Highlights from the 2022 Youth Development Conference
Written by Simon Austin and Tom Rostance — September 26, 2022
COACHES from the four home nations as well as from Belgium, Holland, Germany, Portugal and the United States came together at TGG’s Youth Development Conference for a day of learning and sharing ideas.
This was our second Youth Development conference and our first live event for three years. It was sponsored by Hudl, Kairos, Kitman Labs and STATSports and delegates watched eight sessions during the course of a busy day at Emirates Old Trafford in Manchester.
The first presenter was Professor Matthias Lochmann from Friedrich-Alexander University in Germany, who outlined the changes in the coaching of Under-11s that he had instigated.
These changes, which we have previously written about on TGG, were inspired by the teachings of the late Horst Wein, whose Funino concept was billed as Street Football for the 21st Century.
Lochmann explained: "A player who is intelligent goes through four phases. First you have to observe the environment. Then you understand what is going on. Then you make a decision. Then you execute. Most training exercises focus only on execution, but to have game intelligence you must be successful in all four.
"Funino addresses all of these areas and I thought, 'What will happen if we do this for three or four years with the youngest players? We will have players with really good technique who are able to make the right decisions.'"
Change didn't prove easy, because there was resistance to the new concepts from within the German Football Federation (DFB) and wider grassroots.
Lochmann said: "The administrators said, ‘We have a good system, why change?’ I was on the outside, so I wasn't afraid to tell them why.”
He was driven on by his own convictions, which were based on his own research about the new model and the experiences his son has had in youth football.
Each delegate at the Youth Development Conference was given a copy of the 2021/22 Academy Productivity Rankings.
This 16-page A4 booklet contained the full rankings, which feature 80 Category One to Three clubs, as well as analysis and editorial.
If you weren't able to attend the event, you can still buy a copy of the rankings booklet below. The price is £6.50, to cover production and postage (UK only).
A turning point came when Lochmann presented to an international coaching congress and Germany coach Hansi Flick was in the audience. He came over at the end and said "we have to do this."
Now, the foundation phase changes have been introduced and the new formats will be mandatory from 2024/25.
After the presentation, Professor Barry Drust from Birmingham University tweeted: “Matthias Lochmann showed amazing impact of his research today. Such clever insights to get stakeholder buy-in! Very impressed.”
Next up was Josh Schneider-Weiler, who unveiled TGG’s Academy Productivity Rankings for 2021/22. This is the fourth edition of the annual rankings, which list the 80 Category One to Three Academies according to the number of England-qualified players that they have produced.
Each delegate at the conference also received a copy of the rankings brochure - a 16-page report containing the full rankings as well as analysis and editorial.
At 10:45am, Liverpool Academy Manager, Alex Inglethorpe stepped on the stage to present about the club’s innovative AIR programme.
AIR stands for Adaptability, Independence and Resilience. Inglethorpe, who has been with Liverpool for a decade, explained: “A couple of years ago I realised we had 17 members of staff all giving different messages to our young players. We need them to be aligned and the learning has to be relevant.
“The AIR programme has been running for two years and the players have asked to use some of the ideas for branding at the AXA training site. The staff are engaged with it."
He explained each element of the acronym:
- “Adaptability: you will have different managers and coaches, different systems of play. There is a natural evolution of the game."
- “Independence: knowing who to ask for help and when. You need to be capable of making good decisions under pressure and to be a good judge of character."
- “Resilience: you need physical and mental robustness. You will face contract worries, injury, being out of the team and then transitioning both through and potentially out of sport.”
Following Inglethorpe was Iain Brunnschweiler, Southampton’s Head of Technical Development, who took us inside the club’s Learning Lab. Brunnschweiler explained that the Lab was an attempt to bridge the gap between research and application in pro football.
“We want to learn about learning,” he said. “Over the last 15 years we have learned so much about aspects of players, both mentally and physically, but what can we learn next?
“We are bridging the gap between academia and practice. We develop coaches. What are the models that can help on the ground? We want to create a positive impact on practice, solve problems for the performance community and excite our target communities.”
