Why Germany's unique footballing youth development system owes debt to a Swabian university

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By Amit Kamath

Stuttgart: The story of how German Football Federation (DFB) recalibrated its footballing system to focus on youth players in the aftermath of the men's national team’s infamous Euro 2000 ouster has been told several times.

But while most of the focus has been fixated on the billions of euros Bundesliga clubs spent in upgrading their youth academies, the DFB’s own ingenious concept of creating an alternate pathway for players from thousands of tiny amateur clubs, arriving from small towns and humble villages scattered across Germany to get professional footballing training has barely been spoken of.

Now one of the most sought after International star, Germany's Toni Kroos' early footballing days can be tacked back to him playing for little known club called Greifswald. Reuters

The DFB’s ambitious Talent Development Program, which came into effect from 2002, made provisions for over 300 Competence Centres to be set up around the country which would give talented footballers in the U12 to U15 age groups, who were playing for local village clubs, professional coaching from DFB’s qualified coaches one day a week.

“The DFB has two columns to promote our talented footballers. They can go very early to play for a professional club. Or, for example if it is too far from their home, they can just stay at their hometown club and play at the amateur level, but still get professional training at the Competence Centres,” Professor Dr Oliver Höner, who is the head of the Department of Sport Psychology and Research Methods at the Institute of Sports Science of University of Tübingen, told Firstpost.

Since 2008 the University of Tübingen has been a partner of the DFB’s Talent Development Program, which is currently held across 366 Competence Centres where around 1,300 qualified coaches work with footballers in the U12 to U15 age groups. These coaches also help identify youth players with potential, who are then invited to train every Monday evening at the DFB Competence Centre nearest to their homes.

According to Höner, the DFB’s Talent Development system has at least four ‘levels’. The first is grassroots football, where kids play for amateur clubs in their hometown.

The second level, where the Competence Centres come into the picture, is playing either for the youth academy of a professional Bundesliga club or persisting with the amateur club in their hometown while getting professional training at a Competence Centre. From the U13 level onwards, regional footballing associations appear into the picture. For example, the southern state of Baden-Württemberg, where Tübingen is based, has three regional associations. There are 21 such regional associations who have larger squad of talented players picked from the Competence Centres and the youth academies of big clubs.

Then there’s the third level starting from the U15 age group, which is essentially the German youth national teams.

“So from U15 to U19 age groups, we have the Elite Promotion Program, where we don’t have the Competence Centres anymore, but we have youth academies, regional associations and above all, the national teams,” said Höner, who has a UEFA A coaching licence himself.

The fourth level is the professional football clubs.

Players like Toni Kroos (Greifswald), Bendikt Howedes (Recklinghausen), Shkodran Mustafi (Bad Hersfeld), Andre Schürrle (Bobenheim) and Jerome Boateng (Spezialförderung BFV) are just a few of the national team players whose first footballing steps can be traced back to unknown small-town clubs.

Speed and technical skills count

On being asked what attributes the coaches from the DFB’s Competence Centres look for in players, Höner said: “Two performance factors they look for are speed and, most of all, technical skills. For instance, in the age groups U12 and U13 they should rather focus on speed and technical skills rather than aspects like endurance, or physical attributes like height etc.”

What makes the DFB’s Talent Development Program unique is the involvement of the national federation in developing youth players, which is a burden shouldered mostly by the football clubs in countries like England. But the role that a humble university from the idyllic Swabian town of Tübingen plays in helping the national federation cannot be overlooked as well.

Höner said that motor diagnostics are conducted on the players by DFB staff members supported by the Sport Psychology and Research Methods department. “We assess their technical skills like dribbling, ball control and juggling. We also measure speed abilities such as agility or linear sprints over 20m distances. These are the two topics that we are assessing in the diagnostics,” he said, but was quick to add that the motor diagnostics tests are only monitoring tools, and should a player have ‘bad values’ on their diagnostics, a player should not be dropped.

“Our recommendation is that coaches have to judge from their personal experience whether the player should be promoted. The diagnostics can be used for further information. Foremost, current weaknesses and strengths of the players can be identified, which can be worked on in the training sessions.”

Moreover, the department of sport psychology and research methodology offers psychological diagnostics to all licensed youth academies for the players in the age groups U12 to U19, which are taken up by more than 20 professional clubs across Germany.

The writer is in Germany as part of the Robert Bosch Media Ambassadors Program.


Tags: #Andre Schurrle #Bendikt Howedes #Club football #Club football Germany #football #German Football Federation #Germany football #Jerome Boateng #KickingAround #Shkodran Mustafi #Toni Kroos


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