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UEFA Grassroots Week: Moldova educating parents, coaches and teachers to keep children playing the game

Research shows that a pressure-free environment is critical to enjoyment and prolonged involvement.

UEFA via Getty Images

The Football Association of Moldova (FMF) is delivering a series of workshops educating parents, coaches and teachers about the importance of providing a safe and supportive football environment for young children to enjoy the game.

The workshops follow research by UEFA and Leeds Beckett University that found the attitude and approach of key people in children’s lives could negatively impact their enjoyment of the game.

"It is regretful that parents, the ones who have to encourage their children, often put a huge stress on performance and results," said Diana Bulgaru, FMF's head of grassroots football. "This causes significant dropout rates of those children who cannot deliver results or cope with the level of stress.

"There is an expression in all eastern European countries: 'The game will be forgotten, the final score will remain'," adds Bulgaru. "This pretty much affects all aspects of children's experience with football in Moldova from an early age, the kind of motivation and drivers they get and the barriers they face."

 Children in action at a UEFA Football in Schools event in Chisinau
Children in action at a UEFA Football in Schools event in ChisinauUEFA via Getty Images

Alongside parents, the role played by teachers and coaches also figured prominently in the research that featured 325 children aged 11-14. "Parents' perception of competence was consistently in the top five factors predicting potential dropout," explains Dr Megan Hill, postdoctoral research fellow at Leeds Beckett University. "Coaches' and teachers' perception of competence was also an important factor in predicting future dropout, as well as the child's own perception of their competence, and that compared to their peers."

Education for influential figures

With over 100 teachers from Moldova's UEFA-funded Football in Schools programme attending workshops on creating a positive learning environment for children, work to address the research findings has already begun.

The FMF has also organised programmes to support Ukrainian refugees
The FMF has also organised programmes to support Ukrainian refugeesUEFA via Getty Images

"We have already made a step forward using the research, which is now on the agenda of our Football in Schools workshops," explains Bulgaru. "We have discussed with teachers the importance of encouraging children to play football in a friendly environment without putting any pressure on them."

With over 340 schools involved in the FMF Football in Schools programme, the next step for the FMF is to educate teachers and coaches involved about the research findings, says Bulgaru.

"All teachers and coaches involved in the programme will be presented with the vital information on why the children are dropping out from football and who are the key people to stop this process.

"We will also work on including the research findings into our coaching courses in order to increase awareness of the importance of supporting children in football. Moreover, we are already thinking about the other ways of reaching parents to disseminate the message and solve the challenge."

Using social media to spread the message

The FMF is also planning social media campaigns to ensure the message reaches the wider football community.

"We aim to highlight the impact of parents, coaches and teachers on children's development and enjoyment of football," Bulgaru said. "This is not an easy task for us but if we start working today on this challenge, I believe that in a long term we can change it.

"The findings from the research have made us assess the importance of this area of the game and encourage us to help change the stereotype of the key people in children’s life: parents, coaches and teachers."