Pushy Parent or Pain in the Ass – Can we recover what we have lost in youth football?

We hear from Michael, who describes himself as ‘a pushy parent and pain in the ass’.  MIchael has a plan that he believes will bring back the fun into youth sport, engage parents and children into sports and reap the proven benefits to communities.

Where it all began for me

I was playing in my local park in Thurso at the age of 11 when an older gentleman shouted over me. In what I thought was a very strange kind of voice, he said to me “… you’re a braw wee football player. Would you like me help you be a great fitba player?”

I told him I couldn’t understand what he was saying. So he explained it again to me slowly and told me to ask my Dad if it was OK for Jock MacDonald to teach me ball–mastery at the local football pitches for three nights a week after school?

My dad explained later that night that Jock was a guy from ‘down south’ – in fact Fife – who played for Dunfermline in the 1950s. Having moved to work locally, he had decided to help young talented football players become better players. Jock had travelled all over Europe in his spare time to find out how foreign coaches were teaching their kids. Then he brought all that valuable experience back to Thurso to teach kids like myself. I didn’t know how lucky I was!

First-night cockiness

I always remember going to the park backing on to the local garage that first night. I was so cocky thinking I must be special I have my own coach, and how I am going to be brilliant and do tricks and skills that no one else could do. How wrong was I!

What was to follow has never left me. Jock told me to kick the ball against that wall and show him how good I was with both feet while keeping the ball within a certain area. 

I started passing it against that wall and the truth be told, I was still doing the same thing four years later when Dundee United came and invited me for a trial. But by this time, that wall was my best mate. I spend more time there than I did with my real mates. I made thousands and thousands of passes, shots, headers and volleys against that wall to improve my technique. And it worked.

Off to the big league

I started Playing Men’s Football for a local team at 13, playing alongside my gym teacher, while still playing with my football club for my age, my school and local boys brigade Teams.  Also trying to take part in any other sport I could fit in, as well as playing in the street with my mates and their older brothers until it was too dark to see the ball.

So off I went from the age of 15 to train with senior clubs in Scotland on my school holidays. I trained with the first teams with men in the 20s and 30s  and while I was still a kid I did the same training as Professionals like Richard Gough, Paul Sturrock and David Narey, to name a few. But I never felt overawed because I didn’t know any better for me what I was doing was normal.

Looking back sadly I did not reach the heights I wanted to as a football player and illness kept me out of football for a long time. However, I did play semi-professional and junior football before retiring finally in my 30s.

Fast forward to the new generation

I am very fortunate to have a daughter, Lucy, who is now 12.  Football and sports are a big part of her life, having played with Glasgow city for 3 years, signed for season 2016 with Rangers and also part of Scotland Performance girls set up.

As a baby, she had that same ‘football-bug’. She never went anywhere without a ball and always wanted to be the best she could be. Lucy was always out in the back garden practicing by herself. 

But what really shocked me was that kids don’t  play in the street or the parks any more.  I never see any kids play on the schools pitches anymore, other than football teams who are obviously being charged to play there.

So the true cost of football now and how we are pricing kids out of sports?

An example of the cost for a child to take part in football club activities:

  • Cost per month in club fees £35-50 per month 
  • Fuel cost per month £120.00
  • Hours spent on the road and at training 80 per month at minimum wage £600.00

Total cost for kids in time and Fees can be touching £800 per month

We have also stopped kids from any background coming to enjoy football and sports, in general only people who can afford it can have their kids sitting on the coach’s table.

It’s time to change that.

Building communities and Buddy systems 

We have sterilised the sport I grew up loving.

  • All children should have the same level of coaching available to them at their local club and not have to travel out with a 5 mile catchment area to access this coaching. 
  • All ability levels should be coached, with children separated by ability rather than age.  This enables the best play the best, but also supports late developers who are encouraged by a focus on ensuring children do not drop out of sport. 
  • This would enable all children to still be part of the sporting community and access the proven benefits to society, with children involved in sport regularly less likely to drink or take drugs.

Why are we not allowing kids to be the best they can be, by making them train only with kids their own age, rather than at the skill levels they should playing at.

Why can’t we go back to letting kids play in a buddy system as I did and train with older players who can teach them so much?

Within communities kids should play more than one sport. We need to provide the time and the facilities to allow them to do that. There are sports for every kid not just the rich ones.

The dreaded parent? 

We have stopped all parent participation in kid’s sports. Kids are told not to listen to their parents. The coach is the only person they need to pay attention to. Parents are relegated to standing outside fenced training facilities like caged animals. 

The coach teaching your kid may be fresh out of taking his first coaching badge. Often he doesn’t have the ability to communicate with a parent twice his age or indeed some of the time even the kids he is coaching.  But when the coach and the club decide your kid is not up to standard, the guillotine comes down. Off your child goes. Parents are left to pick up the pieces. Everybody hurts.

Ok, I have been lucky with Lucy as this has not happened with the clubs she has been with, but this is the normality with a lot of parents out there.

Having met many parents and coaches who have put up with my moaning about how the game could be improved, I decided that I could not change a mind-set where they believe they are correct and parents have nothing to contribute. 


It’s sad today that everything has to be about money. Kids can no longer come in off the street and be coached and developed like I was when a man called Jock Macdonald gave his time for nothing. He saw potential rather than pound signs!

Touches of the Ball?

Am I wrong? We haven’t changed football. It still involves 11 players, two goals and one ball. So why has it become so technical? 

During training, most kids only get a few touches of the ball in any session. They should be kicking the ball thousands of times like I did. We should actually be teaching the kids the foundation of football which is ball-mastery rather than drills that take too long and often are not relevant to what happens during a game. Kid’s football has been hijacked and not for the better.

So, I-touches-academy 

I have set up a charity and the aim is to bring Fun back into Football, and other sports such as handball, squash, tennis and basketball for parents and kids alike within our indoor facility to be open March 2016.

We will even have an indoor Fun play-park, plus many more facilities for kids who have the desire to get off their phones and computers, and backsides and have fun and keep active 

So am I a Pushy Parent, a Pain in the Backside, or just someone who simply wants the best for my kid and every other kid?

You decide.