Hearts’ coaches aim to recreate the concept of street football all over Scotland with their Street Games programme. Lamenting the lack of kids playing the game in local communities, the Tynecastle club have devised a booklet to rekindle the magic of years gone by.
Head of community coaching Alan White is behind the project. He grew up in an era when children honing skills on cobbles was the norm, but is now facing a bigger challenge trying to develop the stars of the future.
“You very rarely see kids nowadays running down the street with a ball. Compared to what it was in the 1970s and 1980s, you just don’t get that now. There are little patches of kids going out and playing with their pals, but not enough,” said White.
“This programme is designed to see if us, as a football community, can bring the principle and the essence of street football back into weekly training sessions. Or, can we encourage kids out of the house and away from their phone or ipad for two or three more hours a week.
“We hope it will get kids out playing more, create a love of football, and produce more problem-solvers – people who can improvise and make good decisions.
“When you talk about legends like Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, Willie Bauld, I think their competitive streak came from the street. Also, their ability to make quick decisions was honed there. From speaking to managers at the top level, they want players who can problem-solve better and make quicker decisions.”
White put together a pamphlet containing more than 20 different small-sided games to replicate what kids may face playing street football. The Scottish Football Association were so impressed they asked him to take it nationwide.
“This Street Games booklet and the in-service sessions we’ve been doing are aimed at helping. Can we create a quick environment for grass-roots coaches to set up some pitches for problem-solving, street-style games the kids will love?
“An environment that is fast and dynamic with goals flying in everywhere is something that brings the essence of street football into the modern game.
“Over the last nine or ten months, we’ve delivered this programme free of charge to 700 coaches across Scotland. We had 250 at Oriam on one of our first nights. I think some of the coaches thought Jose Mourinho was coming along that night - then they realised it was just this wee baldy guy from Hearts.
“The feedback we got was phenomenal so we took the course around the country with support from the SFA regional managers. We went to Aberdeen, Ravenscraig, Rugby Park, Tannadice, and again the feedback was great. Because of that, the SFA asked us if we would deliver the course as part of their advanced children’s licence. On that course, 90 per cent of the coaches are from professional clubs.”
White’s inspiration came from volunteer coaches at grassroots level. He explained: “The vast majority of grassroots teams are taken by parents who are co-opted or volunteer to take their kid’s football team. Many of them put on good, structured sessions, but the reality is they have a daytime job, a family and other distractions.
“They charge home from work at half past five, a bowl of Coco-Pops down the neck and then rush to the side of an astroturf to take a training session. Usually they only have one third of the pitch to work in and there will be about 70 kids on the pitch overall.
“So, there are 20-odd kids waiting on a dynamic, exciting, developmental coaching session, and at that point a lot of these coaches are wondering what to do to engage all those kids. It’s a real challenge and they are telling us this. Hopefully, this booklet helps them and many others.”