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How can you Maximise Grassroots Football Participation … a recession ?

This winter will be very hard economically for households across the world - for many it is already.In such difficult times is it even possible to INCREASE participation rather than just maintain it ?

Evidence shows that increases can be achieved by using 3 tools to maximise INNOVATION and asses the OPPORTUNITIES available - especially targeting lapsed players and those who are not participating

These tools are :

  1. The new Proposed UEFA Grassroots Framework : 4 Pillars

  2. The “ Jobs to be Done “ Theory

  3. Managing Costs and providing a service which is " Just Good Enough"

  1. The new Proposed UEFA Grassroots Framework : 4 Pillars

UEFA's Grassroots Mission is to "maximise the number of registered players and organised football activities under the auspices of the national associations "

At the recent UEFA Grassroots Conference in Madrid the 4 Pillars of the new Proposed UEFA Grassroots Framework were unveiled ( see below )

By using these 4 Pillars as levers it is possible to create innovative opportunities to maximise participation.

Traditional routes to play grassroots football can,however, be costly, time consuming and inflexible.Football is the most popular participant team sport in England but only about 3% of the population are registered football players: similar rates are seen in pre -pandemic German, France, Italy and Spain

So for overall participation in these most popular football countries on the planet 3 people in a hundred are registered football players!

In the post pandemic world, with sky high numbers playing FIFA computer games and billions watching TV football show there is a clear opportunity to turn interest into affordable participation

This article highlights that in England more people play 5-a-side football than the traditional 11-a-side format. It is, therefore, no longer appropriate or effective to consider " grassroots players" as one homogeneous monolithic mass but rather to think of Players are specific targeted groups.

There are millions of players worldwide who are still very much committed to playing competitive 30+ 11-a-side a season: competitive 11v11 football is still very popular but in most countries the numbers are a diminishing for lots of reasons including costs, travel time, work/life balance changes etc.

Thus to maximise participation it is essential to target other potential groups:examples of such targeting could include the following groups :

  1. Players of all ages with a disability

  2. Young Girls who haven't yet had the opportunity to experience football

  3. Young adult women who used to play some football some years ago but would now like to play in their 20's and 30's to keep fit and make friends

  4. Football Enthusiasts who cannot afford to play in traditional clubs

  5. Players on a team but not getting regular game time

  6. Players with limited time but very keen to try and squeeze some football into their weekly life e.g. shift workers

  7. Teenagers who have played previously played football but who had quit the game

  8. Teenagers who just want to enjoy ' free play football ' but in a safe environment

  9. Young players who would like to play but because of limited ability who are ' cut' from teams because of trials or try outs

  10. Players with 'late' birthdays in Quarter 4 of the season affected by the Relative Age Effect

  11. Schools looking for inclusive, simple, low cost physical education for boys and girls

  12. Children of working mothers during the school holidays

  13. Children of refugee families or recent immigrants committed to making friends in their community

  14. Players who have only access to indoor courts because of inhospitable weather conditions

  15. Senior Citizens in need of aerobic exercise in a friendly social setting


Creating a Market where no market exists at the moment provides massive rewards for Innovators People want to be physically and socially active in a safe friendly environment for themselves or their children Traditional routes to play grassroots football can,however, be costly, time consuming and inflexible

Try looking at the possibilities to attract some ot 15 target groups listed above by using the 4 Pillars and considering the following questions :

  1. What Environment would be most suitable for the chosen target group ? Examples may include Grassroots Clubs, Schools, Colleges, Self - Organised Groups, Commercial entities, Charities, Professional Club Outreach Programmes etc.

Could some large grassroots clubs act as local hubs to support smaller clubs

Is the environment safe, inclusive, accessible ? See the UEFA Grassroots Club Framework here

2. What would be the most appropriate Game Format to attract the target group?

See this PDF of the presentations from the UEFA Grassroots Conference below on this subject

Day 2_4_The evolving game & consolidation
Download PDF • 8.83MB

See also at the bottom of this post for a categorisation of Grassroots football we have attempted

It is also interesting to note how other sports are providing different game formats to target groups e.g.

Traditional Game

Alternative Formats

American Football

Flag Football: a variant of American football where, instead of tackling players to the ground, the defensive team must remove a flag or flag belt from the ball carrier ("deflagging") to end a down.NFL FLAG is the official flag football league of the NFL and the largest youth flag football organization in the U.S.with almost 6 million players in 2021. More American children ages 6 to 12 now play flag football than the tackle version of the sport Flag football is also popular as a mixed boys and girls sport . See this video here


- Pickleball: hybrid combination of tennis, badminton and table tennis.In 2021 and 2022 the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) officially reported that pickleball had become the fastest growing sport in the United States two years in a row. Over those years the number of players increased almost 40% to 4.8 million players. Some estimates predict there could be as many as 40 million players by the end of the decade.

