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.
The 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 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!
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 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:
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