The Need For An Optimal Youth Football Development Model

The game of football is one of the greatest gifts to humankind and is played by millions all over the world. Football in it’s current form has been with us for around 150 years now, but the evolution of player development, in most countries, has not kept pace with, the game itself, or many other aspects of life. A new player-centred model for development is necessary to achieve optimal results for all young children who play the game – that will enable them to reach their full potential.

The game of football has moved on, at least in some quarters, to a very high playing level, where game intelligence, allied to superior technique has seen The Beautiful Game reach it’s Zenith. The football of FC Barcelona (and indeed the Spanish National team) has brought unrivalled success as well as entertaining millions with style, creativity, excitement and beauty. Any new model of value must strive to achieve not only such great sporting goals, but the lifestyle values espoused by this  inspirational club. Even the Japanese ladies national team has proven that The Beautiful Game can win out against the biggest, strongest and toughest players in the world.

Football is a late specialization sport meaning that players cannot be just manufactured or cloned from the very first day. Firstly, they must be allowed time to develop the fundamental ABCs of agility, balance and coordination, then be exposed to a progressive programme of age-appropriate learning and then in their mid-teens be prepared for competition. A good model respects the natural order of childhood development, taking the time to help them reach their full potential and to complete each logical stage of development in turn.

The game of football, especially when played constructively is a very complex game for both the coach and the players. There are many decisions to be made, and many complex actions to be performed. The 11-a-side game that adults play is far too complex and difficult for young players, physically, mentally, technically, tactically and psychologically.

While football coaching has gone through many fashions especially the physical and technical emphases, today, game intelligence –  a proper understanding of the workings of the game, where players use perception, understanding and decision-making before finally executing the chosen action – is the key factor in both player performance and team efficiency, i.e. Success!

The great Istvan Balyi is often quoted for his 10,000 hour rule – the time required for a talent to be fully developed – but just as important, if not more so, is the quality of the content, or curriculum in any such development programme, and critically, that the young talent remains motivated to complete such an epic task.


Horst Wein developed his Youth Football Development Model over 25 years ago, the first ever, age-appropriate, programme for training  young footballers. Since then it has been refined, expanded and updated to include the most valuable current trends in coaching. The model takes into account all the critical considerations mentioned above and includes its own unique features and associated advantages.

 Goals of the model:

In order to put any plan into place it is important to determine where you want to go.The Football Development Model is designed to achieve the following long-term goals:

  1. To develop each boy or girl to their full potential.
  2. To develop complete, all-round football players.
  3. To develop players who can play football with their head as well as their feet.
  4. To develop better human beings.
  5. To give the kids a game for life
  6. To further the cause of The Beautiful Game – constructive, creative, exciting football

As well as these long-term goals, coaches need clearer direction on what exactly to expect for each age-group. There is an over-emphasis on technique and physical conditioning in the game today, especially for young players, and creativity and game intelligence is often neglected or even frowned upon. This model is also based on the precept that good football starts in head before finishing with the feet.

A blueprint for success

In order to reach these goals, a map, or blueprint is provided:

a)      Style

The style of the coaching in the model is player-centred and includes a guided discovery teaching method versus the old traditional style of “yell and tell.” Players are included in the learning process and are helped to think for themselves.

b)      Substance

The Football Development Model is based around a progressive curriculum of simplified small-sided games in training rather than drills. A holistic game-centred approach ensures the integration of technical, physical and tactical elements that is proven to be much more effective than the old analytical method.

The Game is the Teacher!

c)       Structure

The model recommends age-appropriate game formats for competitions:


5v5 for 10 years

7v7 for 11-12 years

8v8 for 13 years

11-a-side for 14+ years

Advantages of the Horst Wein Youth Football Development Model

Age-appropriate games and training are matched to the children’s needs

Firstly, we must recognize that children are not adults and that the 11-a-side game is a complex, adult-oriented game for grown men and women, who have reached physical, mental and emotional maturity. On top of that children grow through different phases of development, physically, mentally and emotionally.

A comprehensive curriculum leaves nothing to chance

The model provides all the elements for the development of players, much like a school curriculum which becomes progressively more complex and intense. We would not ask a junior infant to sit his Leaving Certificate examination, he would not be prepared in any way, mentally or emotionally. Neither does the model place excessive demands on young players, but provides them with all the tools necessary to advance in the game.

 A step by step process guarantees competence and success

The game is a complex game and it is vital that the foundational building blocks are in place and that progression is made in a logical, step-by-step manner. This helps the coaches to grow progressively in their competence, just as the players do.

Player’s need to feel competent to retain their interest in anything and especially so in sport, which is  optional for many of them. A model which proceeds in a step-by-step manner allows the children the time to achieve a good level of competence in their technique and tactical awareness for their particular age-group and the coach will only move them on when they are ready to be challenged further, without being overstretched.

A holistic approach develops the whole player

The Horst Wein model includes the technical, tactical, physical and psychological/emotional elements of player development in an integrated manner so that skills are acquired in the context of the game, and the game itself is played in the context of a fully-rounded life.

 Fun and enjoyment guarantee involvement and retention

Any model which ignores the inherent enjoyment of playing games over the felt requirement to perfect technique and physical conditioning will be counterproductive. Children must firstly, fall in love with the game in the Fundamental stage, but even in professional football, players need to be enjoying the game to sustain consistent performance. All over the world young people in their millions are been lost to sport in their early teens due to the pressures imposed on them by adults, rather than enjoying sport for itself.

Time allowed for natural development helps them reach their full potential

Most kids these days, even as young as 7 years of age are forced into “performing” each weekend as if it were the Champions League Final. For some reason adults have seen fit to force young players into game formats that they are not ready for. Children as young as 11 years of age play the 11-a-side game and the 7-a-side game is applied to the 7 year olds. A prepubescent 11 year old boy, on average, weighs about 6 stone and is about 4ft 10inches tall. The goal posts in the full game are 8ft tall and 24ft wide, the pitch is about 100 by 80 yards…something is amiss here! It takes time for kids to reach their full potential, after which many will just continue with a very healthy leisure pasttime for life, while some may go on to play at the highest levels, as fully-rounded,  complete footballers, with great game intelligence, technical ability and creativity, but also as completely rounded and generous human beings.

The Football Development Model recognizes the time that nature decrees for the development of these young footballers.

 “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