By Horst Wein and Dermot Dalton


For many clubs, coaches and parents now is the time when we must choose between winning medals and trophies or allowing our children the chance to enjoy the game of football and develop in a more appropriate structure than currently exists.

For the sake of the children themselves, most importantly,  and then for the sake of the game, we need to seriously, not just look at alternatives, but find ways to implement them,  and sooner rather than later.

Jose Mourinho puts it well:
“The problem is, in England (and many other countries), you teach children to win the game, in Spain, we teach children to play the game.”

Horst Wein who designed the first age-appropriate, optimal development model more than 30 years ago recommends:

1. No league football before 11 years of age. Having a league for children as young as 7 is entirely inappropriate. Young children do not think too far ahead into the future and having such long term consequences can weigh very heavily on them.

If winning the league is all that matters, then many serious problems arise including:

  • The Jekyll and Hyde effect on adults. Parents and coaches have a tendency to change personality once there is something at stake, and quickly lose perspective. Some local games are treated like Champions League finals, as if there were millions at stake. This pressure  and the behaviour of adults at many schoolboy games ruins the game for children.

 If the enjoyment of the game is taken away by adults who rant and rave on the touchline and the grassroots game becomes, in effect, a computer game controlled by dad’s,  the opportunity for young players to plant the seeds of a lifelong love affair with the game will be diminished.

  • The “selection” process denies many children an equal opportunity of participation. When winning is all that matters, the smaller creative kids don’t get much of a look in. Usually the bigger, early developers get more football with suits a more direct style of play.

Unfortunately in all sports the relative age effect, where children born early in the sporting year are chosen over the late-born kids, means that many kids lose out badly in the short and long term. Studies show that more than 80% of kids who make it into the elite level of sport are born in the first three months of the year while less than 10% are born in the last three months.

Imagine a club who selects the “best” players to play the highest league at a very young age. (Children as young as 11 years of age are playing 11-a-side, which is very damaging to their development). In a squad of 16 players, most clubs that are aiming to win the league, will have a first 11 and 5 “squad” players. These unfortunate 5 substitutes will get very little game time during the year, and these are supposed to be among the best 16 players at the club!

Many kids are late developers in sport, but unfortunately, the win at all costs system does not cater for them at all.
When you put all these factors together,  it is this authors belief that anything from 50—70% of all football talent is actually wasted rather than developed in the current system of competitive league football at the younger ages.

  • The quality of football suffers as coaches become more concerned with results than the style of football played or the natural expression of creativity and skill by the young players. “Kick and rush” and the “long ball” prevails. The constructive possession-based football that we have all come to admire at FC Barcelona and Spain cannot flourish in such a climate.
  • The quality of coaching suffers. Playing in leagues at very young ages means that we don’t actually encourage coaching at all, we create managers, who specialize in winning tactics and not in developing players.

While a small number of players may do well by playing in early league formats, the majority do not do well, especially the late-born, smaller, quieter players and the late developers. But even those bigger players who do well in this system often suffer as they come depend more on their size and strength and often fail to continue to work at the skill and creativity elements of the game. They are often over-played, even sometimes playing at older age-groups and unfortunately many suffer burn-out and end up dropping out altogether in their mid-teens. In the long term, there are few winners and many losers in this system!

2.  An environment of creativity, innovation, exploration and FUN must be created by forward-thinking organisations, clubs, officials, coaches and parents. The adults in football would do better to act more like adults and create an environment where children are allowed to be children. Some progressive organisations have already made great strides by introducing less-competitive structures and small-sided games. This will go a long way towards creating a healthy environment where young talent flourishes.

3.  Emphasize more constructive football rather than “kick and rush.” It takes courage to stand against the tide of winning at all costs and the style of football that it engenders. Hats off to all those who are beginning to show such courage, playing constructive football and allowing the children to make mistakes and learn from the, they will reap the benefits, in the medium to long-term if they are willing to sacrifice short term gains.

4.  Less shouting and stress for the players during games. Parents and coaches shouting from the sidelines is very unhelpful to young players for so many reasons. Firstly, they often cannot actually hear what is being said, and often it is confusing when there is more than one voice to listen to. Secondly, none of us responds well to orders, and thirdly, it puts the players off their game. This culture of over-coaching and too much “input” from the sidelines actually thwarts the decision-making ability of young players, which is a very important part of their development if they are to make it to the higher levels of the game.

5. Rolling substitutions and equal playing time even for smaller players.
All players should have a right to equal playing time as youngsters. The competitive league football will come soon enough (probably best from 12 years old or later). Equal playing time engenders a better team atmosphere, gives all kids a fair chance and benefits both weaker and stronger players.

6. Late specialization. Allow players to play in multiple positions up to 14 years of age. Most small-sided games,  including FUNiño, FORMino and  5/7/8-a-side  ensure  a natural rotation of players and fluid roles in the game, and also include many transitions from attack to defence, thus giving ample opportunity to learn all aspects of the game. This will develop more rounded players who are all comfortable on the ball and can defend, attack and keep possession as well as show creative flair when it is required.


