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FOOTBALL Simmonds Speaks: A great idea in principle, the Respect League still needs a bit of work

Kadeem Simmonds casts an eye on the week's sporting events

I CAME across a set of rules from a Football Association league based in Manchester. According to their website, The Respect League was set up because “traditional leagues allow a wall of noise from spectators and a constant stream of instructions from coaches, stopping players from learning. 

“They reduce competition by encouraging uneven, one-sided A teams. Their emphasis on results causes adults to pick their ‘best’ team so the substitutes don’t get a chance.

“Kids are forced to play in their ‘best’ position so they don’t develop as footballers. Our league is the opposite: it was set up to pioneer The FA’s vision for progressive junior football.”

When I first saw the rules, I was outraged and didn’t agree with 95 per cent of them. I admit, I did think it was rolled out by the FA themselves and that it would be a nationwide plan.

However, given that it was just one league, I calmed down a bit, though I still didn’t agree with what I saw. As someone who played Sunday league football as a child and I hope my children do the same, I was dismayed to see the “silent sidelines rule” and the “no instructions rule.”

Both are pretty much self-explanatory but, to clarify, the silent sidelines rule stops spectators from shouting or calling out during the match, but encourages them to applaud both teams. While the no instructions rule prevents coaches from telling players what to do.

I improved as a player because of both those things. Having parents and coaches telling me what to do was a massive help. I couldn’t see the entire pitch, whereas they could. They could see open players, or space for me to run into, when I couldn’t.

However, it dawned on me that I was playing for a team with a really good coach and the parents on the sideline were nice people, who wanted what was best for everyone playing.

Not all teams are like that. And if you are a young child who is being constantly screamed at by parents or having your coach berate you for every small mistake, I can only imagine how demoralising that is and it is perfectly understandable why so many young players are quitting football. Playing in that kind of atmosphere isn’t enjoyable.

This comes across as a league which is cased around fun and development, with winning not a factor.

It is why the “equal playing time rule,” “mixed teams rule” and “power play rule” are in place.

Making sure all players get equal playing time is vital. I remember spending many a match on the bench for the majority of the game, and it isn’t enjoyable.

While it spurred me on to improve and force my way onto the pitch, some kids will become disheartened with playing five minutes every week. Add the abuse they may get if they make a mistake, and it isn’t worth it.

The mixed teams rule is one I partially disagree with, but I can see the merits of ridding youth clubs of placing players in different teams based on ability. Knowing you are in the C team is hard to deal with at a young age.

It is a nice way of telling someone they aren’t very good in what is meant to be a kind and friendly environment. So mixing everyone up gets rid of of that and it makes the game better for all involved.

Again, I was placed in the B team and wanted to be in the A team so I tried my hardest in training and in matches to get there. Though I never did, it was never through a lack of trying.

The power play rule allows teams that go four goals behind to field an extra player until the lead is reduced to three. While I can see the logic, if wins and losses don’t count and no-one is really keeping score, why make teams unbalanced?

There have been a few stories doing the rounds on social media over the last few years of youth teams winning games 31-0 or something extraordinary and the response has been to question why the winning team didn’t put the hand breaks on earlier.

No-one wants to be on the end of a thumping, at any age group. So to limit them from an early age, again, makes sense.

The “retreat line rule” forces opponents to retreat to the halfway line when the opposing goalkeeper has the ball, who must then pass the ball to a player in his half.

A great rule to encourage playing out from the back from a young age.

But like most of the rules mentioned, do they not limit the amount a player will improve? If you are constantly bringing in rules which make things extremely easy for them, how will they cope when they move up the age groups?

For example, how will goalkeepers learn to pass the ball out the back under pressure?

When will players develop the character to want to better themselves and improve to get more playing time or move from the C team to the A team?

I’m not saying to chuck in a group of five-year-olds at the deep end and watch them lose 20-0 on a weekly basis.

But to implement the silent sidelines and no instructions rule across all age groups, which seems to the case, is detrimental, in my opinion.

The retreat line rule seems to be in place up until aged 13 which doesn’t need to be the case. At 13, there are only a few more years of youth football available and teenagers of that age should be playing with standard FA rules.

At that age, you should be encouraging teams to press the opposition goalkeeper and defenders, goalkeepers should have the confidence and technical ability to pass the ball out from the back under pressure.

Obviously there are other leagues where these rules are not in place and children have the opportunity to play in them if they want a different environment to play under.

For me, the Respect League is an amazing idea and perfect for beginners’ football or up to a certain age group.

But once a child gets to 10 or 11, at that point the stabilisers have to start coming off and keeping them on is doing them a disservice.

If this is purely a fun league for kids who don’t want to take the game seriously and turn up just for a friendly kickabout, then this seems ideal.

They claim that they are a “fun and more competitive” league due to their “mixed-ability teams” and “power play rule,” which “increases challenge and makes us by far the most competitive junior league around.”

I guess I have to see it to believe it.


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