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A period of transiransifor AC Oxgangs' U12s - making the switch from 7 to 11-a-side football

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Over the course of the past week I had telephone conversations with key members of the AC Oxgangs coaching structure. ACO’s coach coordinator Billy McEvoy, Blues U12s coaches Sandy Cowan and Graham Bate, Blacks Under 12s coaches Rod Smith and Neil Wood as well as U13s coach Matt Holligan all kindly agreed to talk to me about a key stage of youth development within the game, the move for youngsters from seven a side to full 11-a-side football.

Interestingly ACO are in the position of having two teams ready to make the transition in the U12 Blues and Blacks and one team who made the switch at the beginning of this season in the U13s. This provided a good contrast in terms of the expectation versus the reality of making the jump.
AC Oxgangs Coach Coordinator Billy McEvoy
Billy informed me that the coaches would be put through their paces in completing coaching and development courses in line with the requirements of making the move to the full eleven a side format.
Beyond this the teams in order to prepare for the coming switch would partake in a transition festival with other teams looking to make the move on the 3rd of May as well as a follow up workshop on the 11th of May.
True to his title Billy was able to help me in organising suitable times, as well as contacting several coaches and without his help in organisation collating all this information would have been considerably more difficult.
AC Oxgangs U12s Blues coaches Sandy Cowan and Graham Bate
Both Graham and Sandy were very forthcoming in terms of both what their expected pros and cons were in preparing to make the jump. One of the main positives outlined by both coaches was that making the jump to eleven a side would allow the team to attain a level of consistency not viable at seven a side level. With 16 players to choose from and only seven places in the first team available, at present this means that some youngsters miss out on invaluable game time which will aid their development. The jump to 11 a side will allow this to develop and this, combined with rolling subs, should allow everyone the chance to play week in week out.
Out-with the game changing for the players, this move has significant implications for the coaches, who as mentioned must undertake and continually update their coaching qualifications. Although this can be time consuming, the enthusiasm of both coaches in terms of development was something very pleasing to hear. Both remarked that as they develop and adapt their training methods and grow as coaches, this will mean that they can then help develop the next generation of footballers as a result. A win-win for both coaches and players.
Of course, despite the positives mentioned there are some pitfalls that were considered by Graham and Sandy. The 11-a-side pitches are much bigger, which will be a test of stamina for the young lads. As well as this, tactically the kids will be expected to alter their shape in order to accommodate new team mates. Goalkeepers too, face the prospect of larger goals and goalmouths. As such some players may be feeling slightly apprehensive at the prospect of making the switch, however it would be fair to assume most will be looking forward to it and kick starting their footballing careers. 
AC Oxgangs U12s Blacks coaches Rod Smith and Neil Wood
Coach Rod Smith told me that despite the anticipation his team were enjoying a good season so far in the seven-a-side Maradona league. After a stressful time the season before, the team decided to drop down a division for this season and this has proved to be a great decision. The players are enjoying the games much more and as such this helps to foster a togetherness and consistency which may well prove vital when the eventual switch takes place. As well as this, since Christmas the Blacks have increased their training sessions to two nights a week, again with team building and increasing stamina in mind. Both coaches agreed that as such their team is probably ready to make the jump up and are looking forward to the forthcoming transition festival and subsequent workshop.
The under twelve Blacks coaches echoed several of their counterparts thoughts in terms of making the switch. Particularly in terms of the lack of allowed friendlies, tactical shape and awareness. A key point noted by Neil Wood was that players making the jump might find themselves with far less touches of the ball on the larger pitches than at seven-a-side where the pitches are smaller and thus encourage all players to be involved. He did concede however that this too was part and parcel of the development of young players. Rod Smith suggested that perhaps a good idea would be to introduce a step up to 9-a-side before 11-a-side and thus the players would not be as unaccustomed to their new surroundings. He added however that the best way to learn in this situation was to learn by doing.
AC Oxgangs U13s coach Matt Holligan
It was interesting having spoken to Graham, Sandy, Rod and Neil to see what Matt had to say given that he has first-hand experience of what lies ahead for the AC Oxgangs Under 12 teams.
Matt explained that the switch had indeed at times been a difficult process and confirmed some of the suspicions of the Blues coaches. The pitch size was noted as a difficulty in terms of adapting and Matt suggested much like Rod Smith before him, that it would perhaps be wise to introduce nine-a-sides for the U13s before another jump to 11-a-sides at U15s, as this would perhaps aid the transition in being more organic and not as sudden for the young players. Other pitfalls included financial considerations regarding kits and referee costs not present at seven-a-side and finally given the age of the players some dropping out to focus on other sports meaning a drop in numbers.
Despite some negatives Matt was quick to point out that there were indeed a number of positives to making the jump. Player’s game time greatly increases and consistency can increase, which is a great help for player development. Although, this does require good communication with parents to ensure this takes place. As well as this the range of opponents increases and competitions such as the Scottish cup, where Matt’s team recorded a win away to Livingston Hearts FC Maroons, and although this can cause a few issues regarding travel the lads can enjoy taking on new teams from all around the country which was not previously possible.
In summary it looks as though the transition is not without its issues. Costs and organisation being ones which can be arguably difficult to control. However despite the physical demands and tactical changes being challenging, with determined and developing coaches in the driving seat, aided by the coaching courses and transition festival/workshops available, it must be said that the future looks bright for the young AC Oxgangs players who have their first steps to take on the stage of full scale football, playing in new environments and constantly testing and developing themselves.  

Charalambos (Harvey) Nafpliotis | YFS South East Region Journalist

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