In turn, German football reinvents itself for the enjoyment of children

It is in these words, by putting the enjoyment of children at the top of its list of priorities, that the German Football Association, yet one of the most successful in the world, with the voice of its Vice President Ronny Zimmermann initiated an unprecedented revolution for its members in the recent weeks.

The Deutsche Fußball Bund conducted pilot experiments in its 21 regional associations for two years before concluding that children’s enjoyment translates into smaller teams, reduced playing surfaces adapted to the age of the players, as well as significant streamlining of the competition structure.

The overhaul of the German football system will happen in phases and will be fully rolled out across the country from 2024.

The German federation has conducted a major barometer survey among its members. Among about 5,200 respondents.

  • More than 99% thought it was very important or important that children have as much fun as possible on the field.
  • No fewer than 95% wanted children to experience fair play.
  • 93% emphasized the importance of seeing children touch the ball as often as possible.
  • 90% wanted the rules to be adapted to the age of the participants.
  • And as icing on the cake, 89% thought it was very important or important that the children should suffer less from the verbal interventions of the parents.

The revision proposed by the German federation concerns the categories U-7 to U-11. And unbelievably, it responds to all the concerns of its members.

On the side of U-6/U-7 we will play matches in a 2 against 2 or 3 against 3. There are no goalkeepers. And in these matches, players can score goals in four mini-nets (!) provided they cross the center line of the field. The playing surface is 16 meters by 20 meters at 2 against 2, and 28 meters by 22 meters at 3 against 3.

Every time a goal is scored, the teams are obliged to replace a player on the field.

Within the U-8/U-9, the 3v3 formula will be maintained, but it will also be possible to hold 4v4 and 5v5 matches. the field. When playing 5v5 matches, goalkeepers are placed in play defending small nets.

It should be noted that no ranking or championship statistics are compiled up to the U-10 category and matches are played in the afternoon as part of festivals that bring together different teams on different playing surfaces.

For example, the U-6/U-7 will play 7 games of 10 minutes in one afternoon. Every time a team wins a match, they move forward one square to meet stronger opponents. On the other hand, the losing team will move back a field and encounter less experienced opponents, always with the aim of balancing forces and limiting one-sided wins.

In the U-8/U-9 category, the same principle of promotion and relegation of the field is maintained. However, the matches played will be slightly longer and last 12 minutes.

With this formula, more matches are won and lost. We think that this way children will learn more about how to handle winning and losing., Vice President Zimmermann argued in a press release. Unfortunately, our request for an interview was not granted.

On the U-10/U-11 side there will be a transition to five-man football. However, it will also be possible to host 7v7 matches. In these categories, the nets (of smaller sizes) will always be defended by goalkeepers. At 7 by 7, the dimensions of the field are increased to 55 meters by 35 meters and a format of tournaments with four teams is created.

In order to guarantee the participation of each child, a principle of fixed rotation is integrated during the competitions.

The main goal of the reform in the U-6 to U-11 age groups is to promote long-term enjoyment of the game with a child-friendly form of footballexplained the leaders of the German federation in their press release.

The site, which examined this reform, also pointed out that this renovation of Germany’s small-scale football erases the referees in these age categories from the equation. This is a particularly spectacular innovation.

The coaches and their attendants will therefore be trained to supervise the course of the matches, but in a minimal way. When special situations arise on the field, the players will be called upon to find their own solutions, as all children do when playing sports freely with their friends.

So it is, believe the leaders of the Deutsche Fußball Bund, that the children will develop their autonomy and learn sportsmanship. These changes, they predict, will also lead to a decrease in the number of verbal interventions by parents during games.

Finally, and this should not be overlooked, the smaller size of the fields will make situations where players are called to play the ball with their heads extremely rare. The rules also state that throw-ins are done with the feet to avoid repeated blows to the head.

The approach of the German federation is extraordinarily daring. But it is based on science and on a value increasingly shared by sports federations around the world: the desire to develop the skills of every child and instill in them the desire to be active throughout their lives.

Moreover, this change of course will make young German footballers more skilled and more competitive, it is believed. Because they have spent their youth dribbling the ball and making decisions in tight spaces, in addition to being constantly involved in duels that have constantly forced them to alternate between attacking and defensive roles.

This is in line with the reform initiated by the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation a few years ago, which I reported on in this column.

There, too, the Swedes had brought the concept of fun to the fore in order to reinvent their small hockey structure. Notably, they had collaborated with a George Washington University researcher, Amanda Visek, whose work had revealed that of the 81 positive factors that encourage them to exercise, children take the win to 40th place. This applies to children who play in recreational categories as well as children who play at a high competitive level.

In Quebec, the government commission on the future of hockey will submit its report in less than three weeks. It will be interesting to see if these major global trends have been taken into account. And if so, to what extent.

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