The Horst Wein model has been proven, refined and expanded over the last 30 years with the feedback of over 12,000 coaches globally. It has been the official model in Spain for more than 20 years and is rapidly growing  around the world, especially in countries like Germany and Italy and in South America.

Next week we will look at the importance of a player centred approach in youth development.

For more information check out www.thebeautifulgame.ie or email dermot@thebeautifulgame.ie


By Horst Wein and Dermot Dalton

Today we begin Part 1 of a 9 week series on optimal youth development. We hope this checklist provides you with plenty of food for thought

Part 1 – THE PLAN
In order to ensure optimal development for kids, you must have a detailed or comprehensive plan or model to achieve your goals.

Constructing a development model requires that you:

1)    Decide upon a style of play you want to achieve with the kids. Modern football, as played by Spain, Barcelona and other progressive teams is based around constructive possession play – The Beautiful Game. Many institutions (organizations, schools and clubs) are now buying into this beautiful style of playing football.

2)    Use the Game Intelligence Approach to coaching football at all levels. Optimal development for modern football depends not only on physical, technical and tactical elements, but more importantly on deeper understanding and reading of the game and better decision making! Game intelligence consists of 4 phases which must be trained from the earliest ages – perception, understanding, decision making and execution. FUNiño, The Beautiful Game for Kids as the first building block in an optimal development model, ensures that football starts in the head and finishes with the feet, not the other way around.

Significant progress only occurs in football when
motor learning is combined with cognitive learning!”

Horst Wein

3)    Construct logical, progressive, age-appropriate stages of development to achieve the ultimate goal over a given period of time. This applies to the competitions that the children play as well as their training.

4)    Use a comprehensive training curriculum to cover all aspects of the game for each developmental stage in training. Each training module must relate directly to the age-appropriate competition game they play!

5)    Integrate all aspects of play (cognitive, tactical, technical and physical). In modern football, you must use training time efficiently and also ensure that what the children are learning directly related to the game. This is best achieved by a game-oriented programme in training  rather than isolating the individual elements as in normally the case using drills. The Game must literally be the teacher, this ensures:

  • Greater understanding of the game of football and ability to “read” the game and make good decisions. (Game Intelligence!)
  • Greater transfer of skills into the real game.
  • An all-round development of players.
  • Greater efficiency as the physical and technical elements are catered for as well as the tactical and cognitive.

 “Traditional coaching had been entirely teacher-directed and largely
technique-orientated, whilst today emphasis is directed on
tactical problem solving through games play”      

  Lynne Spackmann

6)    Make sure that training is enjoyable. Put simply, games are more fun than drills and physical exercises and naturally more motivating for young players!

7)    Have patience!  Coaches, and parents in particular, must allow their children sufficient time to master each step along the long way to becoming a mature happy human being as well as a good footballer.

“Nature decrees that children should be children before they become adults.
If we try to alter this natural order, they will reach adulthood prematurely,
but with neither substance nor strength.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The Horst Wein model has been proven, refined and expanded over the last 30 years with the feedback of over 12,000 coaches globally. It has been the official model in Spain for more than 20 years and is rapidly growing  around the world, especially in countries like Germany and Italy and in South America.

Next week we will compare a development philosophy versus winning at all costs and the implications for youth development. In subsequent weeks we will look in more detail at other important factors for optimal development.
For more information email dermot@thebeautifulgame.ie

Spain Euro 2012 Win Sees The Beautiful Game Come Of Age


As Spain enter the history books as the first team in the modern game to win three major titles in a row, they are not the only winners, The Beautiful Game of football – played with composed possession, constructive play and exciting penetrating attacks, where players play more with the ball than against it – is the ultimate winner!

In a wonderful spectacle of football at its very best, Spain ran out 4:0 winners, although Italy were, no doubt unlucky to lose a man to injury. The highest compliment that could be paid to the style of football, so prevalent in Spain and most especially at FC Barcelona, was that Italy chose to imitate this wonderful passing game and with great success, reaching the final in convincing form. Before the final, Spain enjoyed 66.8% average possession in all their previous games and Italy had 53.2%. Spain made 3,417 completed passes compared to 1,530 by their opponents in the five previous matches. Many complained that Spain were a little boring, not scoring many goals, but they certainly saved their best to last with their play in the final.

With any luck, a global transformation of how football is played will begin from this moment, and young children around the world, especially smaller creative players, will be given the chance to contribute their creativity and imagination and to reach their full potential…sorry was dreaming there for a moment!

In an ideal world, other countries would take note of what Spain has just achieved and how they went about it.

FUTBOL A LA MEDIDA DEL NINOThe current Spanish development system was put in place as far back as 1993 using Horst Wein’s Youth Football Development Model, the first age-appropriate model of its kind.Not only has the national team benefitted, but Spanish clubs have come to the fore in European football, despite the money being spent on players in the English Premiership. Barcelona have won 3 Champions League titles in the space of 6 years, whilst also reaching two other semifinals. Athletic Bilbao, on the way to the final of this years Europa showed us what can be achieved using local players who have grown up on an optimal development model, where creativity and love for the ball are encouraged.

