Football Development Project: New Zealand Football's plan for youth development
This week-long series examines football development in New Zealand and asks some of Wellington's prominent coaches to give their take on it. Friday's part six sees Liam Hyslop talk to New Zealand Football about their plan for the youth space.
After hearing all week about what academy coaches think should be done to improve football development in New Zealand, it's time for New Zealand Football to have their say, via acting technical director and youth development manager Andy Boyens.
First though, a brief recap of the views expressed so far. Ole told us how fundamental changes were needed at NZF. The Phoenix expressed the need to take hold of the school-club pull on players. Kaizen said the more time of the grass the better for developing footballers. Team Wellington put forward the need for a full development pathway from junior football to the national league.
Let's start with what's been done so far.
NZF have done a lot of work over the last five years to get the junior (ages 5-12) space up to scratch after the launch of the Whole of Football plan in 2011. Many of the academy coaches expressed support of those initiatives, but the concern was the next step, into the 13-19 age group, hasn't had enough attention.
Boyens, who won 19 All Whites caps during his playing career, said it was the next big area of focus after launching their Youth Framework in September 2016.
"It's really key we have ongoing improvements in all aspects of football, with the youth space no different to that.
"We've taken really big strides in the junior space and will continue to improve that, we're now just embarking on a new phase that has a focus in the youth space and it's important we continue to improve that. Then in five or so years we'll be looking at the senior space so these players have an avenue to continue playing football as long as they can."
The problem with the youth space was the number of different entities vying for talent, with schools, clubs, academies and federations all wanting players to be part of their setups.
From an NZF perspective, Boyens could see their Federation Talent Centres (FTC) taking a step back in some regions.
"What we've seen over the last 10 years is a real increase in capability of other football providers in New Zealand and there are some players that are able to receive a really high-quality development experience without the need to access the FTC programme.
"Some regions at the moment the FTC programme has morphed, if you will, into more of a focus on identification and then shorter periods of contact such as school holidays and things like that and our main event on the football calendar which is the national age-group tournament.
"It will evolve differently in different federations. For example in Football South there is less population, it might continue to work on a model where FTC provides top-up training. In other regions around NZ there could be a move away from that, that's a work in progress so to say yes or no at this point in time is probably a bit too difficult."
And that's really the problem a lot of people have, the fact there was no clear direction from NZF on this space at this point in time.
Everyone is in a bit of a holding pattern, continuing to do what they do while waiting for NZF to come out with their plan for youth development.
The same could be said for the school-club pull on players, which Boyens said they were yet to really come up with a solution for.
"That is a challenge. We have multiple organisations that a vying for the services of these young players. The rollout of the youth stage of the Whole of Football plan is in its infancy and that's one area that I think we need to continue to look at and continue to work out what's best for the player in those situations."
Boyens will cede the technical director role to Andreas Heraf in late August and said the biggest challenge for the Austrian would be getting to grips with New Zealand's unique football landscape.
"Probably the biggest challenge is coming in and getting to know the New Zealand landscape and how it differs to what he's been operating in up until this point. That always takes a bit of time and I think it's important we accelerate that as much as we can."
So at the moment it's a wait and see operation. Heraf will no doubt have his ideas, having been the head of the 12 Austrian Football Association academies and responsible for developing elite players at under‐15, under‐16 and under‐18 levels. He also had responsibility for the education of the academy coaches.
But football development is never a one size fits all operation. He'll have a steep learning curve to figure out the New Zealand environment before he can start applying a plan to the youth space.
This Football Development Project will be an ongoing, long-term series, touching on different areas of the country and different aspects of the youth development space as it continues to evolve.