Youth football must never be neglected if the game is to maintain its good health. In addition, young footballers must be developed in the proper way to give them the best possible chance of success.
Footballers and people
Delegates at the UEFA Jubilee seminar on youth football, which began on Friday at the House of European Football in Nyon, Switzerland, heard that it was the duty of the European football community to foster young players not only as footballers, but also to help them become rounded people.
"Youth is a talent – but it is a perishable talent," UEFA technical director Andy Roxburgh told the seminar. "During this period, we need to invest time, both in terms of coaching and financial investment. If we neglect this talent, it perishes, which means that we have to handle young players with loving care."
Past and future
The seminar, which is being held not only to mark UEFA's Golden Jubilee year, but also to coincide with Saturday's UEFA European Under-19 Championship final between Spain and Turkey in Nyon, focuses on European youth football over the past five decades, and will also be assessing the future of this vital sector of the game.
Result not the priority
"The result can never be the right priority at youth level," Roxburgh explained. "If a youth team wins, it is a bonus, but it is more important that we try to develop better players. It"s our task to help youngsters gather the experience that helps them achieve higher standards." He said that England's Wayne Rooney, Johan Vonlanthen of Switzerland and Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo – all of whom shone at UEFA EURO 2004™ recently – were fine examples of modern-day young players who had emerged as top-level prospects thanks to proper nurturing.
The UEFA technical director said that young footballers had to protected from various dangers that could harm their development. These included unrealistic expectations, outside attractions, injuries, overplaying and poor leadership and guidance.
Discipline and respect
Instilling discipline and respect was an essential part of any youth coach's job, Roxburgh added. "If young players misbehave, then we, the coaches, are accountable – there is only one person to blame. We must also teach them to respect the various elements in football: referees, opponents, team-mates, coaches, the public, traditions – and the game itself.
"The game at this level must be skilful and have educational value – we are developing players who are not yet the end product, it is all part of a process. Youth football must also be about fair play. You can be competitive, but you must learn how to win and lose. The game at this stage is also about taking care of individuals. It should teach youngsters about the dangers of drug-taking. It should be adventurous as well – coaches should enjoy the young player's football adventures, and live these adventures with him."
European football, and in particular the youth coaching fraternity, had the constant task of identifying talented young footballers, stimulating them and keeping the talent alive through proper coaching. The UEFA youth competitions, Roxburgh explained, were an ideal platform to showcase such talents.
The UEFA technical director cited the English football administrator Sir Stanley Rous to highlight the latter point: "It is in these tournaments that the exciting players of the future can first demonstrate their potential to a wider audience, receive their baptism in international football, and prove that they are worthy of the honour of taking part."
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