Football Development Project: Team Wellington's Player Development Programme
This week-long series examines football development in New Zealand and asks some of Wellington's prominent coaches to give their take on it. Thursday's part five takes Liam Hyslop to Team Wellington's Player Development Programme.
Team Wellington Player Development Programme
Who's in charge: Jose Figueira (Academy Director)
Club association (highest level): Team Wellington (national league, national youth league) Miramar Rangers (Central League)
Based: Wellington Indian Sports Club in Kilbirnie
Players: 60, under-9 to under-14
Cost: $150 per 10 weeks, $600 per year football fees. Kit costs of $50 for whole year
What do you get for that: Two training sessions per week
How many coaches: Three
Can the kids play for school: N/A, not old enough
Girls programme: Yes, 34 in girls-only Friday Sessions and four in the full PDP programme
Simply put, it's to provide a pathway from juniors to the Team Wellington first team. An element of that is competing with the big boys of the academy scene in Wellington, but at this stage they've entered the market in the junior space, with the plan to expand the programme as this crop of kids get older to keep them in touch with the franchise as they enter school football.
Of course practise is a far cry from theory, and in practise at the moment they sit as a supplementary training programme for junior footballers.
It's a ground-up approach which is a good place to start. Trying to come in and immediately compete with Ole, the Phoenix, Kaizen and schools in the 14-19 age groups just wouldn't work.
It's good value for money and gives the kids a chance to enter a programme run by a top coach in Figueira, but it's going to need serious commitment to develop it over at least the next five years if the vision is going to be realised.
On a particularly positive note, they've entered the space with a dedicated girls programme, with 34 girls already participating in the Friday sessions.
How Team Wellington sees the football development landscape
Figueira has coached the New Zealand under-17 team, worked in the New York Red Bulls' grassroots programme and taken Auckland City's youth team.
The thing he would most like to see implemented is a clear pathway for the players at national league clubs from junior to first-team, something which was lost when the national league transitioned from club teams to franchises in 2004.
"If the national league is the shop window for men's football in New Zealand, then it makes sense, for me anyway, to provide a pathway from top to bottom. When looking at nurturing New Zealand's future stars it is important that these players are given the best environment and highest competition possible to thrive.
"In the Phoenix's model they've got an academy, Central League team and premiership [national league] team, so they have a clear pathway from amateur to A-League.
"For ourselves and other franchises, they can provide that pathway from top to bottom for the players. I think it makes sense that more investment is made into those franchises and clubs within those regions. I think that would make a huge difference, especially in connecting the pathway for players from youth to senior football.
"The franchises alongside local clubs (that meet NZF quality benchmark) within the regions can work together to provide a quality competition for players. For example a regionalised under-15 and under-17 competition, with national playoffs, that sits below an extended version of the current national under-19 competition would allow a smoother, clearer and higher quality transition to senior football for players and parents to see. In turn we are also increasing the investment and opportunity for NZ coaches, the message is the same, as we push all of our coaches to go on the NZ coaching awards.
"For me it makes sense to connect that to the youth framework anyway."
While that's the ideal, Figueira sees - based on working here for more than a decade - the current system is being some way from that.
"I've been involved in Spain, the UK, the US, what's obvious is that there is a clear direction from the federation in a sense that the players, club, schools are crystal clear on what the development pathway is for players.
"In New Zealand, it's very fractured because no-one knows what the 'best' pathway is. Ask a player or a parent on the street who plays football, I'd say eight out of 10 of them wouldn't be able to tell you what the pathway is here. New Zealand is in a position where if the federation was to come out and say this is our identity, here are our programmes, we want our age-group teams to go more fulltime, invest in fulltime coaches across the country to go hand-in-hand with the excellent coach education and development work that is happening in those programmes, I'd 100 per cent back that.
"If it meant it involved the likes of Declan Edge, or a Scott Hales or a Paul Temple, Andy Hedge, Stu Jacobs, that's talking Wellington alone, the football community would get behind it because at the end of the day we want to see New Zealand doing well. That's what we're all doing it for."
NZF's junior framework has produced brilliant results, Figueria said, but it was key to get the next stage right.
"Since I arrived here 12 years ago, the level of coaching and what those kids are immersed in from first kicks to 9s, 10s, is light years from what it was when I arrived.
"I think that's done massively for the numbers playing football, but beyond there it can become an absolute minefield for players being pulled in so many directions. I really do think a pathway needs to be made clearer and an involvement of these academies or private providers, we need to collaborate and work together."
Tomorrow: New Zealand Football acting technical director and youth development manager Andy Boyens on the work their plan for the youth space.