Ministry of Football is a small and growing football programme for families with children aged 3 to 14. We started operating in 2007 and now work with 100 families each week in our centres in Southgate and Muswell Hill in London. We offer weekly indoor sessions for boys and girls of all ability levels. Our sessions involve age-appropriate football games delivered by experienced teachers who share our view that a positive learning environment is the key to enjoyment and development.
Ministry of Football uses dance music in sessions to increase the intensity of activities. The music provides rhythm and energy, and allows children more freedom to get lost in their own creativity. We believe that life (especially for children) should be about enjoyment, and enjoyment is about Now. We aim to maximise the enjoyment for all the children in our sessions by creating the perfect football play-time for them to enjoy. We recognise that for many children stale school classrooms and exam-driven school curriculums do not provide them with the freedom to enjoy the present moment or to learn through creative play. Our experience shows that music can help enhance enjoyment and states of flow ‘ for the children, coach and spectators.
Parents at Ministry of Football are an integral part of our programme. For the youngest age-groups (under 5’s), we include parents in the session by setting up activities for parent and child to explore together. The Parent-Child class is our fastest growing class, and feedback shows that this is because parent-child play time is a rarity and some weeks only happens when planned into the weekly schedule . For ages 6-8 we teach parents simple football activities that they can try with their children as weekly ‘homework’. And for the older ages, we ask parents to help us analyse and guide the MoF programme by providing feedback and doing research. For example, a recent study calculated that the average school PE lesson had just 8 minutes of real activity per child. We are very interested in knowing how a MoF session compares so we have given parents a stop-watch each and asked them to record for how much of a session their child is actively learning (i.e not standing in queues or being lectured by a teacher). Early results show that over three-quarters of a MoF session is spent in active-learning ‘ which would be nearly four times the average school PE lesson.
The biggest challenge for the MoF programme is finding coaches who are suitably equipped and experienced to deliver the kind of sessions we believe in. A recent advert we placed received over 50 CVs, all with a variety of previous team coaching experience and most with UEFA qualifications. However, these prerequisites do not appear to give any indication of an ability to teach children through play. There seems to be a lack of good football coaching courses that teach the importance of play time, and provide coaches with the expertise to maximise the quality and quantity of play time in a football session. We have developed a ‘For Coaches’ section of our website to include activities and advice along these lines, and we hope this may act as a source of information for teachers and programmes to follow.
Another challenge we have is providing children with the opportunity to test and practice their skill and creativity in competitive games against other teams. Many children leave the MoF programme from age 7 onwards as they and their parents want to join a local team that plays matches every weekend. Thus they enter the world of overly-competitive youth football and of winning, league tables, strict rules, substitutions and hours sitting in the car going to and from matches. One of the next projects at Ministry of Football is to set-up a local in-house league where we can give children and families the chance to play competitive games that are true to our values of inclusion, creativity, enjoyment and learning. Can you imagine: A drop-in play centre which would mimic the old casual street/park football of yester-year, where children are let free for as long as they wish to arrange their own matches, make their own rules and play their own games. We would like to include adults’ pitches for the parents to have a game too, all to the sound of thumping dance music. Football heaven? Let me know if you’re interested in knowing more or getting involved in any way.