Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Winning isn’t everything, it’s the taking part that counts

All staff at ToddlerSoccer are fully trained and vetted (Picture: WWW.CHRISNELONPHOTO.COM)

As a massive football fan, I continue to be amazed by the success of Dutch football on the world stage.

How can it be that a country with a population of only 16 million can produce some of the best players and teams the world has ever seen?

Think of players such as Cruyff, Van Basten, Gullitt, or teams like Ajax and PSV Eindhoven, who have captured the imagination of football fans worldwide. How is this possible with such a small player pool to choose from?

Well, you only have to look at their coaching set-up. Ajax is a case in point with a youth system that is the envy of many and which has been copied but never bettered.

Children from the age of five are taught the basics of the game in a fun way without the stress of having to win every game they play or pressured into being brilliant in everything they do. They just let them play football.

In an article I recently uncovered from the Guardian newspaper’s website from 2007, Alfie Apps, who, at the time, made a living unearthing Premiership footballers for West Ham, watched a coaching session for 15 and 16-year-olds at PSV Eindhoven's training complex in the Dutch countryside.

Comparing the coaching philosophy for children in the UK with Holland, Mr Apps described the difference as “immense”.

“The kids at PSV were having fun,” he said. “That's what we should do here, just let them play football.”

Which brings me to a local coaching ‘academy' I recently discovered by chance online, and which takes place right here in greater Belfast.

Many of you may have heard of ToddlerSoccer.org. If not, it is a series of classes run across Co Antrim and Co Down which teaches football to toddlers between the ages of two-and-a-half and five.

Many coaches here have frowned at the notion of a football academy for such a young age, but those behind ToddlerSoccer believe they are

producing tangible results, not only with bringing out the best of kids onto the football field, but ensuring that it is done in the right way. Or dare I say it the Dutch way.

And in keeping with this Dutch link, clubs in Holland are already looking at the model used by ToddlerSoccer as a way forward in conjunction with their own football coaching.

Is this the way forward here in Northern Ireland? Could we produce more George Best’s in the future thanks to this unique coaching style?

Only time will tell, but either way the most important thing is that toddlers and children across Belfast and beyond are playing football with a smile on their faces.

Anything positive afterwards can only be a bonus.

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