It has been written ad nauseum post World Cup; the Germans disastrous performance at Euro 2000 saw the introduction of compulsory youth academies which lead to their 2014 World Cup victory. But what can Australia learn from the Germans and how does our proposed solution, the National Football Curriculum, compare to the German’s?
10 Years of Academies
In 2011, the German Bundesliga produced a 48 page report titled “10 Years of Academies – Talent pools of top-level German football”, the report details the implementation of their compulsory youth academies, a requirement for all Bundesliga and 2.Bundesliga clubs to have youth teams from U12s to U23s.
Over the past decade the investment in youth development has doubled, the proportion of German players in the Bundesliga has increased, the average squad age has decreased, and over half of the players currently playing in the Bundesliga were developed at an academy.
The success of these academies are a result of a systematic approach to youth development that is regularly monitored. In 2007, the German FA teamed up with Double PASS, a Belgium firm that has developed a system of assessing youth academies.
Double PASS evaluates youth academies in eight categories, with weighted points in each, totalling a maximum score of 5,000 points. The German FA certifies academies based on these results, giving each club a star rating between one and three. Clubs earn financial benefits based on how many stars they have, with three star teams earning up to 300,000 euros each season.
The Germans are not the only client of Double PASS. They have worked with the Belgium FA since 2002 and have recently teamed up with the English FA as part of their comprehensive Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP).
Whilst the introduction of the EPPP has been met with controversy, there have been positive reports on the certification process for German clubs, with Double PASS reporting improvements for 60% of the clubs involved in their second audit of the 36 German youth academies.
Perhaps the most impressive result of the second audit in 2010-11 was the qualifications of the 433 youth coaches involved across the academies. Astonishingly there are five times the amount of A Licence coaches than what is required and over double the amount of B Licence coaches.
This is arguably a reflection of the largely inexpensive costs of advanced coaching courses in Germany.
Reviewing the implementation of German youth academies there are a few key recommendations that should be applied to the current environment of youth development in Australia.
Cost of Coaching Education
When you consider the cost of advanced coaching courses in Australia, then describing the cost of obtaining qualifications in Germany as “largely inexpensive” seems like a shocking understatement.
A Licence courses in Germany cost as little as 530 euros ($770 AUD), with the B Licence only costing 430 euros ($625 AUD). In Australia the cost of a B-Licence, for those who cover their own accommodation is $2,200, with the A-Licence costing more than $5000.
When you consider these costs it is not surprising to learn that almost half the coaches involved in German academies have an A Licence.
Whilst the figures for Australian coaches are not publicised, FFA’s National Competitions Review provides a snapshot of the lack of qualified coaches in Australia compared to the top european nations.
Furthermore, Football NSW’s 2013 Technical Report revealed that there were only two coaches in the 24 NPL NSW club, coaching between the ages of 12-15, that had an A-Licence or Pro Diploma.
This is a staggering difference to the German football academies, who in comparison had 82 coaches with an A Licence or Pro Diploma.
These figures point to a key problem facing NPL coaches across the country, with very few A-League clubs having youth development pathways, it is the role of these NPL clubs to educate and develop players.
FFA clearly has good intentions in having a curriculum that aims to change the way our players are developed, but without qualified coaches the curriculum can hardly be utilised to its full potential. This is not to say that unqualified coaches are not good coaches or that coaching qualifications guarantee quality coaches; but if FFA want all Australians to develop under the same systematic plan, they need to have qualified coaches who understand it.
It is hard to imagine how parents would react if they learnt their children’s school teachers was unqualified and were teaching from a textbook they may not fully understand. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that this is happening on football pitches all across the country.
But this is not the fault of the coaches, who are often sponges for information on coach education and training methods. The cost of these coaching courses are simply not affordable for NPL coaches, many of whom earn less from coaching than the cost of an A-Licence.
Some improvements to addressing the cost issue have been made. Football West announced mid-last year that the cost for all coaching courses would be reduced by 33%. Football West technical director Cris Ola explained the reasoning behind the decision:
“At a time when we are pushing compulsory coach accreditation and improved education as part of the National Premier Leagues process, this should be a welcome relief to those wishing to take part.”
Youth Academies in the A-League
The success of Germany’s compulsory academies makes the lack of youth development in the A-League appear a clear oversight.
Only Central Coast Mariners (a partnership with Central Coast Football association), Perth Glory, Brisbane Roar and Newcastle Jets (a partnership with Northern NSW Federation) have a youth academy or National Youth League teams playing in their respective NPL competitions.
Adelaide are the only other club to make a serious attempt at joining their local NPL competition, but their proposed link with local club Enflield SC was rejected by FFSA and its members. This has left the Reds waiting until 2016, the same year that Sydney FC have earmarked to field a youth academy in the NSW NPL.
This issue was originally identified by FFA in its 2007 National Football Development Plan, which proposed to introduce an accreditation and rating system for clubs, schools and private providers. This is clearly part of a long term plan, as outgoing national technical director, Han Berger, listed the lack of youth academies in the A-League as something he was not able to fully implement. Berger also commented on the need to introduce an accreditation system for schools and private academies.
Many of these academies are run by current or former players, with many having no advanced coaching accreditation. Unfortunately the recent influx in academies has blurred the lines between coaches who are looking to make a quick buck conducting school holiday clinics and those who are passionate about youth development. Also, the sad reality is that due to the lack of full-time coaching jobs within Australian football, for those who have invested large sums in obtaining their coaching licences, setting up a private academy is seen as a way to recuperate their costs, or to make additional income on top of the small earnings they make from coaching at NPL level.
Without any kind of accreditation it is hard for parents to know what, if anything, they are gaining from their investment. An accreditation system, similar to the Double PASS method used in Germany, Belgium and now England would be a giant step forward.
It is unrealistic to think that a few changes in youth development could turn Australia into the World Cup winning system like the Germans.
Having all A-League clubs developing youth players in the NPL will help to produce more elite players and improve their pathways into professional football. This can only occur if these academies are monitored and regularly reviewed to ensure that the environment for players to develop is truly world class. Having this accreditation system will allow private academies to also be reviewed, giving parents a clear idea of what they are investing in.
However, none of this will be possible without high quality coaches. If FFA wants to take youth development seriously then they need to ensure that the knowledge required for coaches to implement the National Football Curriculum is easily attainable and affordable.
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