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Youth Development - The way forward.
Wed Dec 10, 2003 08:40

Youth Development - The way forward.
By: DR.

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there!! I’ve often wondered where Trinidad and Tobago’s football is heading. When one looks at the decline that represents our fall from the CFU summit and the type of money being spent, to achieve such results we must admit that those responsible have failed miserably.

FIFA vice-president and Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (T&TFF) special advisor Jack Warner recently promised “a host of changes” within the T&TFF and “a new dawn for local football”. He also revealed that the local body had highlighted certain initiatives “to turn local football around” from its present scenario of “doom and gloom”. “You can expect a host of changes from top to bottom.... All the changes are positive and you can expect to see a whole new dawn for local football from Thursday.” The desperation evident in his tone led me to believe that finally redemption was imminent.

The Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (T&TFF) laid down the blueprint for another charge at a FIFA senior World Cup berth on Thursday May 15, 2003 when "Project 2006-The Way Forward" was launched at Crowne Plaza Hotel, Port of Spain. The project will cost an estimated $23,072,680, which should be sourced by an International Matches and Tours Committee chaired by T&TFF special adviser and FIFA vice-president Jack Warner. Key to the T&TFF's plans is the performance of the national teams and the local governing body has turned to St Lucia-born, but long-time Trinidad and Tobago resident, Stuart Charles-Fevrier to mould the "Soca Warriors". So went the report in the daily newspapers. Alas, the usual reshuffle took place with little fanfare and even lower expectations. The blueprint is but a wish and a prayer. Sadly missing were those highly touted “initiatives to turn local football around”. Did I miss something? Sadly, I did not.

Before one seeks solutions, one’s definitional system must be carefully examined, starting with the problem. What are the major problems with TT football set up? I’d say:

1. There are only short-term plans for all teams.
2. The football education of the youth is random or non-existent.
3. Budgetary problems.

As I reflect on the last two decades, I see a National “Programme” without direction. Technical directors were brought in and discarded with such regularity that we are reaping the benefits of their work. Why was this occurring? I believe that the “Programme” was set up to address short-term objective i.e. results in regional and sub-regional events. Here teams are assembled on short notice, with little or no preparation and high expectations. What is needed is a comprehensive long-term plan that would address intermittent goals, thus putting the program on sound footing. So here we are again at that juncture - the end of one mission and the beginning of a new pursuit, the failure to qualify for the Gold Cup, and onto the road to the World Cup. There is nothing in place for place for beyond the WC, which begins soon, and would most likely end as those prior attempts. We need to begin at the beginning, dust off one of our many development plans, and begin the implementation process.

The youth movement is the group that should be identified to receive the greatest investment. This is where the seeds of future success must be sown. While we were trudging along, there was a worldwide movement to broaden the base participation while improving the football education to the young, with an eye to culling the cream of the crop for further development. This part of any national Programme must define the way this development is managed. The introduction of players, talent identification, player development should all be facilitated in our quest to progress as a footballing nation. The football world is littered with examples of development programs that we may use as guides. From our inaction on this front, am I to conclude that we are satisfied with the quality coming through? If not how are we planning to “fix” the supply lines?

There was also some talk about some collaboration with the AYSO. While this would put a structure in place for greater participation in the sport, it does not represent the elite training component we desperately need. The French Academy has become the preferred model. Selected youth players 12 -15 years old participating in 35 to 40 matches per year, and receiving specialized coaching 3-4 times per week tells of the disparity that currently exists between our approach and that of the top Europeans. The US has Bradenton Academy, which together with project-40 has similar levels of exposure to specialized coaching and matches as the top Europeans. Costa Rica, Mexico and the USA continue to dominate the Confederation at all levels, largely based on their investment in youth. They are 8-10 years ahead of us. How could we make that up in 2 short years?

$23M is budgeted for our current short-term mission. Implementation of the plans for the Road to 2014 and beyond must also be launched today. That would truly indicate that the “way forward” is no longer an after-thought, but a process at work over time which can now be reviewed periodically and amended as needed to continue progress to the point where we are able to send consistently, capable representation to all future world football events - from age group through senior levels. What then is our annual budget for this longer-term plan? Zero dollars.

In the major soccer playing nations, player development is done at the professional clubs’ academies, national academies, club apprenticeships or a combination of them. Since big budgets for exclusive, elaborate academies are not available in Trinidad and Tobago, what can our immediate options be? The professional clubs are required to have youth teams, so some youth development is being facilitated now.

There is an educational structure in place with the physical plants being funded and operational. By designating a few school as “Sport Schools”, development for various sporting disciplines could be added to the academic requirements. This would now put the development under the aegis of the Education Ministry, thereby nixing the funding question. In the case of football, the following is a suggested organization of such program.

We have 6 zones in the TTFF. We can allocate one such school per zone. Upon the advise of the Technical Director, a head coach and assistant(s) duly qualified and trained to work with this age group, would conduct the program at each site. The programme would be designed and overseen by the TD. There would be 10 players admitted per year initially, for a maximum of 30 players all between the ages of 13 and 15 (say form2 thru 4). The programme would field teams in the zones U-17 league as part of their development. Admission into the program could be expanded over time to 20 per year. To achieve 20 players at age 13, 20 players at age 14, and 20 players at age 15. The clubs could draft the players upon graduation from the programme. The programme would receive compensation for players picked up by the professional clubs, which can be used to offset some of the program’s cost. There is also the question of participation in the CFL, which would need to be examined.

Academic classes would occupy the first part of the day, with the training program in the afternoon following an early afternoon break. There is some sacrifice required of the participants, as the hectic schedule would cut into their leisure and socializing time. It is a necessary trade off to take advantage of a window of opportunity towards the goal of fulfilling their potential on the football front.

The question isn’t whether to turn pro at 16 or 17, but the development choice one makes as a footballer. The future elite players must start training like a pro from a young age. Failure to do so would result in the players’ losing ground in development. The international game has changed, becoming more refined and professional even at the youth level. The mission of the programme being primarily the development of technically sound players, therefore the quality of the players coming out of such a programme would certainly raise the level of the local game. We must change the way we do thing, or lose all hope of ever making a mark on the game. Any investment in our youth is a small when compared to the results they would produce.


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