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Eyes on the ball

SCHOOLS FOOTBALL INITIATIVE. Teacher's Resource Pack and Video. SFI Pounds 25.

PO Box 26, Bingley, BD16 2YX

FINISH WITH A GAME. The Community Programme in Association Football, 2 Oxford Court, Bishopgate, Lower Mosley Street, Manchester M2 3WQ.

Available free to primary schools

The new emphasis on soccer skills is good news for schools, writes Graham Hart

The 1925 change to soccer's off-side law is still talked about, partly because of its impact on the game, and partly because such a major change happens very rarely. Modern administrators may tinker with the rules controlling back-passes but the game remains controlled by a small number of very straightforward laws.

It is within this solid framework of laws that playing fashions ebb and flow. "Push-and-rush" worked for Spurs in the 1950s "4-2-4" took England to victory in 1966 and "total football" was the basis of Dutch and German success in the 1970s. Sweepers, stoppers, strikers . . . they come and go. Today the firm emphasis is on the individual's skill on the ball. An ability to control the ball, particularly when combined with a fast passing game, is seen as the key to success especially at the highest level. Overall fitness (not just stamina) and athleticism (not just strength) are also vital in the modern game.

This modern emphasis is particularly good for the game at school level. Placing high value on skill ensures that junior teams are not dominated by big boys who can kick farthest or run fastest (although my son's school team could benefit from a bit of both at times). Small boys and girls of all shapes and sizes can enjoy and compete equally.

The Schools Football Initiative and Football in the Community have produced two packs which do much to promote this new approach to football for young people. The SFI's teacher's resource pack and video cover the basic skills of the game, supported by a range of excellent exercises. The emphasis is on fundamental skills, simple games and fun. Reference is made to the 11-a-side game but this pack is mainly concerned with the underlying skills. Warm-ups and practices are largely for individual skills. Team skills (passing, running off the ball etc) are dealt with in the context of small-team games. This is ideal material for top primary onwards. The British professional game would benefit most if the pack were used in nursery schools or earlier.

The same applies to the superbly-packaged contribution from Football in the Community. Its emphasis, again on basic skills, is encapsulated by the title Finish with a Game. The "real" thing should only be the culmination of the skills-acquisition process and not, as is so often the case the be-all-and-end all of kids' interests.

The video is excellent, the printed folder first rate. The exercises similar (and sometimes identical) to those of the Schools Football Initiative, will work for beginners and improvers alike. As in the professional game, sponsorship seems to be key. While the Schools Football Initiative is assisted by Adidas, Football in the Community has Pizza Hut in their team. Pizza Hut appears to be the bigger spender, but in other respects there is little to choose between the two resources.

Both packs will help to put soccer in schools firmly on the right lines. The game is portrayed as fun, ideal for both boys and girls and a superb vehicle for improving physical health as well as sporting attitudes and a sense of team play.

It is ironic that, as Phil Darren the national co-ordinator for the Schools Football Initiative points out, football is not part of the national curriculum. The game has to win the right to be included on the timetable, like any other sport.

At key stage 2, for example, soccer is just one example of an "invasion game" in which "striking", "sending", "receiving" and "travelling" with a ball are necessary skills. Football, of course, is ideal for covering these skills, although the modern game offers and requires so much more. General athleticism, balance, suppleness, dietary awareness and a hugh anti-drugs bias all add to its strengths.

Football, as these packs demonstrate, commands a strong position, and one which may influence national curriculum changes in the future. The game can contribute at every educational level, but it still retains a unique magic, enjoyed as much by boys and girls throwing down two coats in the park as by the wealthy corporate fans at the big international occasions.

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