Special training offered to 22,000 promising young players every week

When the German men's national team stepped out of the aircraft that had brought them home to Frankfurt on the day after the final of the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan, thousands of ecstatic fans presented coach Rudi Völler and his players with an unprecedented welcome. Coming home as World Cup runners-up, the team has created a new wave of enthusiasm for the sport - a wonderful opportunity to not only enhance the image if the game but also to try and ensure that German football will have reason to celebrate in the future, too.

In fact, the national team's performance added the finishing touches to a venture that the German Football Association (DFB), at the initiative of its President Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder, had begun to prepare even long before the World Cup. Officially launched in mid-July 2002, the "Extended Talent Promotion Programme" is a unique project in the youth football sector.

"We want the promotion of talented young players to be at the heart of our policy," says Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder who has declared the successful implementation of the project his personal mission. It is thanks to his commitment that the DFB has now embarked on a programme whose dimensions exceed any other effort made world-wide as the following facts and figures will prove: with the beginning of the 2002/2003 season, approx. 22,000 girls and boys aged 11-17 will receive special training under the supervision of some 1,200 coaches, at almost 390 training base camps distributed all over Germany. 29 full-time co-ordinators will guarantee the smooth organisation of the project which will cost the DFB the considerable sum of € 10 million per year.

The DFB is convinced, though, that it is money well spent, not least in response to the harsh public criticism following the national team's early exit from the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France and an even more ignominious performance at EURO 2000 in Belgium and The Netherlands.

If DFB coach Jörg Daniel, the Director (Sports) of the Talent Promotion Programme, is to be believed, then "the DFB is a youth football paradise", with some 1.8 million youngsters playing the game in almost 27,000 clubs. Additionally, the DFB's sub-regional associations have always offered special courses and competitive matches for talented young players. Daniel has the greatest respect for the work rendered by the teacher-coaches at the German Sports-Oriented Schools, and since 1999 special training measures have been organised at the DFB's 122 training centres. And yet, says Daniel, "all that glitters is not gold. It goes without saying that the established structures have their merits, but there is always room for improvement in other areas such as geographical coverage, training frequency and the coaches' actual qualification. These are the problems we have to tackle in order to create equal opportunities for all talented players nation-wide."

Under the programme, training shall be offered at no fewer than 390 bases. The organisers have aimed at distributing those as evenly as possible across the German territory, making sure that every training base serves roughly 70 clubs. The end result is a tightly-woven network which will make it much easier to identify and promote talented youngsters. "Our objective is for every young footballer to be given the same chance to be discovered and receive special training, no matter where he or she lives," explains Mayer-Vorfelder. To keep training effective the number of players is to be restricted to a maximum of 30, split into two groups (Under-14's to Under-18's in the first group, Under-12's and Under-13's in the other).
For the latter group, taking part in the Extended Talent Promotion Programme is a historical first: never before have players that young been targeted so intensively. DFB coach (and Rudi Völler's "right hand") Michael Skibbe, explains why: "It is one of the programme's main goals to find talented young players, and for them to benefit from the best possible training and coaching. So, why not begin with children at their best learning age? Teach them a new drill, a new trick - they absorb everything in no time." Experience shows that from the approximate total of 300,000 children in that age bracket, some 10,000 will turn out to be highly talented, which is exactly the number of children whose development will be specially fostered under the programme.

As regards the Under-14 to Under-18 group, "there are many late developers. Just look at Christoph Metzelder and Miroslav Klose who were well into their teens before they even joined one of the big Bundesliga clubs," says Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder. While it is usual for most promising players to attend a Bundesliga club's centre of excellence by the age of 15, the programme will be instrumental in not losing sight of the others.

Talent-spotting is only the first step; the second must be to nurture players' progress on a consistent basis. Accordingly, they need to be coached by capable coaches, in accordance with a standard methodology and, at the same time, taking into account their individual needs. Offered in addition to the regular club training, the once-weekly training sessions will focus on improving individual skills and tactical know-how. DFB chief coaches' instructor Erich Rutemöller: "Unlike your average club coach, a base coach is in a privileged situation because he can dedicate much more time to his players on a one-on-one basis." However, for a player to get invited once does not mean that he (or she) has a place guaranteed "forever". "We'll tell them they've got to show they're worth it. The door is always open both ways," says Rutemöller.

Raising the level of club youth coaching is the second key responsibility assumed by the respective base co-ordinators. In accordance with the principle of de-centralisation that characterises the entire Talent Promotion Programme, they will visit even the smallest clubs, inviting youth coaches to brush up their football education, and to improve their own coaching. Programme Director Jörg Daniel explains: "The new structures will give the DFB and its sub-regional associations a great opportunity to address clubs and coaches quickly and directly. If you want to improve the quality of coaching at club level, what better way than to offer practical courses to the people at the grass roots?"
The Talent Promotion Programme is targeted at every talented player, no matter where they live, or what club they play for. Everybody has a chance to prove they've got what it takes. The programme will not only be a motivation boost, it will also mean that more and more people will keep their eyes open for promising youngsters. For Jörg Daniel, a golden age for football is on the horizon: "Naturally, not everyone will end up holding the Championship trophy aloft, but eventually the programme will have a tremendous impact as both the professional and the amateur game will benefit from a higher number of more competitive, and better skilled, footballers."

With a view to ensuring the smooth functioning of this major project, the DFB has "created" the new profession of "training base co-ordinator". While these are regular DFB employees, they are unlikely to spend a lot of time at the DFB headquarters in Frankfurt. Instead, they will travel around the 29 regions into which the DFB territory has been divided. Choosing the actual training bases and equipping those with the necessary equipment, was the first task to be tackled. "Our list of requirements was pretty demanding but if you want to find the best players, you've got to provide the best possible training conditions," says Jörg Daniel. Next came finding the right coaches who have been given part-time employment contracts. Clearly, showing high commitment, dedication and motivation is just as important a recruitment factor as professional aptitude (the DFB's B-license is the minimum qualification for any candidate). The coaches receive a plan including the key projects, courses, and dates from their responsible base co-ordinator.

In addition to planning and realising the training sessions, a great deal of the part-time coaches' responsibility is to visit clubs and find talented players, building up an information network involving the clubs, club coaches and players. In fact, it is essential for them to maintain a close working relationship with club coaches sending payers to the base training sessions. Only then will they be able to tailor their own training programmes to the players' individual needs and requirements, working on the weak spots while reinforcing their strengths.

German football's Extended Talent Promotion Programme is an initiative of the German Football Association (DFB) supported by: