Horst Wein on How To Develop The Best Youth Soccer Players

Horst Wein master coach

Interview with Dianne Scavuzzo of soccernation.com

Feb 11, 2013

Youth Soccer News: Legendary Coaching Mentor Horst Wein on Improving Youth Soccer Development in America

“When you do what you have done always, you will never reach any further” – Horst Wein.


Considered a coach for the world’s best coaches, Horst Wein has consulted for FC Barcelona, Arsenal, Inter Milan, Sunderland, Leeds United, Atletico Bilbao, Villareal, Real Sociedad, Bayer Leverkusen, VFB Stuttgart, Schalke 04, Mainz 04, St Pauli, TSG Hoffenheim, Deportiva Cali, Peñarol Montevideo, Pumas, C.America, Nacional Montevideo, Universidad Católica, Liga Univers, FC Adelaide and FC Kenkre.

Wein has also worked with the National Federations of England, Scotland, Spain, Italy, Austria, Germany, Russia, Estonia, Sweden, Denmark, Finland Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Panama, Australia, India and Singapore. It might have been easier if I listed the Federations Horst has not helped.

Player centered approach to coaching youth soccer that puts the child first … Keeping it FUN and allowing a guided discovery approach for real player development … Launching a renaissance of street football – these are all more than buzz words for Wein.

Horst Wein is one of the foremost mentors of top coaches in the world, having worked in over 50 countries around the world. In the last 25 years he has mentored or influenced over 11,000 soccer coaches, focusing on presenting an age-appropriate, progressive training program for young players. Wein has also held coaching assignments in five Olympic sports, been a lecturer at numerous institutions and football federations, and was Director of the Sports Department of the Organizing Committee of the XX Olympiad.

Wein is the author of 34 sports books. Developing Youth Football Players, has sold more than 100,000 copies and has been selected as the official textbook of both the Spanish Football Federation and the Football Federation of Australia.

As an outspoken advocate of a more child-centered approach to soccer, Wein has spoken widely of “game intelligence” and the need for major changes in youth soccer. “It is not sufficient to teach your players well,” he has said, “it’s essential for future successes to prepare them better than others.”

Wein shares this passion for youth player development and tells us what he believes is necessary to prepare youth soccer players to succeed.

Diane Scavuzzo: What is wrong with American youth soccer?

Horst Wein: One of the problems in American youth soccer is our young players are not playing small-sided games. Small sided games should be played that correlate with their abilities. This would solve many problems the American youth is facing nowadays.

There are many other problems, including the over use of exercises, a lack of variety in drills and training as well as the the issue that players are not made to feel competent in training and during games at each stage of development.

Most of these problems are not even yet considered. The introduction of 3v3 football for the younger players under 10 would become a great starting point for American Soccer.

Diane Scavuzzo: Why does American youth soccer have these problems? Is it the size of the country? The youth clubs turning soccer into a business? A lack of leadership?

Horst Wein: The size of the country or the pool of players is not the most important factor. However, with over 24 million people playing soccer in America, it is time that this very highly developed country produces players who are capable of competing with the best in the world on the highest level.

Youth football in the U.S. is by far too competitive and this is no doubt a big contributing factor in holding back development in America.

It is causing more premature drop-outs from the game than in any other country, as its structure is not child-like. Children are forced to play like adults. Their vital needs are not respected at all.

While many youth clubs or academies are run professionally in America, this in itself does not solve a major issue. It is what program these academies use to train the children.

Soccer is not made “a la medida del niño” (to the measure of the child) in the USA; it is a miniature game of adult soccer.

Diane Scavuzzo: Why has this happened? Have Coaches lacked the proper training?

Is the problem the American soccer culture which grew up on fast foods and immediate success in other sports?

Horst Wein: America is a relatively new soccer country.

But even with countries with more than 100 years of tradition there is a huge need to educate coaches and parents on a new, more holistic and game-intelligent approach to developing young football players.

The most important human muscle has been forgotten completely. In the future, Americans have to consider soccer more a game of knowledge – a cognitive game instead of a physical game!

There may be unique pressures in American soccer as many parents see sports scholarships as a ticket to future success and a way of saving vast sums of money on college fees.

Also there can be an over-emphasis on athleticism, strength and speed.

In the modern game of football these talents have become less important, being replaced by greater skill and especially by game intelligence.

It is critical to consider the brain as the greatest power on the soccer field. One kg of muscle weight counts less than 1 mg of brain tissue.

If the natural competitiveness, athleticism, and creativity of American kids were harnessed in a more optimal development model, then America would truly arrive on the world stage of soccer in 15 years.

Diane Scavuzzo: Can you tell me who you think does a great job of player development?

