When my generation played youth soccer (U12’s), the field was one size, the goal was one size and the ball was one size for all. We never had a rule for specific pitch, goal and ball sizes for age-group games. All the way through the 70’s when I was playing in the UK and the 80’s and 90’s over in Italy, young soccer players would play on the adult field, goals and with the same size balls pro-players still today play with the size “5”.
Regulations changed in Italy in 2006, thus because of a new ordinance made by FIFA and then in 2011 it dripped down to UEFA and from there all national soccer federations took the move, the last were the Brits in 2012 when the FA Youth Development Review rule came active.
The move to smaller pitches, goals and sides is designed to ensure teams play with a short passing style so that all young players get more touches. This should allow all of them to stay involved in games and enjoy football more, while also giving them opportunities to work on their technique. I can agree on some of that being said, but what about the goalkeepers? Is it right to make their goal smaller, cutting off 4 feet on both sides where they stand?
The countries that still adopt a full size goal for youth soccer are Germany, Spain, Italy and Brazil. Germany the home of Manuel Neuer, Spain the land of De Gea, Italy where Gigi Buffon grew up and Brazil… Alisson!!! While in the UK the last quality goalkeeper were Shilton and Jennings, both retired from their national teams (England and Northern Ireland) 30 years ago. They both grew up defending a full size goal.
Moving a young goalkeeper to a smaller goal is a cheat, you’re giving them a break. It’s like giving a 12 year old child a skateboard and expecting him to be able to drive without incident a Mack Truck at the age of 14.
The US Youth Soccer website lists the following sizes for youth soccer goals:
U6 – 6′ x 12′ or smaller
U8 – 6′ x 18′ or smaller
U12 – 7′ x 21′
U14 and older – 8′ x 24′
Using the J-Goal by Soccer Innovations as an example, you can see a front view of how many goals a Goalkeeper will have to go through before they’ll be playing in a full size goal. How many times will he have to adapt, how many changes in his training drills will have to be made!!??!!
Then you wonder why goalkeeper development in this country has to go through hoop after hoop basically every 18 months of a youth soccer players development, making is confusing and very frustrating for the goalkeeper.
Any goalkeeper age 10 or older needs to train in a full-size goal an 8 x 24 ft soccer goal, that is what the most popular development academies are doing in Europe and South America. Most of the goalkeepers then on game day play in a goal that FIFA obligates them to stand in. So, what are we doing as Goalkeeper coaches that use this technique? We’re pushing our keepers to defend a regular size goal, going over all the techniques and appropriate age group drills, but we are also pushing them to the limit, challenging them, getting them used to protecting an area bigger than what the soccer federations want them to.
There are endless benefits from doing this and by watching my students on game day makes me even more convinced that the regular size goal in training should be mandatory.
Let’s add even more confusion to the youth soccer experience! Like stated, when I was a child the ball size was a 4.11 inch (basically a 5) and it was for all ages, we all grew up kicking at a ball that was a little over 8 inches in diameter. However still today official Development Academies in France are using size 5 balls with players ages 9 and older, they’re accelerating the size process, introducing the full size ball before the federations want them to. It is not illegal to train your players with a ball or a goal that is not mandatory for the games and they make it perfectly clear on their official blog.
So, France we said? Pogba, Mbappe, Griezmann, Pavard… world champions! They all played starting age 10 with a full size ball!!
I have to admit that there are some drills that I have to use a size 4 with my younger students, mostly on basket and scooping saves. With a size 5 the younger keeper tends to open their elbows more than if they were handling a size 4. But everything else: Horizontal and vertical dynamics, hand dropping, tip overs, breakaways and contours of all kinds are performed using a size five soccer ball and ALWAYS using a full size soccer goal!