John Devine's new programme helping kids match skills with the best
FORMER Arsenal and Republic of Ireland star John Devine is spearheading the South Dublin Football League's new development programme.
Devine, the SDFL coaching director, outlined the benefits of a holistic approach to providing kids with a proper grounding in soccer skills.
The 3 v 3 format for players at U-7 and U-8 levels was a pilot programme for six teams over the last year and now the uptake has rocketed to 60 teams.
A small-sided game format, usually 7-a-side, has been widely embraced by schoolboy leagues around the country, but Devine's system displays some groundbreaking elements.
Yesterday, at the impressive SDFL HQ, he outlined the system, which has been endorsed by the legendary John Giles and former international Eamon Dunphy.
"Following my appointment by the SDFL in 2012, it was important to design an alternative player development programme to the traditional format, whereby U-7s, 8s and 9s play competitive 7 v 7 leagues with promotion/relegation structures on pitch areas and goals which are too big," said Devine.
"From my experience of working as Manchester United's Irish director of coaching for a decade, allied with visits to clubs in Spain, Germany and Belgium, I believed this to be the most appropriate small-sided format game for us."
The 3 v 3 games increase the number of touches on the ball for the players. There is also a coaching area for the players who are waiting to go into their match, so the kids are fully involved all the time.
And there are no referees, so the players have to decide quickly between themselves on any issues.
"They all get two games and one practice session. Within an hour, they've had 70pc more touches to master the ball," Devine said.
"Parents can view the game but they're not giving any input. There is no promotion or relegation, no league tables."
Giles approves of the scheme and said: "Football is about having a philosophy on how the game should be played.
"This programme run by John benefits all involved. It helps to develop young players while they are having fun. When I played on the streets around Ormond Square, we didn't need league tables as an incentive – we simply played because we enjoyed it."
Devine sees racism, pressure on children to perform, an over-competitive approach by parents and coaches as blockages to young players' skill development.
Dunphy commented: "I would urge the FAI to embrace this and I would urge anyone who loves soccer to look at this as a pilot scheme that has already worked."