Mark Robinson: The problem is not 11-a-side but bad coaching techniques

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The Independent Football

We are getting excited about nothing. Moving to nine-a-side is an admirable idea, but it doesn't address the real problem, which is how we play. A boy playing long-ball, or whose manager is only concerned with winning matches, is not going to receive more touches just because he has two fewer players in his team.

Because they play lots of small-sided games in South America we think we will produce more talented footballers with better technique, game awareness and flair if we follow suit. However, their culture is different and until we start coaching and playing the game properly team size is irrelevant.

It may not be a fashionable idea, but I would have kids playing 11-a-side from as young as possible. Teach the game we play from as early as possible. If the coaching and philosophy is correct they will get thousands of touches in training and plenty in games. And with 11-a-side you can teach freedom of movement, swapping positions from an early age.

When I coached my current under-14s at under-9 level, I played a 3-2-1 formation so we could play across the back. There's no offside at that level but we played as if there was, so if an opponent just stood up front I told my keeper to mark him. It cost us loads of games initially and parents got the hump, but eventually, because we got technically better, we had so much of the ball it didn't matter and the boys were playing realistically.

Though several boys have gone to professional academies we haven't lost a game for three years and are the reigning national champions. It is not about how many players there are, it is about how they are coached.

Mark Robinson is Senior Academy Manager at AFC Wimbledon. This is his personal opinion