The positive effects of the UEFA Study Group Scheme have been displayed in the Republic of Ireland. The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) held a dissemination workshop in Dublin with grassroots leaders and local clubs to share ideas learned from a study group visit to Switzerland.
FAI representatives were part of a study group along with those from the Swiss Football Association (SFV-ASF), the Danish Football Association (DBU) and the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan (AFFA) which was held in Bern at the start of May. Part of the meeting included demonstrations by the SFV-ASF on the non-competitive small-sided format of football they have adopted for the Under-7 categories, a practice that did much to impress the FAI.
A practical session based on the Swiss model, with five-a-side matches on small pitches designed to give players more touches of the ball, was one of the highlights of the follow-up meeting organised by the FAI on 6 June. Six clubs from the Dublin area were invited to the workshop to demonstrate the concepts, with over 200 spectators and coaches in attendance, as well as the FAI's club development national coordinator, Paul Martyn.
"From our club's point of view, it is something we will be looking to implement," said Shay L'Estrange from Lourdes Celtic AFC, whose Sundrive Park home hosted the event. "The non-competitiveness, the extra touches on the ball and the small pitch are all factors that will enable us to improve the skill sets of our players."
The format of the day included a series of 12-minute games with the players rotating every 15 minutes. The matches were played with no referees while coaches were asked not to coach during playing time and parents asked only to encourage the children and applaud good play. The setup also included two technical areas which each team would visit once each.
"The concept itself makes so much sense," added Mark Connors from Liffey Valley Rangers. "The technical ability of our players will improve massively if this concept is implemented. The number of touches each player had on the ball in the 12-minute technical area was unbelievable. The players from Liffey Valley loved it and it's something we will be looking to implement in the near future. Coaches and parents being quiet, no referees, just the kids playing football was an added bonus."
Another of the coaches present, Paul Webb from Crumlin United, said: "We are not producing enough footballers who are comfortable with the ball at both feet. That is our fault, not the child's. We constantly hear that the the best footballing nations' players are born with this footballing gift ; this is untrue.
"They are taught that the ball is the most important item on a pitch and they must learn how to master it with both feet. Last week was the first step to addressing this problem by allowing the players more time on the pitch, smaller pitches and technical areas to work on their technique."
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