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Jamie Redknapp: The return of grassroots sport is so important for kids

Pundit and former footballer Jamie Redknapp tells Lisa Salmon how pleased he is that children and parents can finally see light at the end of the tunnel regarding kids playing soccer and other sports

Sports pundit and former topflight professional footballer Jamie Redknapp

WHILE lockdown restrictions on children playing outdoor grassroots sport remains in place in Northern Ireland, they have begun to ease in other parts of the UK – and no-one could be more pleased than Jamie Redknapp.

Like parents the world over, the former England and Liverpool footballer is desperate for his two sporty sons to get back to playing the games they love.

Not only will Redknapp's younger son Beau (12) be able to play for Chelsea FC Academy again, and elder son Charley (16) play rugby for his college and possibly his county, but even their dad is getting in on the act, coaching young children at Fun Football Sessions.

“For grassroots sport to be starting again is so important for everybody,” says Redknapp (47).

“It's been such a tough time for kids, not being able to get exercise, not being able to get those endorphins and do all the things teenagers and young kids should be doing. Just getting kids out and about and exercising is so important because they've been stuck indoors.

“There's been times when you can see they're climbing the walls and they want to be out doing stuff with their mates, but they haven't been able to. So this isn't just good from a sports point of view, it's also good for their health and making sure they're out and getting the exercise they need.”

Redknapp was speaking while he helped coach a group of five-to-10-year-olds taking part in a McDonald's Fun Football Session as restrictions were lifted in England recently. The free programme, which is in partnership with the four UK Football Associations, was postponed when lockdown began but is starting to resume as restrictions ease, under the guidance of FA-accredited coaches.

“It's what I love, being out on the grass playing football with the kids,” says Redknapp. “When my 12-year-old goes training, and when my 16-year-old plays rugby, I can't wait to be out there with them and watching them. As parents, we look forward to it. I enjoy watching my sons play football and rugby as much as a Premier League game – it brings you this great buzz of pride, you just want them to do so well.

“And I think I'm speaking for a lot of parents when I say this: we've missed that, not just from the kids' point of view but from ours. It's going to be good fun.”

And it'll be way more fun than home schooling, which Redknapp didn't enjoy at all.

“I found home schooling really tough, I'm not going to lie – but I think I speak for every parent that certainly I've spoken to about it. I've questioned myself as a parent more than ever because you have to do the right things from an educational point of view. I didn't like school myself, let alone having to home school someone. So it's been tough, but my kids have got on with it and the schools they go to have done a really good job.

“It's been hard – you question yourself as a parent – are they getting enough exercise, are they getting enough academic work done? When they're meant to be doing a class and you walk in the room and they're on their phone, what are you meant to do? Obviously you don't want to keep on having a go at them, you've got to try and find that balance of it being fun but also making sure they work hard.

“I've not enjoyed home schooling, put it that way.”

Redknapp, who shares parenting Beau and Charley with his ex-wife, the singer Louise, who he split up from in 2017, hopes his kids took on board his home schooling more than they do his football advice. Because, as any football parent will tell you, mums and dads know nothing about the sport – even if they've played for their country, it seems.

“I try not to push them too much, but as a dad you can't help it sometimes,” Redknapp admits. “I do notice Beau will listen more to the coaches at Chelsea or to anybody else rather than his dad. But that's all right, I can take that. As long as he goes out and tries his best and enjoys it, that's all I ask for really.”

And while Charley plays a bit of football, “I think I put him off it,” laughs Redknapp. “I used to show him videos and show him what he should be doing etc, and he decided rugby was more his calling. He's a super-talented player – a centre and a bit of a powerhouse.”

And whether either of his boys make it in their chosen sport is down to them, he stresses. “I think you have to guide them a little bit, but it all boils down to them. You can't make someone a footballer, otherwise we'd have footballers' sons playing throughout every league in the world.

“It's got to come from within – it certainly won't be me that makes Beau a footballer, it will be himself, he's got to have the heart and the desire. But even if he doesn't make it, just to be out, being active, playing sport with your friends is the most rewarding thing, and keeps them out of a lot of trouble, keeps them fit. The longer they can stay playing sport is so important for their wellbeing.”

Redknapp retired from football at the age of 31, after playing for clubs including Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Southampton and Bournemouth. But the beautiful game is still a major part of his life, as he works as a TV sports pundit as well as being a team captain on Sky's sport-based panel game show A League of Their Own. But actually playing football isn't so easy now, because of a bad knee from his playing days.

“I can kick a ball about, but not to the extent that I'd like to,” he says. “Every now and again I'll play a little five-a-side with my mates, but very rarely because I've had countless operations on my knee.

“But I'm addicted to football, it's my passion, so if there's a ball put out anywhere I'll have a kick about with the kids. I do miss it.”

He concludes: “We're not going to make every young kid a professional footballer, but just being out there and moving and getting yourself active is so important.”

:: mcdonalds.co.uk/funfootball

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