The Hero ISL Children’s League is India’s premier football grassroots development system with tournaments being held for four different age group categories ─ Under-6, Under-8, Under-10 and Under-12. In the inaugural year, the tournament kicked off in three states, namely West Bengal (Kolkata, Howrah, Hooghly, North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas, Nadia), Meghalaya (Shillong, Laitkseh) and Arunachal Pradesh (Itanagar, Pasighat). The long-term mission of the project is to engage 40,000 children across 12 states in India, under various age group categories.

Significance of playing football from a young age

Children’s football not only helps in spotting young talents, but also hones the skills of footballers from a very early stage. In a vast country like India, it will also help in popularizing the sport to a large extent.

Football is truly a team game and thus teamwork helps children become accustomed to working with others, a skill that is required in almost every profession. The players also learn how to fight through pain and give their best effort no matter what the situation may be. In addition to physical toughness, they also develop mental toughness which they may have never developed otherwise.

Playing football from a very early stage has numerous benefits. It has health benefits and also helps in building friendships, with everyone working towards a common goal. The bond developed by the kids is priceless and is a lifelong benefit for the children. Football is a game in which there is very little room for error, thus helping instil discipline among children. The strong work ethic that the footballers develop is a crucial asset that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.

Global Examples

Many countries in Europe and Latin America have benefitted because of their existing baby or children’s football league system. The Children’s Football League of Russia has helped launch the careers of international players including Yuri Zhirkov, Alexander Anyukov and Alan Dzagoev. Created in 1993, the organisation is an association of Football Union of Russia. It is for players aged from 8 to 15 and is organised every year.

Uruguay has been a force to be reckoned with since the very early stages of FIFA World Cup. Despite a small population of around 3 million, they have produced many fantastic footballers like Diego Forlan, Enzo Francescoli, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. The story behind this success is the Baby Futbol, which was started in Montevideo in the 1960s.

Current Uruguay national team coach Oscar Tabarez had once said, “I can’t imagine Uruguayan football how good it is without the Baby Futbol system.” The biggest clubs of the country like Nacional and Penarol take real interest in baby leagues, so many of them start their professional careers with the giants of Uruguayan football. The clubs also sometimes help cover the financial constraints of many children.

Another example is that of Iceland which in 2018 had become the smallest country ever to participate in the FIFA World Cup. The secret strength of Icelandic football is their children’s leagues. It has helped this tiny European nation produce players of high calibre such as Gylfi Sigurdsson and Aron Gunnarsson.

The Way Forward

Global football giants like Liverpool, Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain, FC Barcelona and Boca Juniors have ventured into India in the recent years. This proves the immense depth of potential in India. In the past, players from remote corners of the country such as Jeje Lalpekhlua, Seimenlen Doungel and Eugeneson Lyngdoh have found it tough to make it to the top level in the initial stages of their career. The Hero ISL Children’s League will give children a platform to hone their skills from a young age. It will also give them a lot of playing time. It is the perfect time for the Hero ISL Children’s League to be introduced, considering the upward surge in Indian football in the last couple of years.