Technology, the internet and social media mean that there have never been more ways to consume football than in the 21st century. And whilst this 24-hour, 7-days-a-week coverage undoubtedly has its benefits, there are concerns that kids and younger generations are no longer understanding the importance of watching football matches in their entirety.
It has long been assumed that the information age has changed attention spans, backed up by recent research into how long we spend focussing on one subject before moving on to the next.
A comprehensive 2019 study from the Technical University of Denmark reported that collective global attention spans were narrowing, largely due to the sheer amount of information available.
With so much content to consume, human habits are changing. We now consume a greater variety of information but with less attention paid to each piece. Children are particularly susceptible, with platforms like TikTok reinforcing this change. Watch a short video, and move on to the next.
In football terms, this is bad news for the development of well-rounded players. Children need to consume 90-minute matches to understand every aspect of the game.
This cannot be portrayed in a meme or highlights clip of one player followed by another player doing the same thing, but for a different team.
Here are some of the reasons for the importance of kids watching football.
Football on TikTok – never the full picture
The problem with kids consuming football and having their opinions shaped about what is important to succeed in the game through platforms such as TikTok is that they never get the full picture.
Most TikToks, Instagram stories and other memes on the internet aimed at kids are based solely on skills. Neymar is often the king of these with his flash tricks and outrageous skills.
And whilst nobody can deny that they are entertaining, a child who believes they can focus solely on individual skills when playing football is never going to fulfil their potential.
The FA Four Corner Model
This is the reason why the FA Four Corner Model exists. For a player to reach their potential, they have to focus on four core areas of the game which work in tandem to maximise talent – technical, physical, tactical and social.
A TikTok video featuring skills and highlights might be enjoyable to watch, but it is not reflective of what playing a real game of football is all about.
Said video covers the technical corner, but neglects to highlight the importance of tactical knowledge, physical development and good social skills in producing well-rounded players.
This is why kids watching football is so important. A 90-minute match gives them the full picture. A highlights video gives them 25 per cent of what it is to be a football player.
Understanding the importance of positioning
A highlights video focused on one individual will often neglect one of the most important aspects of football – positioning. Perhaps this is why the ability to read the game is one of the most underrated skills amongst younger players?
There is no better evidence for this than N’Golo Kante. How often do you see the French midfielder appear in skills videos on TikTok or highlights packages, out-skilling opponents and scoring world-class goals from 30 yards?
You don’t. The only way you can appreciate just how good Kante is – and why he is a World Cup, Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup winner – is by watching him play a full 90 minutes for either Chelsea or France.
He covers so much ground and is always in the right place at the right time. The Kante role is not the most glamorous, but it is one that every successful football team needs a talented player to fulfil. Otherwise, the team stands no chance.
It is for players like Kante that the phrase “You do not appreciate how good they are until you see them live,” was invented. It can also be applied to individuals like Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips, both of whom were pivotal to England advancing to the final of Euro 2020.
If a child consumes their football through shortened bite-size packages, they will never appreciate unglamorous players whose positional work and discipline like Kante and Phillips are more important than individuals with a highlight reel.
Developing tactical understanding
Football is not just played on grass, but in the mind too. That is why tactics make up one of the FA Four Corners; intelligent footballer players who understand systems and what is expected of them are the most valuable.
A short social media clip of Liverpool playing is never going to help a young footballer player understand the concept and wonder of Jurgen Klopp’s gegenpressing. A highlight package of Manchester City scoring a goal will show Kevin De Bruyne putting the ball in the back of the net, but not the way a Pep Guardiola side turns over possession so effectively.
The best way to help kids begin to understand the nuances of formations, the attributes and requirements of different roles on the pitch, and to develop footballing intelligence is by watching the game live. No amount of two-minute highlights clips can do justice to what happens in 90 minutes on the pitch.
A greater depth of role models
Bite-sized videos of football highlights will often restrict the players' kids are introduced to and know about. We have already reflected on that, noting the disparity between the amount of coverage given to Kante and Neymar when it comes to social clips and viral videos.
There are a host of footballing role models out there for children to aspire to be. Not everyone can be an Erling Haaland scoring goals for fun or an Ella Toone bamboozling her opponents. And yet for kids who consume their football through highlights videos, these are the only types of players they are often exposed to.
