Happy kids play better

FAS technical director Michel Sablon is hopeful that improvements from his youth development initiative will start to show in one to two years. Among the changes are a major revamp of the schools competition.
FAS technical director Michel Sablon is hopeful that improvements from his youth development initiative will start to show in one to two years. Among the changes are a major revamp of the schools competition. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

Youth plans not completely new but aim to churn out fast-paced, spirited Singapore style

More than a year after his appointment, Football Association of Singapore (FAS) technical director Michel Sablon has unveiled his new youth development plan, an ambitious 11-pronged project which aims to bridge the gap between Singapore and Asia's top teams.

This is on top of his 187-page grassroots manual launched last year, meant to make football enjoyable for children and with less emphasis on results.

At the heart of the Belgian's new project is developing a Singaporean style of play within the next six years. The style is defined as "fast passing offensive football based on a winning spirit".

Addressing some 100 invited members of the fraternity at The Fullerton Hotel yesterday morning, the 68-year-old was hopeful that improvements will start to show in one to two years.

"The aim is to implement the same development philosophy in all different parts of football, in clubs COEs (Centres of Excellence), schools and the NFA (National Football Academy). You will see the results in one to two years," said Sablon, widely credited as the man behind the current rise of Belgian football.

  • Sablon's 11-point blueprint

    Development Philosophy

    Covering a player's mental, tactical, physical and technical ability, with different emphasis depending on players' age.

    Physical Preparation

    Specialised programme for each age group, emphasising importance of football-related movements and using small-sided games as a form of high-intensity interval training.

    Sport science and medicine

    Introduce player-specific gym work for national players and provide individual nutrition and psychology consultation.

    Stakeholders, management, facilities

    Work closely with Sport Singapore on development of National Training Centre, and with Sports Hub to equip National Stadium with football analysis systems.

    Garena Young Lions, national Under-21s

    Focus on match experience and preparations for SEA Games and Olympics.

    Schools competition

    New format to increase number of matches. Four top football schools, one in each zone, to be selected as School Football Academy (SFA), which will be supported and closely monitored by FAS.

    Coach education

    New FAS Coach Education School, with stringent admission criteria. Refresher courses for licence holders.

    Talent for National Football Academy (NFA), clubs and national teams

    Fast-track talented players to play in older age groups. Set the same playing philosophy for all NFA teams.

    Centre Of Excellence (COE) competitions

    New calendar to avoid clashing with schools competition. COE coaches to be attached to national set-up for mentoring.

    Elite player development

    Improve technical abilities using small-sided games at various age groups for players to better read the game and produce a fast passing football style. Set up the Goalkeeping Academy of Singapore to focus on technical skills and proactive modern goalkeeping.

    Grassroots

    An emphasis on fun, inculcating value, bonding, and developing life skills.

It is believed the plan will cost between $3 million and $5 million more than the existing $5 million youth development budget.

In attendance at Sablon's presentation yesterday morning were FAS president Zainudin Nordin, caretaker national coach V. Sundramoorthy, national youth teams head coach Richard Tardy and various grassroots coaches.

A key part of the youth development plan involves the creation of the FAS Coach Education School, which will run courses approved by Fifa and Asian Football Confederation.

The Schools National competition is is also set for a revamp, with more matches planned for teams which do not progress past the zonal stage. Top teams will advance to the upper-tier "Schools Champions League", while the remaining schools will proceed to the Schools National League.

Sablon also drew up a streamlined calendar to avoid scheduling conflicts between schools, COEs and Prime League matches.

Talks with the Ministry of Education are in the final phase and the new schools competition format is expected to be in place next year.

Sablon said he is confident of success after seeing initial progress made in the areas of physical preparation and goalkeeping coaching. Both are part of his 11 areas of focus.

He noted an improvement in the NFA players' fitness, and said the the Goalkeeper Academy Singapore, launched in February with 12 trainees, was over-subscribed with 44 budding gloved ones.

But his ideas are not entirely new. Goal 2010 project director Jan Poulsen and Sablon's predecessor Slobodan Pavkovic also had grand plans, including, like Sablon, making football fun for children through the implementation of smaller-sided games.

However, both Poulsen and Pavkovic failed to improved Singapore football significantly, with resistance to change an obstacle.

But Sablon said his blueprint, tailor-made to the intricacies of the local scene, will ensure its success.

Asked if the past 12 months had discouraged him, he said: "It's not my nature to lower expectations. I'm more confident (of succeeding).

"I did not copy and paste the Belgium system, that is no use. That's why when I came here, I did not bring assistants because I want to work with people from Singapore.

"They know the culture much more better than I do... that's why we make and produce a manual which is in favour of football in Singapore."

Since his arrival though, he has hired several lieutenants, including Tardy, Garena Young Lions coach Patrick Hesse and national Under-17 coach Christophe Chaintreuil.

Seeking support for his plans, Sablon said: "What's strengthening me is the passion and motivation of the whole management.

"Our aim is not simply to produce better players, but to create a world-class football development environment to nurture our talents."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2016, with the headline 'Happy kids play better'. Print Edition | Subscribe