In conjunction with the FA, steaming (placing players of a similar ability together in teams) starts at the U11 age group at Cranbrook Juniors Football Club.
Some of the problems from not streaming young, developing players are as follows:
- Stronger players aren’t challenged by playing against players of a similar (or better) ability level and end up being the “superstar” week after week, playing at a level that’s too easy for them.
- Weaker players rely on their more able team mates to do everything whilst they get less of the ball and so don’t develop. They may enjoy playing in a winning team, but ask yourself how much the player who stands at the back whilst their “superstar” teammate scores 5 goals a game is actually developing as a player?
- Frustration, loss of confidence, players blaming others who consistently struggle to contribute at the level you’re playing at.
- Leagues being unable to place your teams in the appropriate divisions as they can’t have you all in the same division and some divisions will be harder than others. Better to have stronger teams in stronger divisions and weaker teams in weaker divisions.
- Your best players potentially leaving to join a club that has streamed so they can play at a higher level, with and against better players.
Understanding the Benefits
In many cases, the children will not be happy about the idea that they’re moving teams, especially if their stronger teammates are leaving to join a stronger team or they are one of the children moving from the “best” team to a weaker team.
They probably won’t understand why they can’t just carry on as things are and concepts like “player development” aren’t going to mean much to many junior players.
The most common mistake a coach makes is directly asking the player if they “fancy” playing up or down (depending on ability). Invariably the player will just want to stay playing with their mates and then making a transition to a different team becomes increasingly difficult.
Some other key points to consider are:
- The right level of challenge – playing with and against players of a similar ability level to you allows the player to improve in a way that they won’t if they’re either way out of their depth or waltzing through every game scoring 10 goals a match.
- Equal game time – this may well have been the case previously, if your philosophy was such that you rotated fairly, but the reality is that a lot of the “weaker” players may well have found themselves subbed off more than the stronger ones. Much easier for a coach, especially once football becomes competitive, to stick to equal game time if the players are all of a reasonably similar level and the team is playing at the right level.
- Confidence – playing with and against similar ability players means the child who struggled to get in the game when they were one of the weaker players in their previous team will find themselves contributing far more. Suddenly becoming the top scorer, player of the match, best defender on the pitch etc. can do wonderful things for their confidence.
- Making new friends – actually, for their long-term social development, being used to making new friends rather than staying in their “safe” group of friends can be a great skill to acquire. When the children move to secondary school, having a wider group of friends through having played football with lots of different people is a huge advantage in terms of fitting in.
The key point for coaches is to initially communicate solely with parents and explain that their son or daughter is too good, or struggling, in the existing team and needs to play at the correct level for their ability to develop.
If parents are onside and delivering all the positive messages about why their child is moving teams, the children are much more likely to be okay with it.
Explaining to the parents that this is going to be happening, getting their views on how best to approach it, and being clear that you want their help in terms of helping the children to view it positively, is seriously worth doing. If they’re just “told” and feel no thought is being given to how their children might feel about this or told what the positives will be, then you may find some of them getting quite upset by the idea.
Our experience at Cranbrook Juniors FC has taught us that after a few weeks of being disappointed that they’re not playing with the same team, the player enjoys themselves more playing at a level more suited to their current ability level.
Getting a Balance
Ultimately you cannot, and would not want to, force a junior player to play in a specific team that they don’t want to. The situation needs to be managed with care and sensitivity, bringing the parents on board first before talking to the child. In some cases, it may be impossible to stream a child for sibling or parental reasons, so coaches should always be calm, sensitive and understanding whilst putting the club position across to parents.
A Final Point…
Cranbrook Juniors FC would like coaches and parents to remember, when considering the make-up of the streamed teams, the “best” individuals don’t always make the best team, and of course those who shone at age 10 aren’t always the same ones who shine at age 13, so the whole thing needs constant review and flexibility to be effective.
At Cranbrook Juniors FC we strive to provide a safe, exhilarating sporting environment for young people to grow and flourish. However, no matter how much we try, we can’t keep everyone happy, all the time. We therefore work on the principle that what’s best for the majority of the team has to be what we go with.