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Sport-Specific Free Play Youth Football/Soccer Program Recommendations Around the World

Marty K. Baker, Jeffrey A. Graham, Allison Smith, and Zachary T. Smith

The purpose of this Coaching In paper is to share an overview of how sport-specific free play is incorporated into training and development recommendations for youth football (soccer) in various countries around the world. A review of 11 countries’ training programs was conducted, in which specific instances of training recommendations were examined to identify similarities and differences among nations. Results of our review suggest that not all of the programs emphasized children having fun, enjoying the game of football, or engaging in free play. For example, the program from England strongly emphasized outcome related abilities more than enjoyment or play related features of training. In contrast, the Italian, Canadian, and Australian documents discussed that allowing youth to play freely engaged children, ensured they were having fun, and encouraged a fascination with football. Programs recommending developmental games or free play often suggested the use of purposeful gameplay that resembled traditional competition or match-specific situations. Examining development recommendations across nations provides important insight into how youth sport development efforts are shaped around the world, especially as youth sport coaches seek to enhance youth engagement, while simultaneously helping youth improve their skills.