Horst Wein: Any coach who realizes the need for an age-appropriate, player-centered model of development will make a significant contribution to the young soccer player.

Many people involved in youth soccer in America have realized the importance of small-sided games, but it has to be assured that these simplified soccer games are used appropriately.

Without an optimal development model and appropriate youth competitions actually in force, the youth football structure in America does not help. Instead it can do more harm to the young players.

The proof of this is America’s youth soccer drop-out rate, which is the highest (in percentage) in the world.

Why? Young people don’t feel capable of playing a game which is not designed for their physical and mental capacities.

The introduction of 3v3 football for the younger players under 10 would be a great starting point for American Soccer, as everybody discovers after a few months the many benefits of playing the FUNiño game. It would solve many problems the American youth is facing nowadays, such as obesity and need for exercise and to be with friends. There is a chapter on the many benefits in my digital book at www.thebeautifulgame.ie. Your readers may also download a list of 100 benefits from working with my model.

Diane Scavuzzo: What specifically could we adapt and modify?

Horst Wein: America could use an optimal development model, such as my Spanish Youth Football Development Model which has been in force for 27 years.

This model for youth player development includes:

A. Structure (Competitions)

Non-competitive (no leagues) until 14 years of age

7-9 years of age FUNiño (3v3)

10 years of age 5v5 soccer

11-12 years of age 7v7 soccer

13 years of age 8v8 soccer

14+ years of age 11v11 soccer

B. Style (Coaching Style)

Player-centered rather than coach-centered

Guided-discovery rather than instruction

C. Substance (Curriculum)

Game Intelligence for all ages

Games-oriented training rather than drills

Simplified games in training to correlate with the competitive games for each age group.

Diane Scavuzzo: How can American parents improve soccer player development in the USA? What can parents do better?

Horst Wein: Parents need to realize that young people have enough pressures on them in life and need to be able to experience the game of soccer football without interference from adults.

Diane Scavuzzo: Do you have a favorite team to watch?

Horst Wein: I enjoy watching teams that play with the ball and not against it, that play constructively and contribute to the beautiful game. Teams that play in such a way exhibit Game Intelligence as well as creativity and individual flair.

Diane Scavuzzo: What has been your greatest challenge?

Horst Wein FUNinoHorst Wein: My greatest challenge has been to convince all people in soccer around the world that the game of football for children should be like their shoes – it should fit them perfectly.Most adults are impatient to have children play the adult game of 11v11 instead of allowing them to follow a natural course of development and enjoyment of the game. The best players will come from such a natural structure.

My particular mission for almost 30 years now has been to create a model of development which will allow all young players the chance to reach their full potential in the game of soccer, whatever that may be. I believe that I have created a model that will not only give each child a chance to develop optimally, but one that is also fair to everyone so that no talent goes to waste and everyone involved in the game has a positive contribution to make.

The Beautiful Game is not just about winning.

It is about using soccer as an important tool to form the character of the young person, to transmit important life skills and to develop future citizens. This unfortunately doesn’t happen when young people are forced to play a kind of soccer for which they are not yet ready. They are forced to play the too-complex and too-difficult game as adults, but they are unable to understand it and solve the problems which have to be resolved.

All over the world kids are forced to play as adults, but 20-30 years ago they played on the street like kids. So it’s time to return to nature (as the great philospher Jean Jacques Rousseau said) to benefit everyone and to develop valuable citizens.

All over the world young people play soccer focused on a centralized goal. This way their perception skills are getting diminished, and with time they obtain a “tunnel vision” which is detrimental for high performance soccer. That is why I recently have re-launched my unique mini-soccer program which is played with four goals and 3 players per team. This new program called FUNiño is considered in Germany and Spain as “The Renaissance of Street Football.”

On October 31, Arrigo Sacchi, director of Italian Soccer, recommend that all clubs in the Serie A offer this game and its 32 variations for the kids under 10. Today it’s starting to conquer the world – Germany, Italy and Spain have used it for many years. The coach of Xavi Hernandez told me that he used it with Xavi some 24 years ago.

We call FUNiño “The Beautiful Game for kids,” as it is designed specifically for children under 10 years of age. We believe it will make a major global contribution to youth football development. FUNiño can cause a major breakthrough in the thinking of youth football coaches and introduce a more player-centered, age-appropriate style of coaching.

Diane Scavuzzo: What are yout thoughts on Jurgen Klinsmann…

Horst Wein: Jurgen Klinsmann is a bright coach who told us that soccer is one of the less developed and investigated sports …. Klinsmann has my book DEVELOPING GAME INTELLIGENCE IN SOCCER.

Diane Scavuzzo: Thank you for sharing your thoughts and wisdom with our readers.