messi and coI live in Barcelona. Most Saturdays I am in my local pub watching Barca play their magical brand of football. Like many people, I love the Pro game: The skill, the speed and intensity, the physical battle and knife-edged drama, the maniacal fans. For sure, the Pro game is an inspirational magnet for attracting a steady stream of star-eyed kids into the beautiful game. Long live the Pro game…

Well, up to a point.

While all of us who love sport want the Pro game to inspire and motivate our kids, this does not mean it should become the model for youth sports, which is what is happening more and more.

Just as players want to imitate their heroes, here in Spain, and in many countries, we see too many youth coaches modelling themselves on their Pro coach heroes: the same obsession with tactics, the constant pacing the side-lines, the theatrical tantrums over referee decisions, the winning-at-any-cost mind-set, and all the other outward trappings of the modern Pro coach. In the Pro setting it all makes some sense; in the youth game setting it makes no sense at all. (To be fair, I’m pretty sure if Mourinho was in charge of a team of U10s, he would be a very different coach. But youth coaches seem to forget this.)

As many have already commented, we must do more to educate and support our coaches. And we must also do a better job at convincing parents that their kids do not need them to model themselves on Pro club crowds. Pros respond to the intense screaming of their fans; kids do not.

So yes, let’s watch, celebrate and encourage our kids to take inspiration from the Pro game. But let’s also celebrate the youth game in its own right – less tactical, less analysed, with its natural expression of freedom, creativity, pure joy and fun. And, when a 6-year old boy or girl enters into the youth game, let’s not view this as a first step towards the Pros, let’s see it as simply the first step into the “beautiful (kids) game.”

Long live the kid’s game…and the Pro game.

Mike Smith

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