What’s new in youth football from 2024: ‘You should think like a kid’

Leipzig.“We must not make the mistake of transferring the principles that apply in adult football to children’s sport,” explains Marcus Herti. The German Football Association’s sporting director for talent promotion is currently preparing everything to fundamentally revolutionize children’s football in Germany from the summer of 2024. On Monday, the 59-year-old spoke at the Institute for Applied Training Sciences (IAT) Competitive Sports Youth Symposium . The Competence Center in Leipzig has been supporting athletes and their coaches in their daily work with comprehensive scientific frameworks for years.

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In the hull of the RB Arena, speakers from a variety of sporting sub-disciplines will provide insights into the current state of research and perspectives on the future of targeted youth development through Wednesday. In this context, Hertie, who has been the head of talent promotion at the German Football Association since 2016, introduced the much-discussed new promotion concept with the somewhat impractical name of “age-appropriate competition system and development in football”. Essentially, this provides a complete reorientation of the principle of training and development in German football for children, and it will be rolled out and implemented in all government associations at the start of the 2024/25 season. The Federal Youth Day of the German Football Association voted unanimously on this after a two-year testing phase.

Competition is no longer the only focus

In essence, Hirte asks within this concept whether competition in its most basic form is still appropriate for the development of young talent, or whether it should instead work toward the goal. So far, the majority of coaching and character development management has been designed too quickly for the next game or tournament, and according to Hurt, this inevitably affects the personal decisions of coaches, clubs and parents: “We’ve all grown up with it, but we shouldn’t make mistakes that make it easy to pass on the principles that apply. From adult football to children’s sport.”

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The competition in its new form puts other features at the fore, Hirte mentions recruitment of young talents, player development, team building as well as acquisition of social skills as target definitions. But one concept hovers above all – fun. Exactly this aspect that pushes children onto the football pitches of this nation at a very young age, which is the fundamental essence of the sport, so to speak: “We have to start thinking like children and thinking about what children at this age want. And apart from tournaments and tactical courses, It means playing with each other, scoring goals and feeling a sense of accomplishment – individually and in a team.”

Prioritize fun

In order to meet these requirements, the German Football Association is planning to introduce mini-football as a mandatory form of play. It’s no coincidence that the word “fun” also appears in the game’s name and training theory, devised by Horst Wynn, a former National Hockey Player who died in 2016 in the 1980s.

In the future, youth teams G, F and E will play the recommended triple-match for a total of four goals – but without a goalkeeper, in order to avoid premature placement. The low number of players, the limited space including the “shooting area” and the doubling of targets should reinforce exactly those aspects in children that Hirte and the DFB as a whole have identified as future targets. Based on the latest scientific findings, the head ball should also be limited to what is absolutely necessary in childhood. There will be no kicks, corners or throws in, instead you have to dribble.

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More ball contacts are highlighted for each child, faster decision-making, more technically advanced play, and the complexity of the game must be reduced in order to be able specifically to meet the cognitive and physical needs of these age groups and reduce the pressure to perform.

Afternoon game with many games

However, the DFB does not want to completely hide the trend of success, on the contrary. They just want to define and refer to the concept of success differently – and this also changes “game day”, as we know it from the adult sector, for example. Rather than playing just one game on the weekend, where you place great importance on winning or losing, Game Afternoons and Festivals aims to host a variety of multi-team games. The principle of rotation aims to ensure that each child gets their time and keep the game fun. “Kids don’t want to talk about the whole week after the game just about the mistakes, omissions and negative aspects posted by coaches and parents,” said Herty.

Hirte does not want to see an artificial decline in the competitive aspects and the associated risks of slowing other talented people in their development as a stumbling block to the brave new world of football: “The opposite is true. Appreciate working together and team success. It will also make its own advantages sufficiently tangible later in the transition to the youth sector.”

It will probably be difficult to appreciate a sufficiently long-term concept in perhaps 15-20 years – times are very fast-moving, and noble intentions are often very fragile. But who knows where Marcus Hurt is quietly happy and feeling certain when a seven-year-old manages to lift the 2042 World Cup.

Written by George Mayer

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