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Jul 2013
11:30 Comments (31)
What is the age to start playing football?

Youth Football

Rafa Benítez

There are many schools of thought about when to start playing sports. We have summarized all of these diverse ideas into two very concrete ones. Some authors talk about initiating sports participation during early childhood and others claim that the right time is around 10 years of age.

Although these two schools of thought seem to differ significantly, a deeper analysis would conclude that the differences are only in terminology. The authors that are pro childhood initiation into sports are referring to a general preparation towards a future sports activity; those that favour sports initiation at around 10 years of age are referring to concrete and specific work in any given sport. Therefore, the former authors are not necessarily against working on general conditioning before the child is ten.


Jose Maria Cagigal, in the prologue to the Spanish edition of Sports from Childhood (1) by Liselott Diem, says: “A human being will eventually be what his or her childhood has been.”
According to him, a human being, a person, is formed during early childhood, therefore their development during the first few years of life is very important. This concept is also valid in sport since he considers this motor development as enrichment of the person rather than as a physical and technical adaptation to a sport.

Movement is fundamental in the first three years of life. Because of his movement the child develops his ability to observe and create as well as developing his coordination skills, and subsequently, his sense of balance, space and time.

From 3 to 6 years of age a sport requires the following didactic steps, according to Liselott Diem:

1. Appropriate stimulation and setting.
2. Problem solving using trial and error.
3. Repeating, comparing and judging the results: Comprehension phase.
4. Individual variation of the basic forms: “Creative” phase.
5. Increasing difficulty of the exercises where the individual tries to repeat his own achievements and those of his peers: Recognising real aspiration.

Liselott Diem proposes a great variety of stimuli and exercises in order to improve physical skills.

The best age to acquire physical skills is from 6 to 10, according to these authors. The development of such skills is accomplished through the practice of the different sports.

Sports and games are also another way to develop motor skills. At this age the emphasis is on reacting correctly and consciously applying the proper techniques.


To recognize the optimum age to start participation in football, we need to identify some of the peculiarities of each age group (2):


The 7-year-old child may have periods in which he or she does a particular activity: Then he or she may drop it for another activity. When he or she is asked to do something the child gets tired of it quickly.


The child’s disposition towards learning new techniques is greater than at 7. Both boys and girls enjoy playing football. Their interests and attention span switch quickly between different things. Playing without supervision frequently ends in arguments.


The 9 year old likes to challenge him or herself. If something pleases the 9-year-old he or she will practice until they master the activity. The child is a very curious learner and likes to show off what he or she has learned.


The 10 year old derives pleasure from simple physical activity. They like to belong to clubs and associations. It is the age of mastering manual skills.

The 9-10 year old is interested in efficient movements and tries to accomplish particular performance levels. Numerous psychologists have agreed that the ideal age to begin motor learning should be the one in which there is no ‘crisis’ in both the physiological and psychological development.

Nicole Comuci (3) considers the age of 10 as the ideal age because at 10 the child has finished a growing phase. This period corresponds to the muscle formation that follows typical bone growth during puberty.

Considering the above observations, it is obvious that the appropriate age of football initiation varies between 9 and 10 because the child possesses many of the skills that allow him or her to master football skills easily.

But if I teach a child to play at the age of 7 and I work with him from then, wouldn't he be a better player at 12 than a child who started at 10?

In order to answer this question we should refer to the field research carried out by Susenberry (4). He concluded that the time employed in mastering a particular skill or technique can be lost if it is carried out at an inappropriate age. (He formed 4 groups of children: two 3 to 4 years olds groups and two 5 to 6 year olds groups). One 3 to 4 year olds group and one 5 to 6 year old group practiced throwing balls; the other two groups did not practice. After a period of time he noticed that the difference between the two groups of 3-4 year olds was not appreciable; however the difference between the two 5-6 year old groups was visible. This shows that it would be better to work on this skill at the 5-6 year old age group than before that age; the work done before then would not be beneficial.
The research also shows that initiation to football involves some requirements regarding pitch and goal dimensions, ball size and equipment etc which should be adapted to the age and physical constitution of the child. If we were to begin at age 7, these requirements should be considered because not to would create a multitude of bad habits and technical defects due to the child’s lack of physiological adaptation to the equipment. For example, if the ball is heavy, when he or she kicks it he or she will do it with the toe of the boot, otherwise it would not be an effective kick. Such a defective kick can become a habit and interfere with the proper kicking skill later on.

Felipe Gayoso (5) recommends the following when initiating a child to soccer:

Physical conditioning: coordination, time and space awareness and body shape.

Technical skills: (global method) trapping the ball, half-trapping with the sole and inside of the foot, cushioning of the ball with the inside and outside of the foot, dribbling with the inside and outside of the foot, kicking with the inside and the instep of the foot, heading.

A way for children to learn without getting bored is through games. A 5-a-side football game is an ideal game in the initiation stage.


