UEFA's youth development tournaments provide elite young players with the perfect opportunity to showcase their talents and gain vital international experience.
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Launched following a pilot phase in 2012, the four-team Under-15 and Under-16 tournaments allow international boys' and girls' youth teams to play high-intensity, competitive matches, helping to improve standards and offering players the opportunity to acclimatise to training camps and match travel.
We believe these age groups to be a crucial stage in a player's development pathway to the elite level. Such friendly matches, as well as the preparation they involve, are key in facilitating the process of player development and have aided the careers of top players such as Erling Haaland, Phil Foden, Gavi and Matthijs De Ligt.
Development tournaments are also designed to prepare the way for players to move into the Under-17 age group, where UEFA competition begins in earnest.
"The UEFA development tournaments are a platform which give the young, talented players of each national association, boys and girls, the opportunity to gain international experience in a non-competitive environment but with high-intensity matches.
"Playing under the national team shirt is always something special and these events are designed to optimise the team preparation before the Under-17 EURO qualifiers, where the competition and the results count."
On- and off-pitch benefits
The youth development tournaments have been given glowing references by national associations, coaches and technical experts. They are seen as a true learning experience for the players – not just in fine-tuning skills through practice and guidance, but also in allowing them to appreciate an international and highly competitive atmosphere, sharing the moment with their peers from other countries.
Specific rules are also in place to emphasise the development of the players rather the competition itself. For instance, there is a minimum playing time for each player and in case of a draw, there is a penalty shootout, a pressurised exercise that the players might face at Under-17 level.
For coaches, the tournaments also provide an additional competitive setting to test more players and experiment with players' positions and tactics according to the opposition – knowing that player development, rather than the result, is the focus.
For referees, it provides an excellent educational and learning environment involving international teams, but in a less stressful situation, which will positively influence their path towards elite refereeing.
The tournament organising committees, meanwhile, can learn in practice how to handle certain operational issues, while friendships are forged – everybody involved in the tournaments gains a better understanding of different cultures and different people.
The development tournament programme stretches into the future, with national associations keen to use the opportunity that UEFA is giving them.
Since 2019, UEFA's development tournaments have also been helping players not just in Europe, but all over the world, thanks to the involvement of the UEFA Assist programme.
Assist shares the experience and know-how of UEFA and its member associations beyond Europe, but in this context, provides a two-way benefit with Europe's young players able to broaden their horizons and travel outside the continent for competition – perfect preparation for the Under-17 World Cups and the variety of playing styles encountered across the world, and an enriching experience on a personal level for everybody involved.