More than most people, Shelley Kerr knows just how important it is allow children to enjoy football from a young age – free from pressure to perform or negative coaching attitudes.
The Head Coach of the Scotland Women’s National Team fell in love with football in a positive environment and has since then not only incorporated this ethos into her coaching career, but also practised it with her own daughter.
Shelley’s positive attitude ties in with a new campaign from the Scottish FA to put fun at the forefront of kids' football.
The “Let Them Play” initiative is about promoting the right messages of allowing children to enjoy football without pressure and negative behaviour from parents and coaches.
GRASSROOTS | With the small-sided games season getting under way, we are encouraging grassroots leaders and coaches to help players in the first steps of their footballing journey with a simple message:#LetThemPlay— Scottish FA (@ScottishFA) February 25, 2019
The idea is to allow kids to simply enjoy their early years in the game with freedom of expression encouraged which, in turn, will build their love of the game that should hopefully last a lifetime.
Now, as Kerr gears up to lead Scotland into their first ever FIFA Women’s World Cup, she recalls how she first fell in love with football and stresses the importance of youngsters learning the game by having the freedom to enjoy it without any pressure.
"I started playing at three or four years old kicking a ball in my wee village of Polbeth. I tagged along with my two brothers, Kevin and Colin. There's three years and five years respectively between me and them so they were much older.
"I was the only girl that played but soon became accepted. It was never a token gesture. I still got a bit of stick for it as you did back then.
"At 10 years old, I was the first girl at my Primary school to get selected for the school team so that was my first opportunity to play organised team football.
"My art teacher, Mr Wilkinson, saw me play in the playground and invited me for a trial. I have a lot to thank him for. I loved it. I lived for it. I used to cry in my room if the game was off, postponed for bad weather. Every night before the game I would say a wee prayer that it wouldn't rain.
"I played every day. My routine was the same. Every day I had a ball at my feet, even when my mum sent me to the shops, the ball went with me. It went everywhere with me.
"During school holidays, it was first thing in the morning to last thing at night and if you were at school it was homework, dinner and back out to play until it was dark.
"You were making up your own games, coming up with ideas.
"Kids naturally make things competitive but of course we had fun. It was absolutely fantastic as you never had a care in the world. Grass roots football is about having a laugh, engaging with other kids and problem solving.
"I didn't get coached when I was young. You coached each other, built up resilience and character. There was no adults involved in it.
"The first bit of coaching I got was when I was 12/13. Even at my Primary school team it was more words of encouragement, giving players confidence rather than any coaching.
A fantastic qualifying campaign from @Kerr5Shelley's side, culminating in a 2-1 win over Albania that sees #SWNT qualify for our first ever World Cup, and two major tournaments in a row.#OurGirlsOurGame pic.twitter.com/n2Bmxg1DAL— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) September 4, 2018
"At elite level you need coaching and tactics but certainly at the entry points of football it is about kids engaging and interacting with each other and having fun and solving problems.
"My daughter Christie grew up in a family entrenched in football but I wanted her to find her own destiny.
"She did taekwondo, basketball, dancing, running, she was involved in everything and she played football as well.
"She played for Scottish schools, Hibs, Spartans and when I was in London she played for Watford as well.
"I wasn't there a lot because I was still playing and managing. I missed out on a lot of her football. When I did go to watch here I was more Shelley the mum than Shelley the coach because sometimes, with people knowing I played and managed, there was a degree of pressure on her. I didn't want her to feel that pressure so a lot of times she didn't want me to be there to tell you the truth.
"It is 100 per cent important that you enjoy playing. Even at national team level now every time, before we go out, usually the last words I say are 'enjoy the game.
"Our own national body do a good job with positive coaching in Scotland and trying to send out the right message.
"A lot of the coaches are volunteers and you have to be mindful of that.
"But when I watch some games back in my village or in other parks, some of the coaches are playing right wing with the kids, walking up and down the touchline beside them. Let the kids play.
"On a Saturday or Sunday or whenever it is, when kids put that strip and their boots on they feel a million dollars and the last thing you want to do as a coach is take that away from them. You have to help them.
"So I am definitely a fan of 'Let Them Play'. It is fantastic initiative – and it is a great slogan as well."