How Capital Football redesigned its social sevens to put the participant first

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With the evidence highlighting a clear drop-off for participation in youth football, Capital Football knew it needed to act to keep young people playing the beautiful game.

Data analysed by Capital Football showed that many people playing football in the Wellington region were dropping out of the sport in their late teens.

At the same time, New Zealand Football and Sport New Zealand’s Voice of the Participant Survey outlined some valuable insights around what young footballers enjoyed the most when playing the sport — and what made them consider stopping.

When it came to barriers to participation, one of the clear recurring themes in the survey was the desire for more flexibility and not having to commit to a whole season.

This inspired Capital Football to launch its Under-19 Social Sevens festival in early 2023.

“We wanted to develop an event that was more on the players’ terms and less traditional in format,” says Connol Modd, Federation Development Officer — Community Lead at Capital Football.

The success of the festivals in 2023 means Capital Football plan to hold three U-19 Social Sevens events in 2024, across the term 1, 2 and 3 holidays.

So how does Social Sevens work?

Capital Football’s solution was a festival-style football event that placed the focus squarely on easy participation and enjoyment of the game.

The format of Social Sevens is simple:

  • Each festival takes place over two hours, with each team playing three games
  • The games are 7-a-side, with players aged between 16 and 19
  • Games are divided into 10-minute halves
  • Open teams (with a mix of genders) are welcome

The festivals take place throughout the Wellington region, with locations ranging from Petone to Upper Hutt and beyond.

A more flexible approach

“It’s a commitment of just a couple of hours on one day, and you can sign up as an individual or as a team if there’s a group you already play with. We made sure we took a more flexible approach,” says Modd.

Flexibility in participation is a real focus of the festivals, as that was a key issue that young players raised. The event has been designed to welcome anyone under the age of 19, regardless of their skill level.

To keep the focus on participation and enjoyment, no scores are kept in the games. The rules are kept simple to make the game as easy and as free-flowing as possible.

Not having the right gear can also be a barrier so participants simply need to show up on the day wearing whatever they feel comfortable playing in.

“A safe, social format”

If the feedback from participants is anything to go by, the first few Social Sevens festivals were a resounding success. A snapshot of participants’ experiences include:

  • A person who had quit junior football when they were younger and found the festival a good opportunity to get back into football in safe, social format.
  • A team that was already playing together regularly, with different skills levels across the team, that was happy to be able to play in the festival together.
  • A group that had played socially for their school team, but couldn’t find the time to play after leaving school, found the format worked well for them to keep playing together.

“The common themes here are only having to commit to one event for a couple hours, being able to focus on enjoyment, and the fact that it didn’t matter whether they won or lost,” says Modd.

A festival all about balance

Looking at the inception, format, and success of Social Sevens, Modd says that it’s clearly a programme with Balance is Better at its core.

“We just want the participants to have a quality experience, regardless of their ability or motivation. We don’t keep score — literally,” he says.

All of the games are facilitated by Capital Football staff, who ensure play is free-flowing and that all players get to have a touch of the ball. A lot of emphasis is also placed on making the sport as simple and as accessible as possible for those new to football.

“Football should be safe, fair, and inclusive — that’s why anyone can enter the festivals with whoever they want. At the end of the day, the focus is on enjoyment.”

Want to know more?

The following reports contributed to the development of the Social Sevens festivals:

READ MORE: New Zealand Football Secondary School Aged Football Review – Final Report February 2022 >>>>

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This article was originally published on Balance is Better. Read the original story here >>>>

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