Research - Home

Ministry of Football is keen to assess impact of its programme, and add to the wider debate on children's learning. These Research pages show how we have tried to measure learning on our programme.

Active Learning Time - measured by parents

 Active Learning Time in coach evaluations

Measuring Learning in Small-Sided Games


Measurement sheet for Active Learning Time

(for use in football sessions, sports programmes, PE lessons etc)


Mark Carter

07772 716 87607772 716 876 



Muswell Hill's Number 1 Football Development Programme



HOME           SESSIONS          ABOUT US           CONTACT US

How much learning is happening?

I recently found the video below, which analyses 4 small-sided football and Futsal games and measures the number of touches of the ball and the amount of time the ball is in/out of play. I found it an interesting approach for trying to measure the amount of learning and involvement that happens in games:

[A couple of things to note in these videos: 1. Look at the pitch size for the girls in the second video, and how the girls have to bunch together in order to be within distance of a pass. This is a good example of where competition is not planned to fit with  the real needs of the children. 2. The support and encouragement of well-meaning parents in the girls Futsal video. Shouting "kick it!" isn't in any way helpful and just helps create an environment where children are pressured into booting the ball away. 3. In both the videos we can see substitute children sitting on the side - in the 5v5 game, nearly half the children are sitting watching].

I wanted to know how our own competitions compared to this, so I recorded two-minute segments of our 4v4 Mini-League games to compare them. The MoF 4v4 Mini-League is an indoor, short-duration competition for primary-school aged children. Here are the videos.


And the table below shows what I found. The first four rows of information are from the videos in the original comparison of Indoor v Futsal, and the last three rows are an analysis of the three 4v4 games from our Mini-League. I have never been convinced that 'numbers of touches' is a good proxy for learning so I have added in 'number of deliberate, successful passes' and 'number of dribbles' (a dribble defined as three or more consecutive touches of the ball for the same player).

 Number of touches
 Deliberate, successful passes
 Dribbles (3+ consecutive touches)
 Ball in play (of 120 secs)
 1. 5v5 Indoor
 27 6  1  44 secs
 2. 7v7 Indoor (girls)
 38 5  2  64 secs
 3. 5v5 Futsal (girls)
 52 8  2  61 secs
 4 5v5 Futsal
 70 9  4  76 secs
 5. 4v4 Mini-League 1
 62 7  4  79 secs
 6. 4v4 Mini-League 2
 78 10  6  75 secs
 7. 4v4 Mini-League 3
 68 10  8  80 secs


For me, the more interesting analysis is where we look at total involvement and learning per child. In the MoF 4v4 Mini-League we have no substitutes, each team has 4 players and they all play all the time. In the Indoor videos (1&2) you can see that each team has a squad of 9 and those that aren't involved are sat on the side watching. In the Futsal games we can assume that they have a squad of 8 and use rolling subs. Therefore, if we look at total involvement and learning per player we get:

 Total number of children (both teams)
 Touches per child
 Passes per child
 Dribbles per child
 1. 5v5 Indoor
 18  1.5  0.3
 2. 7v7 Indoor (girls)
 18  2.1  0.3
 3. 5v5 Futsal (girls)
 16  3.3  0.5  0.1
 4 5v5 Futsal
 16  4.4  0.6  0.3
 5. 4v4 Mini-League 1
 8  7.8  0.9  0.5
 6. 4v4 Mini-League 2
 8  9.8  1.3  0.8
 7. 4v4 Mini-League 3
 8  8.5  1.3  1.0


If we multiply these involvements into a 40-minute game of football, and average across the different formats we get:

Indoor football (videos 1&2): 36 touches, 6 passes and 2 dribbles per child.

Futsal (videos 3&4): 76 touches, 11 passes and 4 dribbles per child.

4v4 Mini-League (videos 5-7): 173 touches, 23 passes and 15 dribbles per child.

So if we use passes and dribbles as a proxy for learning, then: 

There is four times more learning in 4v4 Mini-League than in the indoor examples given, and over twice as much learning in 4v4 Mini-League when compared to Futsal

So what can we learn from this?

  • Firstly, the variable that has most impact in this study is the squad size compared to the number of children playing at any one time. Or in other words the biggest factor in determining learning per child is how many children are sitting watching as substitutes rather than playing. Now, we can say "there's a solution - get the subs playing a game of their own on the side" - but there isn't any side in a Futsal court and there is only limited space in the indoor games in the first two videos. We need to think very carefully when organising children's football: How many subs do we really need? Could we make more teams with smaller squad size rather than having squads of 8 or 9 with only 5 playing? For Ministry of Football, we need to look at this closely as we start our venture into the world of Futsal.
  • Secondly, not enough thought is given to developing appropriate competition in children's football. Competitions for children should fit the child in the same way their shoe does. The children should not be shoe-horned to fit the competition, rather the competition needs to be tailored to the needs of the children. Just look at the attempts of the girls in video 2 to see an example of competition that simply doesn't fit. Children need different sizes of pitch and different formats of the game dependent on their ability and physicality. Girls are generally different from boys and will need this to be taken into account. The width of a pitch should not be wider than the child's ability to accurately pass the ball from one side to another.
  • Thirdly, notice how in the 4v4 Mini-League videos we have rules where children can dribble back onto the pitch from the sideline or from a corner. As well as encouraging dribbling, this also reduces the amount of time the ball is out-of-play as it gives children more options for how to re-enter the pitch from the sideline.
  • Finally, the ball in Futsal seems to allow more dribbling to take place. This isn't noticeable from the stats but there are a few moments in the Futsal games where the ball falls and is easily controllable while in the 4v4 Mini-League the ball bounces higher and is harder to control onto the floor. I think the learning here for Ministry of Football is to use a Futsal in the Mini-League in future.

Finally, let's look at one more video. This video is taken from a Ministry of Football skill development session and includes some of the children in video 7. They are playing a 3v3 game - which is the staple diet of MoF skill sessions for this age/ability-group:

The ball is in play constantly. In 40 minutes, there will be:

MoF Skill Session 3v3 (video 8): 323 touches, 27 passes and 40 dribbles per child.

So this is where the real learning happens!

In keeping with the Long-Term Athlete Development model, children's sport should be about moving and enjoyment. Organised 'club v club' competition may play a small part in this - if it is done well, it should aid learning. However club v club competition should not be the focus of learning at this stage (unfortunately it is in most clubs). As the Maths test provides the teacher with information on how well she has taught, so organised football competition will provide the coach with information on where  the children are at and what they need next. The key focus on learning in children's football should be in high-intensity, high-movement, high-activity skill sessions. Programmes need to built around opportunities to play, learn, and move. No children should be on the sideline watching, pitch sizes need to fit the needs of the learners, and small-sided formats such as 3v3 need to be the main ingredient in games.