Allardyce calls on summer switch for youth football
Pitches stand empty in the snow on Hackney Marshes
By Alistair Magowan
Blackburn Rovers may have dispensed with the services of Sam Allardyce but the 56-year-old is still highly regarded for his innovative approach to the game.
And the former Blackburn, Newcastle and Bolton boss believes one way English football can help improve grassroots football in this country is making more of Mother Nature - by switching to the summer months.
The quality of coaching for youngsters has come under increasing scrutiny since England's failure at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
A lot of concern has focused on the lack of Uefa-licensed coaches and the relatively small percentage of English-born players - less than 40% - featuring in the Premier League.
I think we've got really good coaches, fantastic people in the grassroots, we just don't have enough time
According to recent statistics, England has 4,349 Uefa qualified coaches compared to 23,995 in Spain, 29,420 in Italy and 34,790 in Germany, although the FA argues it has more than 40,000 qualified coaches working across all levels of football, including 3,500 who are specifically targeted to work with youngsters.
But Allardyce believes more can be done and says English football can help dig itself out of a hole by switching the youth season to the summer months.
"I think we've got really good coaches, fantastic people in the grassroots, we just don't have enough time," he said.
"In the summer months, you get more light, so more time and more natural development, which is what we are looking for."
The recent spell of bad weather has given further credence to Allardyce's view.
Grassroots football has been severely disrupted for the second year in a row thanks to the cold snap and numerous snow falls.
Allardyce was airing his thoughts at the Football Association's Future Game Conference earlier this month, an event that attracted over 600 coaches to Wembley.
"For me, we have got to change the season for youngsters, we have to change to the summer now," said Allardyce.
"It would change it dramatically if we took the youngsters through the summer up to 16 years old, and I see the game flourishing more at that age, getting the right development, in the right climate."
Allardyce's suggestion gained the approval of many coaches who were at the conference, among them grassroots coach Pavl Williams.
"Moving the junior game to a summer schedule would allow more training hours and greater continuity, both on outdoor grass pitches in the evenings and on artificial surfaces released by the adult game during the summer," he told BBC Sport.
"It's also worth commenting that kids enjoy football more when they are warm, dry and they have a decent pitch to play on."
Andy Hilton, who works as a football development officer in Manchester, added: "I have a unique problem in that the summer months are used to maintain and grow the pitches after the battering they get during the season.
"In my experience, though, kids love the summer tournaments for the reasons of better weather, more light and the fact it's the holidays so the rest is there.
"My thoughts would be that as we've always had football in winter, there would be some resistance, and the kids' hydration is an issue."
Eric Harrison, who used to coach David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes at Manchester United, believes adopting the summer game would help enormously.
"Sam has got it absolutely spot on," said Harrison, who is now head coach for the FA's coaching partner McDonald's. "If youth football was in summer, players can actually listen to the coaches in pleasurable conditions when they are talking on the pitch.
"Whether it will ever come about because of the cricket season, I don't know, but it would get my vote.
"Sometimes you don't get enough time as a coach because you are pushed and rushed. It shouldn't be like that."
If youth football did switch to summer, it would emulate the elite women's game.
The Women's Super League, featuring eight teams, will begin life again in April 2011 after the FA decided to play the bulk of the competition over the summer months to make it more marketable and to avoid matches being cancelled because of poor pitches in winter.
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