Elite Youth Soccer Problems In England

The English Premier League is a remarkable success story. By the late 1980s, English soccer lay in the doldrums–stadiums were crumbling, attendances were down, and the success of other European leagues drew players away from England. Top clubs reacted to the problem by forming a breakaway league able to negotiate better television deals and sponsorship contracts for itself. In 1992, the Premier League formed, new money poured in, and a monster was born.

The EPL–as it is known in the United States–has the largest global television audience of any league in the world. Any league, that is, in any sport, anywhere on Earth. The EPL contains eight of the top twenty richest clubs in world soccer, has some of the most successful teams in European competitions, and provides a home for many of the world’s great players, like Andriy Shevchenko, Thierry Henry and Steven Gerrard.

Yet all is not well with English soccer. Despite the success of the EPL, English fans are left with a nagging concern, a concern that has formed the basis of untold hours of television punditry and mile upon mile of column inches. It is this: though the list of stellar names playing in the EPL is long, the fans are disturbed by how few of those names are English.

The skill of foreign players contributes greatly to the success of the EPL, but the concern of fans is justified because fewer English stars mean a poorer England team. By comparison to the success of club teams in the EPL, the English national team has under-performed for many years, winning nothing since the World Cup in 1966. England’s failure in prestigious tournaments has been a painful experience for many, made worse by seeing the prize go to rivals like Germany and France.

Consequently, experts from the Football Association (FA)–the governing body of English soccer–have scrutinized the English soccer system over the past ten years. The FA’s technical bodies have tried to understand why the best young English players do not perform to the standard of the best young players in other leading European countries–notably France, Spain, and Italy. With a constricted supply of elite young players, the England team is unlikely to improve.

The results of the FA’s investigation are summarised in a key document titled the Charter for Quality. The charter sets out a number of areas in which the English youth system has under-performed by comparison to similar systems abroad, and where it can, it suggests methods of improvement. This article explores six of those areas, each one containing useful information for those who also seek improvements in U.S. soccer.

Solution #1–More Practice, Fewer Games

First, the charter states that young gifted players in England are exposed to too much competitive soccer and too little practice time. Because insufficient time is spent on practicing soccer techniques–from basic ball control and passing, to more sophisticated concepts like tactical formation–competitive matches are a negative influence rather than a positive one on player development. Without enough attention given to correction, a player’s faults become further ingrained the more competitive matches he or she plays, making the corrective process harder and less likely to succeed.

The exaggerated emphasis on competitive matches in English soccer stems from a variety of causes that elite youth development in the United States would do well to avoid. Standout causes are long seasons spent in large leagues with too many teams, an archaic belief that practice has limited use because it bores young players and it is inferior to real competition and a commitment to a style of play that emphasises physical power and a high incident count, only found in competitive matches.

To encourage greater practice time, the FA took a positive step by restructuring its Academy Leagues, the competitive environment for the elite youth teams of professional clubs. By increasing the number of leagues at all age levels, the FA reduced the number of teams playing in any one league to ten, thereby reducing the length of the competitive season. Further, the FA made games played within the under-sixteen age group non-competitive. With no trophies to win, the FA is hopeful that coaches will begin to focus less on winning matches and more on improving individual ability.

Solution #2–Improved Youth Coaching

Page 1 of 3 | Next page

Related posts:

  1. Predicting Success in Sports
  2. Soccer For Success Grants
  3. Just Not Cricket!
  4. Summer Soccer Camps
  5. Here’s Your Chance To Rate Youth Coaches
  • Columns
  • Departments