Different cultures, similar issues

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The 4th guest discussion on our Learning in Development podcast brought together two national federations from different sides of the globe to discuss how they are looking to evolve player development and coach education. We also discussed the culturally pervasive beliefs that underpin the values, belief, ideas and behaviors (form of life) in and around child-youth football.


From the Dutch football federation (KNVB) we have Jorg van der Breggen (twitter) and Jan Verbeek – KNVB

From the Canadian Soccer Association, we have Director of Development Jason De Vos (twitter)

You can listen to the discussion here:

iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/se/podcast/different-cultures-similar-issues/id1507378548?i=1000472307211&l=en


While the aim of this series of podcasts is not to present the ‘silver bullet’ answers, it is hoped that after listening we will all leave these discussions with better questions (I know that I certainly have).

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There are many positives for youth football when you consider the geography of the Netherlands. With a population of 17 million and 3,000 clubs in such a small country, there are opportunities everywhere for children to play football locally. A football club is often just a bike ride away.

The biggest challenge Canada Soccer faces is the vast scale of the country. Football, how it looks and the culture of the game can be very different on one side of the country when compared to the other side. It has been common for young children to travel 6 hours or more in a car just to take part in a football tournament.

It is the role of a national federation to be progressive and to continuously ask questions about their current practice and structures.

Despite having different football cultures, both federations are basically investigating and assessing the same thing, youth football. For example, they are both asking, how do we structure youth football to meet the needs of the young players? Are the systems already in place respecting the nonlinearity of player development?

Investigating this is a delicate process as is how we act on the information we collect and the knowledge we create. Are we going to regulate the system with restrictions, or are we going to build it on relationships with people through education?

It is a common mistake to assume that success at senior national level directly reflects the state of youth football in that country at that time. While a system may seem effective, as you may be getting players through that can perform at the top level, it does not imply that it is efficient. For example, an inefficiency in the system may be seen in the relative age effect. As a federation we need to ask how we can work with these inefficiencies?

Words like ‘production line of talent’,’ football factory’ are highly problematic. This can shape form of life (e.g., the conversation, values, beliefs, behaviors and ideas) in and around youth football and make for a resilient culture.

It seems that there is one common model- in practice The Standard Model of Talent Development (see here). It gives the illusion that it is working as players come through the system. But does this model adhere and respect principles that underpin the nonlinearity of human and therefore player development?

The KNVB “Equal Opportunities Project” is investigating this system, the selection and deselection of players at a very young age. This system has many assumptions that need to be challenged and there is much room for improvement.


Children compete, adults compare

In both countries many adults have assumed that by not publishing league tables with the youngest age groups we are stopping children from competing.

We had an adult competition model super imposed on to children’s football

We don’t need to teach kids how to compete: The idea not publishing league tables or not having promotion and regulation with 9 and 10 -years old’s, will not stop children from competing

The new game formats at the foundation phase that KNVB are promoting are in line with the vision of Johan Cruyff. In many ways it goes back to street football. Cruyff was quite ahead of his time without knowing it. His ideas and the ideas been promoted within KNVB align pretty well the concepts of Representative Learning Design (see here) and Ecological Dynamics (see here)


Do not copy and paste

If you try and copy and paste someone else’s ideas, it just won’t work!

 “If I had a dollar for every person that told me that you just need to copy what Germany does, Belgium does, what Iceland does, then I would be able to retire right now” – Jason DeVos (Canadian Soccer Association)

“The problem is, when you copy a Dutch model or a Dutch way in to another country, it will not work. Our infrastructure is so unique for example”.  – Jan Verbeek (KNVB)

You have to have a deep understanding of your own national culture


Coach Education

We need to ask why are we delivering our coach education programs in the manner we are?

The traditional evaluation systems used in coach education need to be questioned

Move coach education away from the standardised approach. Start with a conversation and some self-reflections and base the course around the individual’s needs.

Coach education programmes should have the same individualised approach towards coaches as we should have with players.


To change what we do, to better serve what they need

We are not in the football business, we are in the relationship business.

You can put the best structure in place, but it’s down to creating environments for kids to fall in love with football

Our job is to understand how we can try and help and support people and Covid-19 has really shown how important this is.

The challenge is, how can we change what we do, to better serve what they (the young players) need?

We start where people are at, not where we want them to be






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