An interesting alternative perspective on youth football was offered by Kozo Tashima, technical director of the Japan Football Association (JFA), who made the final presentation on the second day of the 8th UEFA Youth Conference in Cyprus.
Entitled The Japanese Way, Tashima began his presentation with a video explaining the history of football in Japan, where a domestic league was launched in 1965 before the national side won bronze at the 1968 Mexico Olympics. There followed a long period of underachievement, however, before the professional league was established in 1993, five years before Japan's FIFA World Cup finals debut in France. The country then co-hosted the 2002 event, reaching the last 16.
The JFA is keen to continue the progress of the past decade, and with this in mind published a declaration earlier this year. It aims to welcome five million people to the Japanese 'football family', and for Japan to be in the top ten of the FIFA rankings by 2015, while by 2050 the goal is to have ten million in the 'family' and to have won the World Cup. "We are going to make dreams come true," said Tashima.
To do that, he went on, the JFA must begin to meet certain objectives. The technical committee has to strengthen links between the grassroots game and the national side, while under the terms of a development plan, the committee will study every world championship, analyse and identify the latest trends with a view to overcoming the problems in the Japanese game.
Accordingly, the JFA has established a technical house, which evaluates the sport before passing on relevant information. This takes the form of a technical study that identifies problems - the particular issue Tashima chose to single out was the weakness of Japanese players in one-on-one situations. "In order to become one of the top ten teams, we must look at the current differences between us and those teams - then work on what we lack," he explained. "However, we must also strengthen the areas in which we are excellent, such as our strong mentality, collective play and discipline.
"No nation becomes strong without strong grassroots," he added, before illustrating the recent improvements the JFA has introduced, such as strong co-operation between coaches and parents. "We must continually improve and reform our youth development, in which the players come first," he said.
Tashima next discussed the training centre system, which he believes has made a significant contribution to Japan's successes. "We are certain we can improve further, so we constantly evaluate," he said. "We have recently agreed an exchange partnership with the French Football Federation and we must close the gap to the world's top ten. We want to improve at the top level, but that can only be done when the foundations are strong enough."
'Football is changing'
Tashima closed by returning to the JFA's declaration of future targets, saying: "Nothing can be achieved unless you start to work. If you have a big dream and never give up, that dream can come true. We have learned a lot from out football friends - football is changing all the time and we must change too. Some things, however, do not change, and we should never forget the joy of children when they play."
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