Kushal Das on Baby Leagues: The more kids play, the more Indian football will benefit

Launched in September last year, Baby Leagues have been doing well in the Kashmir Valley, Mizoram, Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.

Baby League

Meghalaya Baby League   -  Meghalaya Football Association

From the Kashmir Valley to the north eastern corner of Lunglei, Baby Leagues are growing all across India.

Launched in September last year, Baby Leagues have been doing well in the Kashmir Valley, Mizoram, Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. States like Gujarat, Kerala, Karnataka and Punjab are also catching up with the trend.

Baby Leagues are organised in age groups of under-6, under-7, under-8, under-9, under-10, under-11 and under-12.

The number of participating children reached 21,471 last year and increased to 43,575 this year, according to the figures provided by the All India Football Federation (AIFF).

There were 5,335 registered teams last year, while 21,130 matches were played in total. The AIFF decided to rename the initiative as ‘Golden Baby League’ from this year onwards and the first edition was held in Meghalaya recently.

READ | Sports Minister Rijiju launches AIFF Golden Baby Leagues Handbook

Last year, the AIFF gave a subsidy of Rs 85,000 each to Baby Leagues from the USD 250,000 fund sanctioned by FIFA under its Forward Programme.

“We need to create a competitive environment in which the players are developing their creativity, self-expression, passion of the game and discovering the value of friendship throughout the team. That was the idea of these Baby Leagues,” AIFF Technical Director Isac Doru told PTI.

“The formative years of a child have always been the bedrock of a successful footballing culture. The AIFF is now stressing to popularise the sport among the kids. We aim to have every kid playing football especially from ages U-6 to U-12. The more they play, the more Indian football will benefit,” AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das said.

The Kashmir Valley conducted 15 Baby Leagues last year with kids of under-11 category. Two leagues -- one each in Srinagar and Kulgam -- were exclusively for girls.

“We have received great response not only from Srinagar but from everywhere in Jammu and Kashmir, may be because of Real Kashmir’s performance in the I-League,” J&K Development Officer Bilal Punjabi said.

“We had conducted a snow league also which was an instant hit among the kids. Almost 200 kids poured in for the snow league as well as the regular one.

“Kulgam is one of the troubled areas but when we needed (to run the Baby League) it delivered big time. 189 kids who were divided into eight teams across U-9, U-10 and U-11 age groups, played 168 matches,” he said.

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In the Baby League, the format for under-6 kids is three-a-side match divided into four quarters of six minutes each with a two-minute break in between. For under-7 and under-8 kids, it can be four or five-a-side in two halves of 12 minutes each with a four-minute break in between.

The number of players each side can go up to 11 in under-11 and under-12, wherein they play in two halves of 25 minutes each with an eight-minute break in between.

Till under-9 category or seven-a-side format, there is no goalkeeper and the maximum goalposts dimension is 1.82x1.22m.

The recommended matches per day is three till under-9 age group and maximum match days per week is two.

The fields are smaller, starting from 10x15m to 12x20m size for 3 vs 3 matches for under-6 kids.

The Baby Leagues are registered through an app run by the AIFF. The operators are given license by the AIFF after consultation with the concerned state association which inspects the ground and capacity of the organisers.

The operators have to conduct at least three age-group leagues and have at least eight teams registered to get an AIFF license.

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