"All of us do not have equal talent, but all of us should have equal opportunity to develop our talent" - John F Kennedy
At Ministry of Football, we welcome all children regardless of their ability, background, experience or confidence with a ball. We believe everyone is special. Our programme is open-access, which means we don't have trials or seek only the 'better' players. We have a limited number of spaces on the programme, and these are filled on a 'first to register' basis. In the past we have welcomed children with learning needs and special needs, and we have been able to include them successfully within our usual groups. Between a quater and a third of the children on our programme are female, and we try to include them in mixed boy-girl groups during primary school ages.
We have a track record of being able to include all kinds of children within our programme. We do this because of the way we group children. The way we group children at MoF makes us fundamentally different from other programmes. We have a variety of groups catering for different ages and abilities, and we believe that placing each child into the correct and appropriate group is essential in order to maximise enjoyment and learning. Players learn best when faced with challenges that are appropriate to their Ability, Attitude, Age and Athleticism. We call these the 4 A's, and we take them into consideration when deciding how to group players on the MoF programme.
Technical and ball mastery
Confidence and resilience
Speed, stamina, strength
Ability, balance and co-ordination
Let's look at an example: We have two children playing in a 1v1 for 10 minutes. It may be possible for many separate 1v1 challenges to take place between those two children in that time. We feel that it is important that both children experience some success during that activity, and both are pushed to find new ways to attack and new ways to defend. If the two players are of very unequal ability, then one player will find the task too easy and the other too difficult. The result of this is that neither player will gain maximum benefit from this task, and that players may not enjoy themselves either. The same situation may occur if one child is much faster and stronger than the other, or if one player is much more motivated and dedicated than the other.
At Ministry of Football we realise that children are used to being grouped by age at school. However, we question whether the way schools are organised actually best suits the learning needs of all the children. It is obvious to us that two children of the same age may actually have very different learning needs. We use age as a rough guide for grouping children - but equally important are other factors such as ability, attitude and athleticism.
"Why is there this assumption that the most important thing kids have in common is how old they are?" - Sir Ken Robinson
When you take a child to a shoe shop to buy a new pair of shoes, they don't ask "how old is your child?" and take you to shoes for that age group. No, they measure your child's feet, they let you try out different sizes and shapes, and you choose what fits best. And they expect you to come back for a new pairs when your child grows out of them.
The video above is a talk given by Sir Ken Robinson - an expert on creativity and education. He talks about how we need to create learning opportunities which include all children - no matter what their learning styles and needs. He describes what some of the problems with the current school system are, and how education programmes in schools do not work for all children. At Ministry of Football we work hard to find a place for everyone on our programme, and to identify how they can learn best. We encourage input from parents and from children into the programme in order to allow all our children to continue being creative, developing confidence and learning new skills.
"We're always looking for a type of player who's not physical but a very good thinker, who's ready to take decisions, who has talent, technique and agility. Physical strength is not important" - Carles Folguera, Director of La Masia (FC Barcelona's Youth Academy). Click here for more.
Many children's potential in football in England is limited by their physical growth. Large pitch sizes (and a culture of aggressive, physical football) often mean that the bigger, stronger players dominate school and club games and are selected above the smaller, weaker children. This can result in some of the smaller children not being selected, and not getting the learning opportunities they deserve.
Ministry of Football believes this is wrong. It is wrong for the players who miss out because of their size, and it is also wrong for the game as a whole because the smaller players may be the most skilful and have the most potential longer-term. At MoF we do not allow small-sided games and opposed activities to become overly physical, and we create environments that are safe and where smaller players can compete fairly with bigger opponents.
Red and Yellow groups
In some sessions at Ministry of Football, we group players into Red and Yellow groups. The Yellow groups usually include players who have more confidence, better ball control or higher concentration than the players in the Red groups. Or players in Yellow groups may be older, faster or stronger than players in the Red groups.
The idea of these groups is to so we can teach children who are roughly the same level of attitude, ability, age and athelticism together. We find that doing this is best for development of skills, and makes it easier for a coach to run an effective session. Red and Yellow groups will change over the term of a programme: The quality of play and learning in a group will hopefully improve in both Red and Yellow groups, and the players may change between Red and Yellow from one week to the next.
(Note: It is not the case that players moving from Red to Yellow are moving "up" or that players moving from "Yellow" to "Red" are moving "down". It may simply be that we have three new players coming in to the programme and we need to re-shuffle players to make roughly equal numbers again. Neither parent or child should see this as a reflection of the child's skill level or eventual footballing talent, as much as a need to re-adjust the balance of the groups in response to the numbers and needs of all the children in the programme that week).