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Investigating suitable pitch sizes for young football players in New Zealand
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Whilst smaller pitches have become the norm in junior football, they may still be too large for certain ages and levels of skill. To date there has been no research into the relationships between size of the pitch and the technical kicking ability (distance and accuracy) of young players (8 - 14 years of age). The purpose of this investigation was to examine variables that influence actual kicking distance and accuracy and also to measure what differences in play behaviour (passing and dribbling) emerge from self-selected changes in pitch size for different age groups (9 and 10 years of age). Data were collected on 120 (N=120) junior football players: Playing experience (M=2.85 years, SD=2.56), Height (M=1.44 m, SD=1.08), Weight (M=37.8 kg, SD=7.69), Lengths of lower limbs (knee/ankle: M=35.54 cm, SD=4.27; hip/knee: M=35.54 cm, SD=5.25), Step lengths (M=37.66 cm, SD=8.693), Estimated kicking distance (M=31.13 m, SD=16.63). Participants performed a series of three kicks along the ground, using the inside of the foot, and aiming for a target (25 m away). The distance (M=18.04 m; SD=6.56) and accuracy (M=8.32 m; SD=4.38) of each kick were measured. The children (9 and 10 years of age) were then assigned to teams and asked to construct a small-sided game on two different pitch sizes. The first pitch size used was the recommended regulation size. The second pitch size was self-selected by the players. Any changes to the playing dimensions (e.g., width of the pitch) and playing behaviours (e.g., total number of passes, dribbling) were measured and analysed. Kicking distance is best predicted by the player’s height (20.0%, P < 0.000), or a combination of the player’s height and estimated kicking distance (30.0%, P = 0.002). Kicking accuracy can be attributed to the influence of the player’s step lengths (8.1%, P = 0.016) and both their step lengths and estimated kicking distance (15.1%, P = 0.020). Furthermore, our findings demonstrate that the increase in pitch size (18.5% and 25%) resulted in a greater amount of dribbling (63% and 33%) and passing (12%). In general, our results support the idea that young children in New Zealand should be playing on a pitch and at a skill level which matches their football abilities. Grouping young players on a pitch according to their physical (e.g., height) and technical kicking ability (e.g., distance, accuracy) instead of their chronological age, seems to be the key factor to any other set of proposals. The findings of this thesis have important messages that could enhance the effectiveness of coaching, competitive game-play (pitch sizes) and consequently performance at all junior levels of football in New Zealand. Further research should manipulate the number of players per team to see if this factor affects competitive game-play in junior football. Additionally, the mean distances maintained between players in the same team (team-mates) during game play needs to be considered (with regard to the ‘beehive effect’). Further studies should examine different age groups of equivalent skill level and assess their performance in relation to their technical kicking ability on different pitches.