In March I presented data on the distribution of date of births for the latest U-19 and U-21 Irish international squads. For both squads most of the selected players were born in the first quarter of the selection year (January-March). Relative Age effects often call into question the selection of elite talent and how players are developed.
Recently, a new Football Association of Ireland (FAI) player development plan was brought to my attention. The document can be accessed here. In light of what Ruud Dokter, the High Performance Director of the FAI, calls a “huge appetite for change right across the country”, ten recommendations have been proposed for underage soccer.
These recommendations include the implementation of a player-focused model based on enjoyment and skill development to reduce the emphasis on winning at all costs, a restructuring of playing environments in line with different ages and to increase coaching education. These are progressive measures. Roll on/off substitutes, minimum playing time and the movement to an 11 v 11 match only at U-14 will hopefully afford greater practice time for children learning the sport.
I think the most interesting recommendation is number 10 “to Create continuity of football by shifting to a one season calendar: March – November”. This is due to commence in September 2016. This will mean that underage (and perhaps Junior?) soccer will shift to the ‘Summer Soccer’ model and be consistent with the League of Ireland. The benefits of this shift are outlined but there is still one glaring issue – kids may have to choose between playing Gaelic Games or Soccer.
In his programme notes for the Ireland vs. Poland Euro 2016 qualifier John Delaney, Chief Executive of the FAI, raises a similar point to Ruud Dokter relating to the need for change and collective responsibility regarding the development of elite talent. He also singles out recommendation 10 and notes that implementing it will be subject to further debate. It will be interesting to see the impact of this policy and especially to see how recommendation number 10 works out.