What is children's football in Ukraine? Why does Sparta check the school report books of its students? Why doesn't the club, which is in the top ten in Kyiv, still have its base and what solutions is it looking for so that young players could achieve significant results? We explain this and talk about the solution in children's football development in Rubryka's text.
Hero: 400 Spartans and their mentors
Sparta founder Serhii Bondar meets us near the stadium dusted with yellow leaves. Autumn is not warm, but, as Serhii says, the older students stay in the open field until the last minute; the game indoors doesn't meet realistic conditions, so only the youngest ones have already moved to the gym.
"We can call Kyiv a football city in general. More than a hundred football clubs are registered here and everyone works in their direction. We looked at how training takes place and realized that we want to add something new and different to this process. To bring into this football life of the city our philosophy," says Serhii when I ask where it all started.
Serhii Bondar is the president and founder of the children's FC Sparta. In 2016, he and several other coaches of FC Fortuna decided to establish a separate club where they could build a vertical of students from three years old to teenagers. The concept was to make sports more accessible to as many children as possible.
Now, five years after the launch, the club already has about four hundred young "Spartans," training centers throughout Kyiv, and a place among the top ten children's clubs in the capital.
What is the problem?
Decisions that are (not) made by parents
Football should start with the child's desire to play. But often, says Serhii, parents put their desires first.
"There are situations when, for instance, father wanted to play football, but he didn't succeed. And so he brings his son to class with the position 'this is my project and I implement it at the expense of my child.' But such children go to training without passion and don't get the pleasure they should've," says Serhii Bondar.
The coach explains that in "Sparta" children can practice from the age of three or four, but the rush to send a child to sports can result in their unwillingness to train.
Football starts with discipline, the head of the club emphasizes. And without the initiative of the child, nothing will happen.
What is the solution?
"It makes sense for parents to do sports with their child first"
"First, you have to look at what the child is like. If they're mobile and active, it's the first sign that they like sports. But playing in the playground, the child gets the same skills. Therefore, one shouldn't steal childhood from children to fulfill parents' desires.
I would advise starting classes at the age of five or six when the child can already say what they want. When you see that the kid can't get enough of the football field. But even then, it makes sense for parents to play with the child first and go out on the field with them several times," says Serhii.
The footballer's first task is not to repel the existing desire to play and even then gradually develop an athlete who will have a chance for a professional future.
Speaking about his passion for sports, Serhii recalls there was a case when at the semifinal stage one of his wards hit the ball with his head and thus broke his nose, being one step closer to a fracture. Ambulance, hospitalization, ban on playing for a week. But the next day the boy was already standing in front of the coach and persuaded to allow him to play in the final match.
"Football is a contact sport and there will always be some injuries. If the injury is serious, the child may close, feel uncomfortable on the field. But time will pass and if the player loves this sport and has character, you need to help the kid step by step. To dose the workload, give individual work instead of exercises with strength elements and just support the child," the athlete instructs.
"Spartan" sums up: the coach can teach a child to handle the ball correctly, so that the opponent can't keep pace. But without the desire and character of the child, nothing will work.
What is the problem?
The coach must be an authority
Serhii is convinced that the goal of every coach is to educate a professional athlete. But teaching someone is difficult. And for football coaches, it's not much easier here than for teachers in schools.
Serhii Bondar coaches young football players at the Dynamo club, and at Sparta he deals with organizational matters, looking for locations and finances, communicating with coaches, and managing the work process. In addition, he tries to follow the games of the "Spartans" and sometimes comes to training to immediately notice all the problems of the club and solve them quickly.
Sparta works with both children and teenagers. Serhii smiles and authoritatively declares: "Small children are small problems. Big children are big problems." So how to find a solution for them?
What is the solution?
"Be the capstone and be a professional"
To raise a professional athlete, the coach must convey to the child that sport is a way of life, and it is important to be a football player outside the football field. What should a coach do besides teaching to play football? According to Serhii Bondar, it is:
- to become an authority for the wards, so that every word of the coach weights them;
- explain to parents what the diet and sleep for the little athlete should be, and explain how the player should prepare for the game and recover after it;
- explain the same, but also to children;
- build discipline so that the entire team follows the same rules;
- pay attention to what is happening in the child's life and outside of sports.
