THE Football Association of Ireland have rolled out a new programme, the Player Development Plan, aimed at enhancing underage Youth soccer structures across the country and, as a result, producing better players.
One of the core aims of this plan is as follows: “Implementation of a player-focused model based on enjoyment and skill development whilst reducing the emphasis on winning at all costs.”
A workshop on the FAI Player Development Plan is being held at IT Sligo’s Knocknarea Arena on Sunday, September 18 (1-4pm). Aimed at coaches working with teams in the Sligo-Leitrim Youths Schoolboys and Schoolgirls League, the workshop will be delivered by FAI High Performance Director Ruud Dokter. It is free entry to this workshop, which was officially launched on Tuesday of this week at IT Sligo.
One Youth soccer coach taking up the opportunity to attend the workshop on the FAI’S Player Development Plan is Ballymote Celtic coach Alan Farry, who has been coaching soccer teams locally for a number of years.
Farry has high hopes for the new plan as part of its remit is to ensure that all players in a squad get the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful game. He said: “It [the plan] is trying to be a bit more player-centred than things were done before. Ruud Dokter, the FAI High Performance Director, has come in and tried to change the way football is coached and played in this country.”
“Dokter was quite concerned about a lot of young kids playing 11-a-side football with big goals so that is what he is trying to change with, for example, the use of weighted footballs, smaller goals and nine-a-side games.”
“In my opinion it is about time – rolling substitutions had to happen, too, as we have had situations where you have nine or 10 subs on the bench but can only bring on four or five at a time and a couple of these would only get on for a few minutes. It is a welcome change and the kids are getting the game time they deserve.”
The success of Sligo-Leitrm representative sides, for example wins in tournaments such as the Foyle Cup and Galway Cup, reflects the improvement locally and the work being put in by coaches such as Farry.
While he believes Youth soccer in the north-west is heading in the right direction, a mentality of development over results must be emphasised.
“We want players playing different positions and getting as much game time as possible, they aren’t improving if they aren’t playing often and we have to change that mentality.”
“We always complain about the national team and the standard of football that was played under Trapattoni but international and domestic football is results driven, you have relegation, play-offs, qualifying for different tournaments, it is all down to results.”
“But in kids football it isn’t important. Kids will always be competitive and the only way they can improve their game is to play it the right way first and look for the results second,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, FAI Football Development Officer for Sligo, John Russell, is hopeful of a big turnout for September’s workshop.
He said: “In my role in Sligo, I am constantly looking to get more boys and girls playing the game and the FAI rolled out this new plan in December 2015 so we are nearly at a year since it began.”
“The workshop coming up at IT Sligo is about increasing awareness about the FAI’s Player Development Plan and educating coaches and parents on what we are trying to do.”
“Leagues will be played in the same format and we want all children getting game time. We want as many people to come down [to the workshop], have a look and see what happening and it might get them interested in getting involved in their local club.”
“We want more clubs springing up around the area and for me in my role I work closely with the schools and there is a huge amount of kids in Sligo who are playing in their school at lunch time but don’t have a club to go to so if we can provide more club and get more volunteers on board then we will do what we can because at the end of the day they just love playing football.”
Like many counties, the Sligo soccer scene faces competition from a variety of other sports, but John believes that football in the county is stepping into a bright future with the recent international call ups of local players.
“Soccer is in competition with a lot of other sports. When you look at Belgium and Spain they are playing it from a young age, but here you have basketball, soccer, gaelic, hurling and other sports so there is a lot of competition but in this region a lot of good stuff is happening terms of facilities and coaching and we are seeing players progressing and getting trials with international squads, we saw recently Seamie Keogh was selected for the Hibernia Cup and Robyn Kennedy has trained with the U-16 girls so there is a lot of work being done there.”
This workshop will also focus on the developing youth structures in Leitrim, where regional development officer Damon Kearney is placing primary focus on the establishment of more clubs in the county.
“Part of the role of a development officer is providing education for coaches, working with clubs and helping them put the infrastructure in place for young players. We want to work in areas where there isn’t a soccer club as such so we want to develop that. It will take time and volunteers to come in, but we will work them in a system that will hopefully help in building a club.”
Damon is calling on more volunteers to get involved in a good cause as prospective new football clubs provides a hugely beneficial outlet for kids who want to play football beyond the lunchtime or after school kick about.
“In terms of interest, boys and girls are playing soccer all across the county. Apart from Manor Rangers there isn’t any girls clubs so we really need to push that on but one of the big challenges is the recruitment of volunteers and people are a bit shy for a number of reasons, but we are asking for an hour or a few hours a week and that can benefit everyone in the long run, because that is what sport is all about, giving opportunities to young kids who want to go out and play the game with their friends.”