The introduction of Baby Leagues in the Indian football ecosystem has been touted as revolutionary for the development of the sport in the grassroots level, providing kids from all over the nation to get a taste of competitive football while submerging in the essence of the game.
All India Football Federation’s Head of Player Development Richard Hood believes that Baby Leagues are the first step of taking India at par with the rest of the world. “The catch-up race in any sport in any corner of the world has always gone back to the absolute roots and we have found that the gap needs to be addressed by first understanding the game culture that prevails in the country and then consider factors such as expertise, resources, infrastructure and history”, Hood said.
“Neither of which we undermine in the role that they play but looking at the top 10 leagues in the world and where the players emerge from we see that there is a drastic variation in terms of the quality of pitches they played on, the expertise of coaches that developed them, the social regulations of the sporting environment they grew up in, but every one of them started early in their relationship with the game, had a club to play by the age of 4-5 and experienced a high level of games in expansive seasons.”
With the All India Football Federation working vigorously to improve and promote Grassroots football in the nation, Baby Leagues provide an avenue for posterity to indulge in at a young age.
“There is an entire system of clubs and communities working below the elite structure that brings players to the game as young as 18 months and provides the experience needed for them to grow. This system is missing in large parts in India and remains the aim for the Baby Leagues.”
Hood further added that, “The aim of Baby League concept is also to change the status quo of Indian players by starting where rest of the world starts.”
“We have a pre-league phase which is 2v2 and the league builds upto a 7v7 format depending on the age of the players and size of the pitch”, Hood informed.
In an attempt to spread awareness at the state level, the AIFF conducted workshops in states of the nation, most recently in Aizawl, Mizoram to inform about the setup and implementation of the Baby League at the state level.
“Every country has their formula for when they should start playing 11v11 and age-related game formats, every nation and club has their own unique expectations from a player by a certain age in terms of game competencies they look at. These expectations are met in the small sided leagues all over the world much before the future stars are signed by the big clubs at the ages of 8-9.”
“The approach is to provide game experiences without stressing on the format and focus more on individual ability and expression on the pitch. The formal pathways can always come later once they learn to play the game with love, dedication and focus and have a strong relationship with the ball”, Hood opined.