August 18, 2009

Development Systems Worldwide

Clive Gibson’s Peak Performance discusses the cooperation between the DFB (German Soccer Federation) and its clubs to improve the game for all German soccer players and fans and to develop future professional players.

“They are creating the future through investment in infrastructure, continuity and community…The DFB is committed to offering the best possible organization for everyone, from the very young to seniors and players in fun-friendly leagues.”

The national team and professional teams actively assist elite player development at the youth levels, as one day these players will represent Germany and play in the Bundesliga, so future and continued success depends on these players.

“Creating the future through development is therefore a responsibility shared by the clubs and the DFB in a mutually dependent and symbiotic relationship…The best players become professional at 18, but often much younger players have training contracts with Bundesliga clubs.”

germanThe top teams, like FC Bayern Munich finance player development through its programs. “The revenue derived from sponsorships, merchandise and ticket sales enable FCB to fund the development of youth players and to play a role in the DFB’s commitment to social responsibility.”

As an example, “We have a third-division team and about five players from the main team play in the third-division side with the rest made up with normal amateurs…We have an agreement for technical cooperation with a second division club in the suburbs of Munich. Our younger players will go there so they get good experience, and if the club has any very good players we have first option.”

Surely NBA teams possess the wealth and influence to develop the next generation. The NBA and USA Basketball need better and better talent every year to compete in a crowded marketplace and an increasingly competitive international basketball scene.

However, while the German National team and Bundesliga create its future, USA Basketball and the NBA rely on the U.S. school system and a hodge-podge of programs with little continuity or direction.

“The coaches think the most important age for talent is between 12 and 14. We have an under-14 national side, then every age group through to the elite national squad. We have eight coaches. The coaches stay with their teams throughout the age groups and the start back at under-14’s” (Gibson).

U.S. basketball players at this age search for exposure and play for multiple teams with little emphasis on development.

The media often references a “European system.” However, there is no homogenous “European system,” and the structure of the NCAA and NBA prohibit the full implementation of a European-like system.

Economics and profit fuel systems and the United States provides a free development system for the NCAA and NBA. Unlike in other countries, where money filters from the professional level to the youth clubs, the NBA and NCAA retain their profits.

In Europe, teams such as Bennetton Treviso, Maccabi Tel Aviv and CSKA Moscow sign players as young as 14 and place them within their club system or academy. According to an article in FIBA’s Assist Magazine, Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Academy “has 54 branches all over the country in which 2,600 boys and girls get familiar with the basics of basketball…The Youth Section consists of 14 teams, who play in the various age group leagues operated by the Israel Basketball Association, starting with Mini Basketball all the way up to the Juniors (under 18).” Beyond the club’s financial investment is the involvement of club personnel: “All coaches and instructors in the Academy are graduates of coaching courses and work according to the program developed at the Basketball Academy.”

benettonHowever, each club differs. For instance, according to Michael Lee in the Washington Post, “Italian power Benetton Treviso has about 600 players, some non-pros as young as 8, in its junior program.”

In Russia, European power CSKA Moscow “signs players beginning at age 14 to contracts that usually last about five years. CSKA supplies them with room, board and a salary ranging from $300 to $2,000 a month, depending on their progress and play (the average Russian salary is $410 a month).” These players complete secondary school during the day, attending class three days a week.

While the bigger clubs develop players for their own professional squads, they also sign players from other clubs. Smaller clubs develop and sell players’ rights to finance the club.

“Serbia’s FMP Zeleznik states quite plainly that it is in the business of developing and eventually selling players to the highest bidders. Its 200 players receive scholarships, live in dormitories, attend classes and practice twice per day. They have access to a weight room, sauna and a medical center that is used by the Serbian national team. But if a player becomes a star, he won’t be around long. Five FMP players, including Mile Ilic, a 7-foot-1 reserve center for the New Jersey Nets, were sold for a reported $3.5 million over the summer. A spokesman said the money from the transactions is invested back into the program,” (Lee).

Lithuania uses basketball academies to develop young players. According to Lee’s article, “these academies serve as before and after-school programs, in which parents pay for their children to intensely learn fundamentals at an early age and engage in competitions when they reach 12.”

In Lithuania, two of the best and most well-known academies are operated by Sarunas Marciulionis (Vilnius) and Arvydas Sabonis (Kaunas). “Marciulionis has 815 children in his program, ranging from ages 7 to 18. He has 11 certified coaches who are assigned to two age groups each. Sabonis has a similar setup, except the age groups for coaches differ by five years.”

According to a FIBA Assist Magazine article, players progress gradually, adding to the number of practices per week every two years as well as adding to the duration of practices. As Lee writes about one of Marciulionis’ coaches: “Linartis first began coaching them, he took them on the typical track, from having them running wild as neophytes, to gradually teaching them how to dribble, pass, shoot and defend.”

In the United States, U.S. Soccer created a plan and program (Project 40) to win the 2010 World Cup. One by-product is a residency program at the IMG Academy for U-17 National Team players. According to the U.S. Soccer web site:

“The full-time Residency Program has doubled in the number of players from 20 to 40, adding 10 additional players in both the fall semester of 2002 and 2003. U.S. Soccer has been able to increase the number of players enrolled in the program to provide greater opportunities for young players and increase its investment in player development. With 40 players now in residency, the program is able to field two full teams who will train together during the week, and get the chance to compete against colleges, professional club teams and international youth teams on the weekends.”

In France, players such as Tony Parker and Boris Diaw matriculated through the Institute Nationale Sport and Education Physical (INSEP) in Paris. According to INSEP’s Lucien Legrand:

“There are 48 young players, boys and girls split-up in two categories of teams, under-18 and under-16. In training camp, they improve their individual skills and their team chemistry. For the under-16, they play against others for the professional team in young class. When a 16-year-old kid plays against older players, like 30 years of age, he’s going to improve his game and intensity. They become more mature that way. It’s a learning process.”

While the United States maintains a helter-skelter development system with no unifying organization, other countries develop players through academies, clubs and national team programs. Players start in a youth academy and move to a junior team affiliated with a professional club. The youth division’s primary purpose is to develop professional and international players, not win at the youth level. The club guides development to ensure a constant talent influx to the professional team. Players develop within one club from youth to the adult level, whether as a professional or a second division player. The club’s development process builds to a peak in the player’s early 20’s. National programs use the youth academies and club programs to identify talented players. They organize camps and training for the best players.

In the United States, no long term development plan exists and players jump from team to team and coach to coach. Throughout this system, each coach uses his own philosophy and each team trains to win its championship. Winning, not development is valued, often sacrificing an athlete’s development to win.

The United States needs to change to a system which emphasizes fundamental basketball skills and prepares players for the next level. The Elite Development League and High Performance Centers would re-structure the current club system, while changing the emphasis and creating a financially viable system for elite player development which incorporates a more balanced schedule, greater emphasis on training and more time for studies.

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