The Cumnor House Model for Football

The Independent Schools FA is delighted to recommend Cumnor House, in Haywards Heath (Sussex), as a model for good practice in their provision for football.

In the past football at junior level in independent schools was often played as much for the benefit of the adults as the children, with too great an emphasis on results, perhaps to impress parents, at the expense of the technical development and enjoyment of the children.  Whereas in academics, music, drama and even other sports, the independent sector has often led the way in adopting best practice, the provision of football changed little in over half a century or more in many independent schools.

Fortunately, increasing numbers of prep schools have in the last few years made major changes in the way the game is taught and ISFA has been particularly delighted by the model put in place at Cumnor House by Director of Football, Ross Millard, a former Manchester United Academy Coach.


For pre-prep children the emphasis is on having a ball at their feet at all times.  They are taught dribble tricks and turns to give them a “Tool Box”.   The children are encouraged to use these tricks and turns as much as possible during 3v3 and 4v4 games.  The focus is on positive play with lots of goals being scored and everybody involved.

Year 3

 Year 3 is organised on similar lines to the pre-prep, still focusing on their “Tool Box” and encouraging them to enjoy having the ball at their feet.

In addition 4v4 Festivals are organised, rather than 6v6 competitive games.  In this way all the children are playing in a small area at once, depending on the numbers in the year group.  Most weeks it will be 32 players playing on 4 different pitches.  Each pitch will have a different 4v4 game to encourage specific areas – e.g. the “four goal game” encourages change of direction and switching of play.  No score is kept so there are no winners and losers but the focus is again on tricks and moves to beat an opponent along with goals, goals, goals!

Parents are happy because all their children are involved and the pressure to win is removed, with the focus on allowing the children to express themselves in a safe environment.

Year 4

Whilst 6v6 games remain popular with many schools, Cumnor House agrees with both The FA and ISFA that children should still be playing 4v4 at this stage, along with perhaps a few 6v6 games.  At this age it is appropriate to look at some structure in the play, positions on the pitch and using the “Tool Box” in the right areas.  In addition the players are encouraged to pass the ball out from the goalkeeper and build from the back.

Years 5 & 6

 All games at this level are 7v7 with the focus now on team play, with the focus being on passing the ball and building from the back.  Players are still encouraged to be creative, to take opponents on in the right areas of the field and not to be afraid to try things.  There is work on team shape and trying to improve game understanding and positional awareness.

Year 7 & 8

With effect from September 2010, while 1st XI (U13) matches will continue to be 11v11, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th teams will play 9v9 in all home matches.

The reasons for this are:

It is a more appropriate and gradual progression from 7-a-side at U11’s to 9-a-side for Year 7/8 boys

  • All players will have more time and space on the ball and the weaker players will develop further and quicker because of this.
  • More touches means more improvement in the players’ technique.
  • 9v9 is strongly is recommended by the FA for the U12 age group.

Teams will still have a squad of 12 players but will be rotated as matches will be 3 x thirds (in line with current practice at most professional clubs), instead of two halves.  This again will allow the children to experience different positions and allow the coaches more feedback during the breaks in play.

The overall philosophy throughout the programme is aimed primarily on improving the children’s techniques and providing them with an environment in which they can express themselves by playing attacking football without the fear of making mistakes, often as a result of pressure to win applied by adults.

House Matches -October 2015

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