Tom and I created Willow Wanderers in 2015 because we had a very clear philosophy around kids' football which we felt differed to many of the other clubs we had experience of locally.  It is summed up in our motto: "The goal is to play".  The point of playing is the playing itself.  You'll hear most coaches trot out the line that the result isn't important, it's the performance that counts – some of them even believe in it.  I go one stage further than that – even the performance is not my biggest indicator of success.

What I look for is the effort.  If the kids have given me 100% on a Saturday morning but it just hasn't worked for them for some reason, that's good enough for me.  It means they are invested in the game.  It means they have the will to do well.  It means they aren't prepared to allow the game to pass them by without a fight.  It means that no matter what their natural level of ability, they believe they can make a difference.  What better lesson is there to learn to help them succeed in life?

And that is why we have a general rule of equal game time up to and including 9v9.  Everyone who makes the effort to turn up and put in a shift deserves the same opportunity to enjoy the game.  Everyone deserves the chance to be the best they can be.  We're also pragmatic: it's not a precise science.  You can only sub when the game stops, so the circumstances might skew things.  Kids occasionally pick up knocks - it's a physical game - so we have to make on-the-spot decisions.  Some kids struggle for stamina and it can be better for confidence to play them for slightly less time which means they don't make that tired mistake or pick up an injury.  Very occasionally reduced game time can be used as a disciplinary measure.  And sometimes we just get it wrong - we're volunteer amateurs and we learn all the time just as the kids do.  But it is one of our guiding principles and when we have decisions to make it is one of the key factors we use to help us.

We also avoid moving kids between teams.  Some believe being in teams of a similar standard is best for their development, and I have some sympathy with that view.  But kids develop at different speeds – your weakest player today can be your strongest in two years.  Rather than constantly moving kids "up" and "down", we believe it is better to build strong teams of children who play for each other, who have an identity they buy into and are proud to be a part of.  We try and keep groups of friends together where we can.  Stronger players often get more time on the ball as a result; weaker players learn from those around them.  It's not an approach that suits everyone, but you'll often find that clubs which move players regularly are those more inclined to give stronger players more game time as they are chasing results.  Equally, if a child wants to move between teams for any reason, we are open to doing so, where it is practical.  We want our kids to enjoy playing the game, and spending time with people they like is a big part of that.

You'll see that our styles differ across the club, partly due to the varying characters of both our kids and our volunteers, and partly down to the peculiarities of each age group.  But you'll also see that our main aim in everything we do is about enjoyment of the game.  That's how we measure success at Willow Wanderers.

I hope you get many years of enjoyment from your time with us.

Neil Barrs

Club Secretary