Pre-season team talk: How much football is the right amount for your kids?

Nadia Olla 1v1NZ Football Ferns goalkeeper, Nadia Olla, intercepting the ball in an international fixture.

We want our kids to be active. We want them to enjoy, even excel in their sports but as, parents and coaches, we need to be mindful that too many hours of training each week could put them at risk of injury. As we gear up for a new season of football, let’s take time to consider if our kids are at risk of over-training?


ACC reports that there’s been a 60% jump in all injuries among 10 to 14 year olds, more than double the rate suffered by the next age group of 15 to 19. ACC also tells us that in many sports, although participation numbers are increasing, we’re seeing injury numbers increasing more than the participation rates. 


So what is to blame for these alarming rates? Early specialisation, where young people are being picked up as potential professional athletes is a big factor. This takes a toll on young children with developing bodies. They don’t yet have the physical resilience to cope with the volume and intensity of training that a professional athlete has.


So how much physical activity should our children do in a week? ACC new guidelines suggest an hour of structured training or sport per year of age. That means an 11 year old should be doing no more than 11 hours of training, PE and game time. 


Young children are at risk of mental burnout as well as the physical burnout. It is something to be very mindful of if we’re pushing young people too hard, too soon. Ultimately this leads to burnout, leading to a drop off in participation. 


Evidence suggests that children who maintain a varied background of different activity and don’t specialise early go on to have a longer life of participation in sports and also go on to greater levels of achievement. 


So what about the kids who are self-motivated footballers and goalkeepers? That’s great! We recommend that you still require a minimum of 2-3 training sessions a week of football. Depending on your age, you can compliment this with other sports that promote physical and mental development through enjoyable sporting experiences. Some sports that work really well for goalkeeping are basketball, tennis, surfing, rugby and touch rugby. 


The ACC study published in 2019 showed such convincing figures that it led to Sport NZ along with 5 major sporting bodies including NZ Football, committing to the following:

  • Ensuring all young people who play our sports receive a quality experience, irrespective of the level at which they compete.
  • Leading attitudinal and behavioural change among the sport leaders, coaches, administrators, parents and caregivers involved in youth sport.
  • Providing leadership to our sports in support of changes to competition structures and player development opportunities.
  • Working with our sports and schools to keep minds open while identifying talent throughout the teen years, including reviewing the role and nature of national and regional representative tournaments to ensure that skill development opportunities are offered to more young people.
  • Supporting young people to play multiple sports.
  • Raising awareness of the risks of overtraining and overloading.


So as our season kicks off again, let’s take a review of what we have planned for our kids this year and ask ourselves, is the level of activity we have planned for our kids likely to put their well-being at risk? Consult with your football coaches to plan the best balance for your child and keep in mind the ACC guidelines of one hour of sport for every year of age. Current research shows that a well-rounded child is likely to be happier, healthier and better off long-term that one that specialises too early, unless of course, you’re Tiger Woods!


Our INGOAL recommendation: Be attuned to your child’s motivations. If they want to train and get better, support them in both informal and formal opportunities to develop their skills and enjoy the ride.