Does height matter in football? It still makes me cringe to hear stories from parents that have had their kids turned away from academies due to their size, strength, or being too slow.
Really, is this still happening in today’s game? Does height matter at that age?
Haven’t some of our greatest players had one of the things mentioned against them throughout their development but because of their superior technical ability and game understanding succeeded anyway?
Off the top of my head, I can think of countless stories of great players who never had one of the attributes above in their favor or even some cases none of them.
So why do many of us still use this a benchmark for player selection?
How many potentially gifted young players are being missed because of this?
And why we should look beyond a young player’s physical attributes and focus on building an excellent technical base!
We discuss this all below.
The state of grassroots today!
I remember watching my son play another youth football team a few weeks ago who had one particularly good player that impressed me.
I have seen him play a couple of times in the past a couple of years ago, but it looked like he had improved on his game a lot since then.
He was two footed, could see a pass, had good distribution and exceptionally good positional awareness for his age.
Because the child attended my sons’ school, I knew his dad, so I approached him to ask if he has had interest from an academy side before because I believe he is good enough to play that level.
His dad explained “he did have a trial for one academy side for a couple weeks, but they never kept him on”.
I replied “Really, what was their reason for letting him go?”
The dad responded with “They said he was too small for them”.
Too small for them?
It still frustrates me to hear stories like this even though it has been going on for years in youth football, why haven’t we moved on from this?
I would have thought that the countless examples of smaller players or players who lacked pace in the professional game would be enough to prove that size, speed & strength should not be a reason to leave a youth player out!
I have been told by many good coaches around me that if Messi came through the English youth football system, he would never have made it as a player.
The Lionel Messi Story
It is well known that Messi’s path to football stardom wasn’t an easy one. Lionel Messi is regarded as the best player of his generation many say he is the best to ever play the game and he is only 5,7 in height.
At the age of 10, Messi was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency and had to have treatment for this up until the age of 14.
Despite all this Barcelona still made the decision to take him on and even contribute to his treatment while he was at the club as they looked past his deficiencies in size and only focused on his massive potential with his skill.
I think it is safe to say their decision to back Messi has paid off big time!
Do you think Messi would have had the same patience in the English academy system when he was in his development years?
I am not so sure.
Don’t get me wrong, things have improved at some clubs, but I believe this is mainly down to that individual club taking it amongst themselves to do things differently, what we need is something across the board!
You may lose now but you will win long-term!
Much of the anxiety around trusting young players who have ‘physical deficiencies’ is A) based on gaining quick short-term results (no patience) and B) the old school mentality that bigger & faster is always better than small & tricky (fancy players).
This mentality stems from years of the England national team being labelled as a ‘long ball’ team and the players who were selected fit the bill to play this style of play.
The game always had to be a game of ‘fight ball’ as it was seen the more aggressive and stronger you were the better.
In youth football, on most occasions’ teams with the bigger & faster had more success in the short-term as other players couldn’t match them because of their physical stature.
Many seem to forget the so-called ‘smaller players’ eventually catch up in their physical development as they get older, and physicality becomes less important with more emphasis on technical ability.
For many years, this was a big issue for the England national team as we weren’t producing enough players who could match our foreign counterparts with their skill, decision making & technical ability!
Thankfully, the English FA have addressed the need for change with the overhaul of coach education a few years ago and we have started to see an impact with better players coming through like Foden, Grealish, etc but we still have a long way to go.
Many young players are still being cast away because of their physical attributes when really the focus should be on their skill, technical, decision making & tactical awareness!
It’s a Results Game!
The big issue with grassroots football is that it is still a ‘results’ driven environment!
Up and down the country, you can still hear parents and coaches berating referees, shouting instructions at the young players, and encouraging this ‘fight ball’ mentality!
Grassroots football is treated as an ‘adult’ environment instead of being adjusted to suit the age of the players.
In the development stage results mean little, there is no big payday for winning and you are unlikely to get sacked for losing but many of us still fail to see the bigger picture.
Therefore a ‘bigger’ player is seen more favorable than maybe someone who is small in stature and likes to use a trick, they are viewed as a ‘risk’.
Often, most like to play it safe and pick the players who look like they could cope with the physical side as it involves less work. Many prefer to only have to concentrate on that and not have patience with the ‘smaller risk takers’ that require more work.
Youth football is a ‘marathon’ not a sprint and the cream will always rise to the top if you allow it.
Me personally, a player’s physical attributes in the development stage means little to me.
If an 11-year-old is 5, 10 but can’t dribble it’s their technique & skill I am most interested in not his physicality!
Come match day my first thought is not to encourage my players to just lump it to the tallest or fastest players and hope for the best, we must stick to our playing style, we must try to be brave with the ball!
In grassroots football, we must be prepared to think ‘long term’ even if it means losing a few games now and then in the short term.
Children eventually catch up with each other ‘physically’ yes you still have some bigger and faster but if the players have been coached properly i.e focused on skill, technique, decision making, etc.… it is these who normally come out on top!
Having certain ‘physical’ attributes can yes help players gain an extra edge but this shouldn’t be our focus.
Remember at some point every player will be an adult and if they have an excellent technical base to build from, I will take that player all day over the player who is just a big lump up front.
Building the ‘core football skills’ requires a lot more work and patience which is why many don’t do it, they prefer to try and find shortcuts.
But to produce something great you must be prepared to put the work in and show patience!
Does size matter? I believe it can help but without anything else (skill, decision making, etc.) properly developed those players will suffer further down the line when they face better and more ‘skillful’ players.
Will we ever get to a point where we value skill development over physicality? I am not overly optimistic about this.
For this to take place, more education for parents and coaches needs to be made accessible to improve the current state of grassroots football!
Yes, we have made some progress, but we still have a long way to go!
Comment below what change you would like to see that will improve grassroots football!