Single-Digit Soccer: The definitive word on Germany

How do they do things in Europe? As we saw with birth-year age groups, perhaps not what we think.

Single-Digit Soccer makes multiple references to a terrific piece from The Guardian (disclaimer: I’m now writing a bit for the excellent UK newspaper) on the way Germany revamped its youth system after falling short at Euro 2000.  Today, The Guardian has an excerpt from a forthcoming book on German soccer called Das Reboot.

The only information I saw in this excerpt that contradicts the previous Guardian piece — the reboot actually started before 2000. Everything else hits and expands upon familiar themes, though the excerpt takes a while to get to the youth programs of interest to Single-Digit Soccer fans.

A few highlights:

– In 1996, the German DFB only worked with the national teams, while regional federations did the bulk of the education. Berti Vogts sought to put a DFB coach “inside each regional federation to conduct additional sessions for gifted kids who weren’t part of the club system.” At the time, it was turned down.

– After World Cup 1998, a modified plan went into effect: 121 regional centers to do weekly two-hour sessions for 4,000 kids in the 13-17 age bracket. Another program would reach 10,000 boys (and yes, we should specify *boys*, though I’ll be curious to see what the book says about the impact on women’s soccer) under 12.

– The goal: Everyone should live within 25 kilometers of a regional center.

Think about that for a second. Twenty-five kilometers. A little more than 15 miles.

Imagine that on the East Coast. You’d have multiple centers in Fairfax County, Va. The Triad area in North Carolina would have at least three — Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point. The Triangle would probably have a couple in between the Durham/Chapel Hill and Raleigh metros.

– There was some push and pull between elite and what I guess you’d call recreational.

The DFB made it compulsory for the 18 top teams to build performance centres by 2001–02. Money was the main obstacle: “How much will it cost? Is that really necessary?, were the reactions,” says Schott. But there was also some resistance at the ideological level against fostering the elite. “Werder Bremen doesn’t want to follow the principle of selection,” the former Werder general manager Willi Lemke, a Social Democrat politician, said in 1998. “We have a social responsibility. We are obliged to provide leisure activities for children, promote the motivation to perform, teach them solidarity and team spirit.”

At the same time, the federation was making sure to reach beyond the chosen few in pro academies. Go back to the previous Guardian piece and its comments on a program for ages 8-14 in 366 areas with 1,000 B-licensed part-time coaches:

Some youngsters attending the development programme are already affiliated with professional clubs but others may be only turning out for their local junior side, which means the weekly DFB sessions are also a chance for Bundesliga teams to spot players.

The clubs also have some flexibility to reach out across a wider expanse without herding the “best” youngsters into their academies at an early age:

Across a sizeable area where they face little competition from other Bundesliga clubs, Freiburg work closely with five amateur feeder teams who receive a part-time coach to train children aged 8 to 11 twice a week. The most promising players are invited to attend the academy during school holidays and for occasional tournaments at weekends. “We believe it is not good for a nine-year-old to play [regularly] for a professional football club because it changes the reasons why he plays football,” says Sebastian Neuf, a member of the football school’s management.

National competition starts at U17. It’s regional at U15. That’s typical — check the European Club Academies report.

(Edited to add: What about young women? Through U15, a lot of them are playing on the boys teams!)

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Beau Dure

The guy who wrote a bunch of soccer books and now runs a Gen X-themed podcast while substitute teaching and continuing to write freelance stuff.

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