Baby steps for Northern Ireland's football future
When the Irish FA launched their mission statement, 'We're Not Brazil, We're Northern Ireland' last month, the governing body placed a strong emphasis on youth football.
The IFA are keen to to get children involved in football at an earlier stage, so they can learn the technical aspects of football before bad habits set in.
The governing body might want to take a look at the efforts of local coach Tim Wareing, who has been coaching pre-primary school kids for a number of years.
Wareing's Toddler Soccer course welcomes children from the age of two-years-old.
The former Lisburn Distillery coach explained: “I had been running a Mini Soccer course at Cregagh for a couple of years and at the time we were quite unique, as we accepted five-year-olds, while many other courses didn't take children unless they were seven or older.
“We noticed a number of younger kids getting upset when they saw their older siblings being dropped off and with this in mind, I looked at starting a revolutionary programme called Toddler Soccer.
“We offer an introduction to football for boys and girls aged two and above. It helps kids progress in a number of areas such as listening skills, social skills, speech and overall confidence.
“This is before we look at ball skills. I have toddlers as young as two performing drag backs and step overs. We use characters from children's TV to help them to learn about football.
“We also have a 'puppy dog' game. This teaches the toddlers to dribble the ball by pretending the ball is a puppy dog, their foot is the collar & their leg is the lead.”
Some parents may argue that pre-school children are too young to benefit from football coaching, but Wareing believes there are a number of benefits for toddlers.
“From a health point of view you just need to look at the startling rise in childhood obesity to realise we need to introduce children to the importance of leading an active, healthy lifestyle from an early age,” he said.
“It's frustrated me over the years that I haven't received support or recognition but I suppose it's a Northern Ireland thing.
“I wrote a book, 'Toddler Soccer the Essential Guide' that has sold in over 30 different countries and it has been adopted by many pro-clubs for their community programmes,” he added.
Wareing, who also coaches older children at his TW Braga club, welcomes the IFA's renewed commitment to youth football
“It is improving and I'm confident Jim Magilton will continue improve things in his new role.
“I set up Lisburn Distillery's Academy and enjoyed five years at the club under the wonderful Paul Kirk. I use the word 'academy' very loosely, as we don't have proper academies in Northern Ireland.
“How can we say we do when we don't have players training on a daily basis, we also don't provide them with any education support.
“My new project tackles these issues. We have linked up with SC Braga in Portugal to create TW Braga.
“I offer my players five sessions a week. The lack of contact time is a big problem in Northern Ireland, as most youngsters only train once or twice a week.”
If you'd like to find out more about Tim and his various projects, his website www.TWSports.Org has a wealth of information on football coaching.
Belfast Telegraph Digital