"Every team is a separate micro-society, which should have its laws. The coach must abide by them. In children's sports, we must develop each individual, but do it in a team," said the president of "Sparta."
Serhii says that players are punished for disobedience within the team by additional shifts, the obligation to wear chips and balls, or even a temporary suspension from training.
"We check report books from school, for example. If a boy has bad grades, we say, 'Let's study for a week, correct the grades, and then go back to training,'" says the coach.
Serhii also adds that the coach should not only criticize his wards but also praise them and work on the positive.
"You have to be a capstone and be a professional. If you position yourself correctly, the children will achieve the right results."
What is the problem?
Unmet needs of the club
Even though "Sparta" is in the top ten children's football clubs in Kyiv, athletes still do not have their base, and most of the current costs fall on the shoulders of parents, which is about a thousand euros a year.
"Our task is to open at least one or two training centers a year so that as many children as possible can practice near home. Now we have all this rent. It is difficult to rent stadiums based on high schools. The application process can take a year and a half. And when we see that a new football field is being built in the city, we are trying to agree to open a new center there in the first stages," Serhii shared.
According to him, all children's football is about 90% financially dependent on their parents. There are a number of clubs like Dynamo or Shakhtar that receive funding from the president. Schools on the basis of utilities receive money from the city budget, but it still doesn't cover all costs.
This, says Serhii, is one of the reasons for the lack of separate teams for girls in Sparta.
"I think in the coming years the women's football sector will develop very quickly… In the early stages, many girls want to play. We take girls of 6-7 years of age, they easily join groups. But we warn parents that later they will have to move to another club, because we don't have the opportunity now, for example, to provide separate locker rooms for girls or to find a person who will learn how to work with girls," explains Serhii.
What is the solution?
Ask for help and accept it
FC "Sparta" actively cooperates with businesses and constantly tells about themselves to those who are not indifferent to children's sports.
"I'm very grateful to the people who support us. In particular, Hennadii Butkevych and his investment company BGV Group Management are actively involved in the development of our club. Before the first quarantine, we began working on a project to build our sport base. Unfortunately, we had to postpone due to a number of factors, but I hope that we will be able to resume work," says Serhii Bondar.
BGV Group Management also helps Sparta with the costs of participating in the Ukrainian National Youth Competition in 2021-2022. In particular, the company reimburses the costs of away and home matches, namely the transportation of athletes, their food, and the payment of referees.
In addition, the "Spartans" have the support of enterprising parents who help not only their own children but the club as a whole.
How does it work?
Why children's sports educate not only athletes
The head of the football club says that it's not too late to start practicing even at the age of 14 and even in the absence of a sports background. After all, the main thing is that a sports school is also a school of life, the natives of which show more leadership qualities and greater sociability.
"Every coach has an interest in raising a football player and understanding that the first brick was laid by you. To raise such a football player, we need conditions. The older a child gets, the more training they need. If you rent everything, it's expensive for parents on whose shoulders the expenses fall. Therefore it is the base that we lack. And we are satisfied with the rest," Serhii explains.
How does it not work? Let's summarize
So what are the problems in children's sports and what makes solutions unsuccessful? We offer a list of things to remember here.
- The child needs to want to play football, and not realize the ambitions of relatives.
- Coaches must take responsibility to raise children not only as athletes but as individuals.
- Society needs children's sports, and it needs the help of society.
And did they succeed?
Small steps to big victories
Recently, one of the pupils of "Sparta" has already signed a professional contract. The club ranks seventh among other capital clubs and has about 400 children under their care, including boys and girls.
Serhii Bondar ambitiously states that the training bases will continue to open, and the coaches will do everything possible to ensure that their students go into professional sports.
"In sports, you always need to set a maximum goal. And where you get depends solely on you," says the founder and president of "Sparta." And it seems that he set the maximum goal.
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