is through products. There are now multiple teamwear options which have been designed to help a player shield the cold and wind. Over recent years we have seen the rise of Nike baselayers in football, from tights to tops. There is still the option of team coats and long sleeved shirts for the subs bench (and parents on the sidelines). These can now be easily branded too, supporting the team and also your cockles!

Secondly, and a slightly more high tech option, is to join a league that uses artificial turf — and even better, one that plays indoors. As part of their initiatives, the FA has opened indoor pitches across the country, one of the first ones being here in Sheffield.

The upshot of this is: there are increasing solutions to this problem – don’t let the weather stop play.

Wrong Gender

As many as 12.5% of parents reported that their local team didn’t welcome girls.

However, recent figures show that that participation among girls and women is at an all-time high, suggesting that strategies are being put in place by grassroots clubs to combat this problem.

In fact, where once the opportunities for girls were somewhat limited (and still are compared to boys), there has been a growth in opportunities. From 2013 – 2015, 40,000 more girls and women were playing football, with the aim that female youth participation will be boosted 11% by 2019.

While it is certainly more difficult to find a team for girls, it isn’t the impossible feat that it once was.

There is a dedicated webpage that will help you find a girls football team in your area, which you can find here.

Overly Competitive

Around 6% of parents said that their child was discouraged by the over competitive, intimidating nature of local clubs.

The very nature of competitive sport means that it comes complete with competitive players, and sometimes even competitive parents. For some young kids this can be intimidating, so much so that it puts them off joining a club.

Much of this problem, however, could be due to perception. Most of us feel some nerves as to whether our ability is going to be good enough or whether we will instead warm the subs bench for the season.

A lot of time has been put into making football more accessible. Nearly 1 million players now have access to an FA-qualified coach to learn in a way which suits the child. There has also been a marked reduction in red cards and dissent — two big outliers to overly competitive sports. Much of this has been due to the “respect” campaign which has been prominent in football over the last few years.

Parents must also shoulder some of the responsibility — in 2013 (the most recent stat we could find) nearly 4,000 misconduct offenses were committed by parents at youth games.

This is something which should be addressed more by grassroots clubs, if for no other reason than by improving your reputation and becoming more approachable, you could result in more players for the club.

Parents don’t have the time

Sadly, 4.5% of parents said that grassroots football didn’t fit into their own lifestyle, due to work or lack of available time to take their children to a club.  

A lack of time is understandable, but have all the options been explored? Grassroots football doesn’t have to be a weekend sport, there are now leagues in many areas which can provide midweek football.

Also, where work gets in the way, there are football camps that can provide the parents with respite and the child with the opportunity to explore football. Companies like Qualitas Sports exist around the country, time doesn’t have to be the barrier.

It’s a beautiful game

Like many team sports, football is a game which can provide wonderful benefits for children. It has been said to improve communication, parent/child bonds, social skills and fitness, to name but a few.

That is why it is so important to us to make the most of the opportunities we have, both to have our children play the game and to help our grassroots clubs to thrive.

Managers – Think about how the above results can be factored in at your club.

Parents – Think about how the above applies to you – if there is a solution then let’s do it!

Perhaps then the UK will once again be the proud home of football.

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