At junior levels, football is split up into age groups. This helps kids develop their football skills gradually, adapting to larger goals, pitches and more players as they grow. At the age of 12, kids make that all-important transition to 11-a-side football, leaving their previous two years of 9-a-side football behind them. With this change comes a whole host of different techniques and skills, all of which need to be learned if you want to keep winning matches.
In this blog, we’ll be giving our top tips for moving up to 11-a-side football from 9-a-side, laying out the biggest differences between the two games (which can pose a challenge to young players) and providing advice on how to keep kids engaged and enjoying the sport through this transition. To top things off, we’ll also include some of the best junior training drills for new 11-a-side football players, helping to improve skill and increase fun in every session - a necessity for coaches in clubs and parents helping out at home.
The transition to 11-a-side football
Moving up to 11-a-side football is an exciting, yet sometimes intimidating, time for young footballers. For parents especially, seeing your child sprinting across a suddenly huge field, aiming to score in the giant goal is a big moment, but neither player nor parent need worry too much. As big as this transition may feel, kids have a habit of finding their feet very quickly, adapting to the longer games, larger pitch and bigger goals without too much trouble.
To make things that little bit easier, and to take the pressure off youth footballers as much as possible, the transition to 11-a-side is largely limited to changes in size, rather than changes in rules. In keeping with the 9-a-side football they’ll have been playing for the last two years, U13 11-a-side still allows for rolling substitutions. This means that kids can play for as long, or as little, as they’re physically able to, getting regular rests if they need it.
Another element that remains the same, is the size of the ball, which stays at size 4 for U13 and U14 matches. This is the only piece of equipment that stays the same size at this age, as the rest is upscaled to make space for the growth spurts beginning to appear at this age. By keeping the ball the same, however, kids who hit their growth spurt later (as no child grows at the same pace) evens the playing field slightly, allowing those later developers equal footing.
Differences between 9-a-side and 11-a-side football
Pitch size: In youth football, the size of the pitch changes every 2 years, with U11 and U12’s 9-a-side games being played on a 73 x 46 metre pitch. From here, the pitch is increased to 82 x 50 metres, which is more suitable for U13 and U14’s 11-a-side football.
Goal size: While 9-a-side is played using 16 x 7 foot goals, U13’s move to 11-a-side sees significantly bigger goals that measure 21 x 7 foot. Still smaller than the full-sized adult goals, which are 24 x 8 foot, this change is particularly nerve-wracking for 12-year-old goalkeepers who must be able to cover an additional five feet in length.
Match length: Along with pitch size and goal size, U13 11-a-side sees the length of the match increase from 60 minutes to 70 minutes. This is broken up into two 35 minute halves.
Number of players: As the name implies, 11-a-side sees the introduction of two new players on the pitch per team. This may seem minor, but this increase in the number of players has an effect on the formations and plays performed, changing the way the game is played.
Coaching U13 11-a-side football
During the transition to 11-a-side football, one of the most important things for coaches (and parents) to remember is the importance of prioritising engagement. At this young age, with so many elements changing in football, many children will struggle to maintain their confidence on the pitch at first. This means that, should they fumble consistently in their skills training, failing to score goals, pass accurately or keep control of the ball while dribbling, they are more likely to quit.
As adults, we know that kids will adapt quickly to the changes, but those first few weeks of training are vital to keeping kids involved and enjoying the game. To help encourage confidence and keep football fun for all skill levels, try adding fun football drills tailored specifically to 12 and 13 year olds into training plans.
Fun U13 football drills and games
Noughts and crosses: A fun football drill that makes for a fun, quick warm up activity, noughts and crosses functions like a relay race in which both teams of three are fighting to get three in a row before the other team.
Start by setting up a noughts and crosses board on the pitch out of cones and giving each team three coloured bibs. Start with one player from each team sprinting to the noughts and crosses grid and placing one bib in a square, they must then quickly sprint back and slap hands with the second player, who must repeat the process with their own bib. This continues until all three players have placed their bib down.
After this point, players must continue to take turns running to the grid and moving one bib at a time to an empty square, trying to shuffle their bibs into a line. Players can choose to focus on this task or can try to block their opponents from achieving their three-in-a-row line, either way, the first to get their bibs in a line wins.
While the sprinting of this U13 football drill makes it a good way to improve a player’s fitness and speed, the primary goals are to get players to work as a team, counter opponents effectively and make quick decisions. All of these skills are important in the switch to 11-a-side, where more players mean more tactics and formations to use and counter.
Rondo football drill: A well-known football drill for kids of all ages, the rondo drill becomes even more important in the move to 11-a-side as defensive techniques are tested on the larger pitch. If you’re unfamiliar with the rondo football drill, the set up is not unlike ‘piggy-in-the-middle’ but instead of throwing the ball, it is passed between players through foot passes.
The set up of a rondo football drill is incredibly easy, simply organise your players into a large circle or rectangle, with two players in the centre. Give one football to any player on the outside and instruct them to pass it to another player in the circle/rectangle. As they pass it among themselves, the two inside players (the defenders) must try to gain possession of the ball. Each time a defender is successful in doing this, they must swap places with the passer who’s fault the loss of possession was.
To make things more difficult, and test your player’s ability to watch more players at once, you can also add an extra ball to the mix. This is a good way to teach kids they need to be aware of the ball and other players all at once, helping to improve their focus in games. At the same time, the rondo football drill improves passing ability and sharpens the defensive skills of all players.
Get ready to move to 11-a-side football with Avec Sport
Whether you’re welcoming a new group of young football players to your club and need a new set of junior teamwear for them to play in, or are a parent hoping to find affordable kids training wear, the junior football kits at Avec Sport have everything you need.