Australian Rules Football

​AusKick : - more than 100,000 kids around Australia at NAB AFL Auskick Centres.


​All Stars Cricket in England

3. What would be the Workforce requirements to meet the needs of the environment and the game format for the target group ?

  • For example are coaches, leaders ,facilitators or simply just organisers required ?

  • Could some large grassroots clubs act as local hubs to support smaller clubs ?

  • Affordable Informal football doesn’t require expensive coaches, travel, kit or indeed facilities. The enormous success of adult 5-a-side and Walking Football for Senior Citizens has in fact been self organised by participants.

  • If suitably screened facilitators are required to supervise children’s programmes then we can see how Soccer Shots and United Soccer Academies in North America have simply organised their own In House Training Programmes.

  • Another innovation see how Grandparents have been engaged as volunteers in Denmark here

  • See the report below on the day devoted to the Grassroots Workforce from the Madrid Conference

Day 2_3_ Workforce
Download PDF • 7.21MB

This article ' How to Increase Youth Sports Participation in Your Community' provides some sensible ideas but doesn't really try a flexible approach by using the 4 UEFA Pillars ...and the 'Jobs to be Done ' Theory outlined below

2. The Jobs to be Done Theory

This theory was developed by the late Harvard Business School Professor Clay Christensen by which he explained that " People don’t simply buy products or services, they ‘hire’ them to make progress in specific circumstances. The secret to winning the innovation game lies in understanding what causes customers to make choices that help them achieve progress on something they are struggling with in their lives. To get to the right answers, Christensen says, executives should be asking: What job would consumers want to hire a product to do?"

We have provided some examples below after the video of the Jobs to be Done Theory as applied to Grassroots Football

​Grassroots Programme

Job to be Done

​Bringing people who are living in communities affected by conflicts together through sports. Operating in Asia, the Balkans, the Caucasus,East Africa,Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa

​Holiday Courses for Children

​Safe, Enjoyable activity to help children be active, learn skills and make friends for parents who have jobs

​5-a-side Football for Young Adults

Informal flexible football to meet work/ life commitments providing exercise and social activity

​Small Sided football for boys and girls

​Simple amended age appropriate rules . Fitting the game to the kid - not vice versa

Introductory Football Programmes for girls e.g. Wildcats or Playmakers

​Safe , enjoyable team sport using easily learned skills for girls

​Apps like Fubles and ' My Football ' developed by the Swedish FA

​Finding teammates, opponents and venues to play informal 5-a-side

Self Organised Safe football for youngsters e.g. Salisbury Rovers FC, Wiltshire, England and Joy of the People, St Paul Minnesota, USA

​Discovery and learning through unsupervised play

AYSO - everyone plays

​Equal playing time for all

United Soccer Academies, USA and Canada

​No Tryouts or Trials.All players welcome. Marketing not to the top 20% : low cost,all intra Club games no inter club ‘ travel ‘ games

Soccer Shots, the largest sports education franchise in North America

​Early movement experience for young children from 2 years of age using the medium of football

​Incorporating Footballers with disabilties into a mainstream club. 90 + players

​Walking Football

​Exercise with friends with simple rules but without needing to learn skills

3. Managing Costs and providing a service which is " Just Good Enough"

Simply put - Most programmes would attract more participants if they were more affordable. In the USA the Aspen Institute’s research has shown the clear relationship between costs and participation levels and also in post pandemic UK here .

A key consideration is again to use the work of Christensen as shown in the video below. Affordable Informal football doesn’t require expensive coaches, travel, kit or indeed expensive facilities. In many developed areas of the world grassroot football 'overshoots ' the minimum requirements.

From the examples above the success of ' jobs to be done' has been invariably been achieved through providing safe, enjoyable activities which are ' just good enough'

The enormous success of adult 5-a-side and Walking Football for Senior Citizens has in fact been self organised by participants.

Sal Kahn of the ' Khan Academy ' below uses a classic example of disruptive innovation to explain how the simplest, cheapest, and fastest solutions for innovation offer a more immediate connection with customers.

Please view the proposed categorisation of grassroots football below and if you would like more information on the e-learning course on how to INNOVATE and Build Your Grassroots Football Startup see here

Our Proposed Categorisation of Grassroots Football in 2020- see below

We hope the proposed categorisation of Grassroots Football Activities below assists you in identifying / validating your Grassroots Football Opportunity AND completing the final task for this module (Task 6) which concerns the trends of grassroots football in the community which you wish to choose ( this could be a village, town, city, region, county, state or country )

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