Horst WeinHorst Wein originally got into football coaching through his work with FC Barcelona in 1985. He was then the Spanish national Hockey Coach and was invited by Carles Reixach (who would later become Assistant Manager to Johan Cruyff) to demonstrate his unique coaching methods. The club were so impressed that they advised him to switch over to football coaching immediately and his football coaching career took off rapidly from there.


Horst Wein, after 27 years travelling around the globe, introducing the model to over 11,000 coaches has seen much resistance to change and innovation for all sorts of reasons, but surely there can be no argument that if you want to develop young players to their full potential, to play the beautiful game at its’ best and ultimately to produce sustained success at the highest competitive level, then an investment in an age-appropriate youth development model like Spain’s, is a must!

HORST WEIN FOOTBALL DEVELOPMENT MODELThe model has three main elements:

Structure (The competitions the children play)
Horst says that “the game children play must fit them like their shoes.” Until young players reach about 14 years of age,the adult game is too complex and physically beyond their capability. He recommends 3v3 (with four goals, now called for 7-9 year olds, 5-a-side for 10 year olds, 7-a-side for 11 and 12 year olds, and 8-a-side for 13 year olds. Young children do not need to play in competitive leagues when they are younger, as recommended by the long-term athlete development model of Istvan Balyi and accepted by most football federations around the world.

Style (The coaches approach)
The modern coach has moved away from the traditional model, where the coach is the final and ultimate authority and the players just listen to his instructions. A more player-centred approach includes guided discovery questioning to help players gain a deeper knowledge of the game and greater retention.

Substance (The curriculum)
Just like their weekend games, a progressive curriculum of age-appropriate training games forms the backbone of the learning experience for young players. Rather than the traditional approach of drills and an emphasis on physical conditioning, young players are stimulated through a variety of teaching games using a more global approach. These small-sided, simplified games are key to more effective learning.

The Development Model and Horst’s subsequent work for the adult game is pervaded by The Game Intelligence approach to football, as he himself says:

“The Beautiful Game is football that starts in the head and finishes with the feet.”

Horst has pioneered Game Intelligence in football for over a decade now and recognizes this intelligence in the play of Spain and FC Barcelona, especially in players like Xavi and Iniesta.

Game intelligence in soccerGame intelligence involves Perception, Understanding, Decision-making and finally, technical Execution. The best players seem to have plenty of time on the ball, they read the game well and make very good decisions, they rarely give the ball away. But this must be taught from an early age, using simplified games and guided discovery methods in an environment that is player-centred. Players must be given the opportunity to think for themselves and become good decision-makers. This requries a radical rethink of traditional coaching methods.


The Game Intelligence Approach is designed to stimulate players so they can reach their full potential, to raise the level of play and to invest in long term, sustainable success, all of which have been witnessed in the steady march of Spanish football over the last two decades. When you combine their two European Cups and World Cup win with that of their underage teams from U16 upwards, Spain has won more titles in the last 18 years than its two nearest rivals, France and Italy put together!

The first part of the Horst Wein Youth Development model  for 7-9 year olds  features his famous 3v3 on four goals format it is now called:

Click on the image below to find out more:


Age-oriented competitions are a must for developing young footballers

“Well-structured games adapted perfectly to the physical and mental capacity of the child should become the master in Irish football and not the coaches.”

 A step-by-step, logical and progressive approach to learning, both for players and their coaches, is one of the keys ingredients for success in any sport. While this approach is taken for granted in most other sports, unfortunately  this is not the case when it comes to soccer training in Ireland and indeed in many other countires.

The games young players play should fit them perfectly like a glove. But for decades now kids have been forced, prematurely,  into playing the full adult game of 11 a side soccer. The result being that they acquire many wrong habits which prevent them reaching their full potential as they go on.

Playing Mini Football ( 3v3 with 4 goals, two at each end) has been proven to be the ideal competition for  8 and 9 years old players and a critical building block to prepare them for more complex games from the age of 10, ideally 5v5 games or Futsal or Indoor Football which is played all over Brasil.

Between 11 and 12,  7v7 Football across the width of the official field is recommended by  FIFA. For players 13 years of age  8v8 Football  between the penalty areas of full-size pitch is an ideal bridge to prepare them for the full official game at 14 years of age.

This optimal learning model which fosters a deep  understanding of the game, necessary for good performances is often denied to young players in the traditional approach.

When players take part in competitions especially designed for their age (Mini Football 3v 3, 5v5, 7v7 and 8v8 Football), it fosters a continuum of personal, progressive success and a constant building up of their self-esteem.

Naturally, when players execute more successful actions, they enjoy the game more. Every two years the difficulty and complexity of the competition is increased in perfect harmony with the growing physical and intellectual capacities of the players.

Enjoyment and confidence in their capabilities become the driving force for the players’ motivation and further progress.

The correct use of these modern competition structures will only help to reinforce success, whereas the traditional way of subjecting children to the difficulty and complexity of the full game only reinforces failure. Just as success reinforces success, so, also does failure reinforce failure.

Presently, most children struggle to meet the demands of a competition geared toward adults. However, with the game tailored to a child’s development and gradual progress to more complex activities, the youngsters can experience much more success and, most importantly, they enjoy the game.

 Horst Wein