The second day of the 3rd UEFA Youth Conference opened with presentations from representatives of three of Europe's most successful countries - the Netherlands, Spain and Denmark.
Wim Koevermans, an instructor with the Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB), was the first to speak on the Dutch youth development system. He began by outlining the importance of football in the Netherlands, and explained the KNVB's philosophy, saying: "We work on a broad basis, with the emphasis on cohesion between top-level competition and sport for all."
Route to the top
He then illustrated the KNVB's masterplan, which involves football development at the base level, education for all and talent development for the top players. The next step was to examine the route by which talented young players progress into the national team, from their local clubs through to district academies then into the national youth teams and finally into the senior Dutch side.
Koevermans added that the KNVB was hoping to combine a number of the regional academies to provide stronger competition, explaining: "Our vision on talent development is to get the best players playing against each other in the best competitions." He went on to describe the close relationship between the KNVB and the club, and explained the structure of coach education in the country and the Dutch view of a coach's role. The overriding idea, he said, was to encourage players to think for themselves, so they make the right decision during a game.
Eight versus eight
The next presentation, from Spain's Under-19 coach Ginés Meléndez, was more technical and focused on the Spanish practice of playing eight-a-side matches. This approach is particularly effective, he said, in players aged 12 and under and allows players to pass the ball easily and accurately while encouraging them to exploit the extra space. 'Fútbol 8', as the Spanish call it, started as a seven-player game, but Meléndez said that studies had shown that eight players was more beneficial than seven.
There were a number of reasons he gave for this, not least the fact the transition from eight-a-side to eleven-a-side is significantly easier. In addition, it allows the players to improve their individual technique, passing and team play. "The main factor is that it allows each player to improve individually to the benefit of all," Meléndez concluded.
The third and final speaker was Denmark U21 coach Flemming Serritslev, whose presentation concentrated on his country's integrated talent development programme. The Danish Football Association established the scheme in 1994, and five years later an agreement was reached aimed at strengthening talent development in clubs and having a full-time talent coach in ten clubs.
The programme seeks to benefit clubs, individual players and the Danish national team, with its ultimate goal providing a number of players for the senior side. Also particularly significant is an online diary which players involved in the programme are obliged to keep, detailing training routines, any medication taken and targets set.
Following the conclusion of Serritslev's speech, the delegates departed for a practical session hosted by Koevermans who was working with Cyprus's U16 and U17 players. The Dutchman began with a five versus three game aimed at improving passing and possession, before moving into a nine-a-side contest in which he made regular changes to formation and approach in order to illustrate how adaptable players and coaches have to be.
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