Becoming the next Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo is a dream for many in Hong Kong, but how exactly do you put young children on the path to potential success in sport and football?
Barriers to participation
There may be a few barriers that are preventing a young person from participating in sports. These could be personal barriers, such as a lack of time or motivation. It is more likely in Hong Kong that children and teenagers don’t fully comprehend the options available to them and don’t know what to do to join a local team. For example, a lack of local facilities or an unsafe neighbourhood can prevent youths from taking up the sport.
How schools can help
Local schools and community organisations in Hong Kong can play a role in breaking down these barriers and addressing the challenges that young people face when trying to get into sport. An innovative and inspirational education program can not only provide a platform for someone to succeed in football, but also to get the qualifications they need for later life. Schools can also hold events and training sessions during summer holidays and outside of school hours to promote structured and unstructured play.
Football coaches play a vital role in motivating and encouraging youth players to improve and commit to the game in the long term. Young players generally have short attention spans, so they need training sessions to be interesting and engaging to keep them on track. Rather than berating a player after they have made a mistake, coaches should instead be positive and aim to create a warm and welcoming environment.
Keep everyone involved
Young children like playing sport when they feel good about themselves, so coaches need to get everyone involved. They should be able to test their passing, dribbling and shooting skills regularly, and be encouraged to make decisions throughout the session to improve their game. A mix of exercises and activities is important, as youths need to be excited about training to turn up regularly.
Show, don’t tell
Young players prefer short and concise information rather than long-winded talks and in-depth critiques. Coaches should aim to provide bite-sized information as they play and then use visual demonstrations of technique and tactics to ensure engagement levels remain high. Trainers should also not disrupt the flow of a game by stopping the session to make points.
Encourage creative football
HKFC academy coach, Stephen Tucker, has helped to overhaul youth football in Hong Kong at the grassroots level and he believes that promoting a creative style of play across youth teams can pay dividends in the long term. He adds: “I like the aggressive side of football, both with and without the ball. But if the team has the ball, then I would like the pace to move really fast, like one or two touches if possible, up until the final third. Then we are looking for creativity and a nice through ball or something like that. Every team that I have, the style of play is similar, especially with the youth teams which I coach.”
Understanding the challenges young people face in getting into football and then providing them with a platform to enjoy the sport, improve and grow is key to getting more children and teenagers involved in the game.