The definitive conclusion is that we should encourage from birth anything that involves movement in order to prepare the child for later specific football skills at the age of 9 or 10.

(1) Liselott Diem: Deporte desde la infancia Ed. Miñon . Collection Kine.
(2) Sacado de: El niño de 7 y 8 años, el niño de 9 y 10 de Arnold Gesell y otros. Ed. Paidos.
(3) Comuci, Nicola. Italia. Enseñanza de base a los niños entre los 10 y 14 años. N., 2 de la revista: El Entrenador español de Fútbol. Octubre, 1979.
(4) Sacado de libro: La habilidad en el deporte, de Barbara Knapp. Ed. Miñon. Collection Kine.
(5) Felipe Gayoso. Iniciación al fútbol (8-14). Tesina fin de carrera INEF de Madrid.

31 Comments Send us your opinions
09/09/11 at 15:49:27 #1
Parvis Brown
09/09/11 at 16:30:10 #2
JP Walsh
I thoroughly enjoyed the piece.

The question I would like to pose is, can supposed genetic physical limits(inherited from parents)be overcome through constant practice and development?

That is to say, if both parents exhibit poor physical ability, can development of the son or daughter be inhibited by these genetic traits.


09/09/11 at 17:57:23 #3
Interesting article Rafa. I'm a mad Liverpudlian with an 8 year old son who has been coaching a group of kids since they were 5. I have seen a marked difference in what they are able to achieve and, more importantly, retain between the ages of 7 and 8. This seems to match the research findings. However, my experience is that the earlier they start playing and familiarising themselves with the movements and techniques required for football, the better players they are later on in the development stage.

Thank's for Istanbul and Cardiff by the way!
09/09/11 at 21:16:05 #4
There is a question

A dictionary definition:An event that accomplishes its intended purpose.

If you are a coach say of an age group somewhere between 6-12 ,what is your intended purpose?

Many who are coaching these age groups are living within a narrow definition of success that only includes winning. This can lead to an ego orientated climate that is typified by many professional coaches that work within the adult realm-winning at all costs.Again adult assumptions imposed on kids.

Success should be seen journey without an ultimate pinnacle but one that has many peaks.Even failures and mistakes should be seen as ways to success when working with this age group.At different periods of your coaching life as with different periods in a players career,success is and will be defined differently.

10/09/11 at 05:13:54 #5
great piece rafa! thanks for reviving the youth programme at LFC! if was infertile for FAR too long!
10/09/11 at 09:17:53 #6
Mark footblogball
forgot to mention great piece..also I think one of the key things with kids is that they are at their best when learning in groups..so Football is perfect for that.There are so many adult assumptions imposed on kids with regard to coaching structures and the childs own individual capacity.Creativity is often the victim of these assumptions.The kids own aesthetic experience,where the senses are alive and at their peak,where the moment is all that matters tend to get anesthesised by adult interference as the focus on what is being percieved by the child is broken down and the moment is lost.In other words there is a danger that we will in the long run COACH KIDS OUT OF THEIR CREATIVE CAPACITIES.

You see kids have many different ways of perceiving and experiencing a situation,they have yet to be tied to the mast of conformity that is hoisted upon the expectations of adult life.Kids have an enormous capacity for creativity,they have lots of different possible interpretations of a situation and lots of possible soloutions to a situation.

Many traditional academies with their often ruthless squandering of creativity are organised on the factory line concept and are modelled and shaped by the adult ego.maybe it is time to re-evaluate our concept of the incredible capacity that kids have?

If we as coaches are not prepared to be wrong …….then our capacity to be creative ourselves diminishes.

10/09/11 at 11:56:44 #7
Ivan Mulla
excellent informative article - having been involved for many years in child development football from the ages of 6 - 12 I can confirm the backbone information of this subject is all relevant,however I achieved the best results from an under 8's boys team who at this age displayed great maturity and willingness to learn without "heavy instruction" perhaps I was just fortunate to obtain certain types of players at the correct age? despite the "fa mcdonalds sponsored charter guidelines" which in my opinion were extremley limited and dated in content - kind regards
10/09/11 at 20:35:16 #8
Michael Perry
Hmm While it is true 10 is the age of critical development involving motor unit proccesses, Obviously people mature at slightly differing ages and to maximise this critical period it would be ideal to be well preped. So surely The age is 8 or 9
12/09/11 at 01:18:29 #9
Hasnain Hassam
This is the first sensible article I have read on this. Does this mean football clubs should link up with local schools, teach skills and therefore be able to develop great players.

If so, then does this not defeat the purpose of inflated transfer fees.
14/09/11 at 17:52:57 #10
Interesting article which makes some good points however
what are your thoughts on playing in a different age group ie U9s playing in U10 leagues etc.
The FA allow it untill U11s (11 a side)where they hold them back in U10s (7 a side) but then allow them to jump to U12s the following year.
In my opinion this is stalling progress but i'd be gratefull for your thought.

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