How can a child aspire to be a world-class holding midfielder like Keira Walsh if they never get to see just how good Walsh is? Leah Williamson has just been appointed England captain and is on her way to becoming one of the best ball-playing centre backs in the world. She does not score blockbuster goals or nutmeg opponents, and so she is less visible to the TikTok generation.
When kids sit down and watch a game of football in full, they see every player from 1-11. Super saves from Ellie Roebuck might inspire them to become a goalkeeper. A last-ditch tackle from Mille Bright and they might decide that the art of defending is what they want to master.
The greater number and variety of role models they have to look up to, the less chance there is of them wanting to be simply a Haaland or a Toone, as every TikTok football watcher wants. As they say, variety is the spice of life. 11 different players make up the best teams.
How can we hope to produce the variation needed if everyone in the next generation only wants to be the players they see on YouTube?
The hard work needed to reach the top
One of the major problems with watching shortened highlight clips is how effortless football can be made to look. What videos fail to reflect is the hard work, effort and dedication needed to reach the top.
There is a danger that a kid watching Lionel Messi make a fool of an opponent does not appreciate that Messi is only able to do so because of the hours he has dedicated to becoming that good.
A Cristiano Ronaldo free-kick looks spectacular when it pops up in a 10-second clip on Twitter or Facebook. The footage though does not acknowledge that it is the result of relentless practice on the training pitch.
When a kid watches live football, they can see the effort that goes into going through 90 minutes. They understand that even the best players work hard, they track back and are dedicated to the team.
You can see this at every level, from Premier League to grassroots. It is why there is as much value in taking kids along to watch non-league football as there are full international superstars.
When children see amateurs playing at step nine of the pyramid for the love of the game rather than money, they understand that hard work is central to football. You do not get that flicking through videos on a screen.
Aligning with a team to experience the highs and lows of football
How emotionally invested can a child get into a team if they watch a few goals here and there? Supporting a football club benefits kids as they experience the highs and lows which football can bring. The only way to form a proper, deep attachment is by watching that club regularly.
This falls into the social corner of the FA Four Corner Model. Compassion, emotional engagement and reaction to failure are all areas which can be focused on to improve a player’s overall footballing ability.
Kids who sit through 90 minutes watching their team on television or in stadiums experience all the emotions that football has to offer. The highs, the lows, and how the sport is a complete roller coaster which can often lurch from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again.
Those children understand that failure can be bounced back from. A child who simply watches Kylian Mbappe outpacing defenders on YouTube has little idea what it feels like to lose or how to respond to failure. That can make it more difficult for them to process setbacks once they start playing themselves.
When a parent encourages their child to support a club with the unconditional following of watching 90-minute matches through thick and thin, they are helping to develop emotional resilience.
Just look at the England men’s senior team. Watching the Three Lions lose the final of Euro 2020 was hard, but it will all be worth it when they win the 2022 World Cup. No pressure, Gareth.
To understand football and be entertained by what it is
The reason that football is the most popular sport in the world is that it is entertaining. Billions upon billions of football watchers from every corner of the globe over the past 150-odd years have fallen in love with the sport - not from watching amazing goals and silky skills in shortened clips, but from 90 minutes of entertainment.
And perhaps that is the most important reason why kids need to watch football games. Quick highlight videos do not reflect the reality of the game. To love football, you have to be entertained by it in its total form.
If a child wants to take up football purely based on what they have seen one of the best in the world do on TikTok, then that can be the start of a beautiful relationship with the sport.
But they also need to understand there is much more to football and succeeding in the sport than what they see online and on social media.
We Make Footballers and the next step in the football journey
The reason that We Make Footballers considers kids watching football to have such importance is that we adhere to the Four Corners. We also know that for a child to fulfil their potential, they have to do more than simply attend our weekly football training academies.
Yes, at We Make Footballers they are being taught by FA qualified coaches at the biggest and most successful football coaching company in England. But there is only so much you can do in a couple of hours a week to develop the necessary technical, physical, tactical and social skills that make up the Four Corners.
We encourage all our young players to continue their football education away from We Make Footballers. That comes from joining our partnered grassroots teams, practising the skills and drills we teach them at home and watching as many full games of football as possible.
Consuming 90-minute football matches at a time when attention spans are dwindling and social media can provide a quick hit has never been more important.
To find out more about We Make Footballers and book your free first session at your nearest academy, please see the We Make Footballers website.