The final session of the morning was a collaboration between our main sponsors, Hudl, and the Football Association.
Austin Fuller, the Regional Director of Customer Solutions for Hudl, outlined how the company are “helping organisations to make better decisions with video and data,” while pointing out that 69% of Academies worldwide still do not use video analysis.
Laura Seth, Performance Analysis & Insights Manager at the Football Association, explained how England Learning is “supporting delivery of learning and qualifications to coaches.” It “supports coaches across the game from grassroots to Steven Gerrard and Emma Hayes” and “develops the coaches to develop the players.”
“Using analysis is a clear intention from the FA,” Seth said. “We use analysis to help coaches have better understanding of the game."
FA Youth Coach Developer Joe Sargison followed up by outlining the cycle or workflow of analysis, which you see above: plan, delivery and live analysis, review and reflection, peer discussion, coach developer discussion, development plan and ripple effect (back to planning a session).
The afternoon kicked off with a presentation by Gregg Broughton, the Director of Football at Blackburn Rovers, titled 'Embedding Youth Development In Your Club’s Strategy.'
This was particularly pertinent because Blackburn have just celebrated 600 consecutive league games with a homegrown player in their matchday squad.
Broughton said there are four cheat codes for success in getting young players into your first team:
- 1. Be bottom of the league. Eg at Rushden (Simeon Jackson, Lee Tomlin).
- 2. Have a high injury rate. Eg at Luton (Joe Kinnear spent 72 hours trying to sign a loan player and eventually had to give a debut to Curtis Davies).
- 3. Employ a caretaker manager (James Maddison, Jamal Lewis getting a chance at Norwich)
- 4. Have a transfer collapse.
However, a more sustainable approach is objective, strategy, tactics, Broughton said.
- Objective: To make Blackburn a sustainable Premier League club.
- Strategy: Eight strategic pillars.
- Tactics: Youth development in the heart of it.
Broughton said there needs to be “clarity on what success looks like for your Academy”, which has involved establishing an R number for the Academy at Blackburn.
Towards this aim, the club have hired a manager with a track record of developing young players (Jon Dahl Tomasson), who had also been on the radar of Broughton's previous club, FK Bodø/Glimt.
There is also a requirement for your recruitment department to "look internally before looking out,” Broughton explained. “Is the shiny new player actually any better than what you’ve got? You need to know the players sit under your first-team squad really well.”
Broughton also talked about “protecting the psychological safety of both Academy staff and players” because “high performance occurs when people feel safe.” This was a theme throughout the day at the conference.
At Bodø/Glimt, where Broughton was Director of Youth, Academy staff were put on lifetime contracts and 13-year-old players were guaranteed a place until end of school. This created “a club-wide learning environment.”
Next up was Charlotte Healy, who gave us an insight into running a top Women’s Academy at Manchester United
“As an Academy we are only four-years-old,” she explained, “and when we started I was only member of full-time staff.”
However, this is a club at which “the importance of youth is ingrained” and Academy Manager Healy soon set about creating a blueprint, or ‘Redprint.’
Healy said the objective of the senior side is to have “a winning team with a core group of players developed at the club,” with the Academy aiming to be “the most successful talent development programme in the country.”
The Redprint lays down what it means to be a Manchester United player - tactically, socially, physically, psychologically and technically. This is then broken down into positions.
“Make it consistent," Healy said. "If an Under-14 player goes up to 16s, is the language and messaging the same? What about breaking into the first team?"
And, as Broughton previously outlined, it's crucial to have continuity of message throughout the entire club. “If we recruit a player are they going to be a blocker? We have to know who is coming next.”
The day finished with a panel discussion on Human Development in Application, featuring Sally Needham, the Human Development and Performance Culture Lead at Sheffield United, Perry Walters, the co-founder of IDYOMS, and Ged Roddy MBE, who was the architect of the modern Academy system as Director of Youth at the Premier League.
The audience for this session included the Manchester United assistant manager Steve McClaren.