FIFA
#Ecosystem analysis

Play the talent

FIFA, 04 Feb 2022

FIFA
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The most effective lessons in football are learnt in competitive matches. It is therefore vital that young players are exposed to a progressive competitive games programme at all stages of their development.

Playing opportunities

It is apparent from the findings of FIFA’s research that, in many parts of the world, young players are not given the chance to participate in competitive environments, which can curb their growth as footballers. If these children are given the opportunity to be part of competitions that emphasise fun, game time and grouping the best with the best, then their love and talent for football can thrive.

Quality and quantity of playing opportunities for youth players

Competitions at elite youth level play an important role in player development as they involve the country’s biggest talents. Having innovative and diverse competitive formats at this level can have a significant impact on player development. There is a substantial imbalance in the number of club games played at youth level across different parts of the world, with an overall lack of organised football below the age of 14-15 for both boys and girls observed in many MAs. From the age of 16-17 upwards, there appears to be a high dropout rate across both genders, which is partly due to the lack of opportunities to progress into senior football.

Global findings:

  • The top-ranked MAs have comprehensive games programmes in place, putting players’ holistic development at their core. Elite domestic youth competitions are complemented by international experience and tournaments, which expose players to a range of opponents and different playing styles. 

  • Geographical challenges and financial restraints are described by many MAs as two main factors that inhibit the organisation of year-round youth competitions. 

  • Players in rural areas have significantly fewer playing opportunities compared to those living in urban areas and big cities. This is linked to the lack of clubs and appropriate infrastructure.

  • A significant number of countries do not have enough age-group competitions to ensure a smooth transition from junior to senior football. Consequently, certain age groups do not get enough playing opportunities.

  • Countries that lack a club academy system put great emphasis on school competitions to bridge the gap in playing opportunities.

  • Many MAs are lacking registration systems that can help to capture essential player information and to structure youth competitions that are fit for purpose. 

  • Upward trends in the number of registered players may be due to better infrastructure and access to organised football and youth development systems in the top 20 MAs.

Youth national-team playing opportunities

Youth football at international level should also be organised so that the best young talents play against each other across all age groups. Regular exposure gives players invaluable experience and a greater understanding of what is required at the highest level. At the same time, this gives technical staff a clear understanding of the level required and what needs to be adjusted to meet these demands. It must also be noted that international playing opportunities are not only relevant to associations, but also offer key development experiences for academies as part of a progressive games programme.

Top 20 MAs offer the greatest number of games across all youth national teams

Across U-16/17 and U-19/20, the top 20 MAs for both men and women offer the greatest number of playing opportunities over a two-year period. Youth national teams of by MAs ranked 51 to 100 offer the fewest playing opportunities for both men and women during the same period, in some cases more than 50 % fewer.

Global findings:

  • MAs should continue to improve the quality of their games programmes across both genders and all age groups. This is particularly necessary for women’s youth national teams, which have the most limited access to an appropriate number of matches. 

  • All confederations should consider organising more international youth competitions on a yearly basis while also working with MAs to ensure that youth national teams, especially in the women’s game, are in place across more age groups.

  • The most successful MAs frequently have relatively limited access to train their youth national teams as their players are often embedded in professional club academies. This means that players are only available to national-team coaches during international competitions. Conversely, MAs that have their own national academies are able to gain the easiest access to facilitate training days with their youth national-team players. 

  • Technical directors at the most successful MAs focus not only on the volume of games, but also on the quality of the opposition. These MAs recognise the need to find opportunities to test and challenge their players against the best possible opponents. The need to provide frequent and competitive international playing opportunities for youth national teams poses different challenges for every MA. There are, however, some MAs that face similar obstacles. One future challenge for confederations and FIFA is to bring MAs facing similar challenges together so that they can consider and share best practice with one another.

Takeaways

  • Increase domestic playing opportunities. Create a games programme that maximises the opportunity to play across all age groups and minimises the gaps that incur dropout. 

  • Expand opportunities for women. MAs should incentivise men’s clubs to create women’s sections, such as an academy and a first team. Women’s national leagues need to be professionalised. Introducing teams across more of the age groups required at youth level would also raise club standards.

  • Create a broader palette of playing experiences. To extend and consolidate their learning, players need to have access to different standards of opposition and different game formats. Academies and other youth systems need to balance competition and development opportunities in the training and playing curriculum for youth players on the player pathway.

  • Increase international playing opportunities. Competitive opportunities for youth and senior national teams outside of FIFA World Cups should be extended, at both confederation and regional level, to create new tournaments (e.g. regional leagues), competitions and meaningful games. The structure of FIFA and confederation youth championships should be reviewed to guarantee that no age groups miss out on the opportunity to appear in major tournaments. Similarly, the age groups and frequency of youth World Cups should be expanded, whereas confederations could consider creating tiered youth international championships. This would provide young players with more games against appropriate opposition to improve competitive balance.

  • Invest in infrastructure for youth and grassroots football. Appropriate investment would help to develop the quality and quantity of age-appropriate playing surfaces, ancillary facilities and associated football equipment. 

Talking Talent Pathways - the role of playing

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