FourFourTwo are the official naming sponsors for the second season of the ESPZEN Junior League, the revolutionary model for youth football in Singapore.
Mirroring changes that are taking place all around the world, the J League is customised to the needs of children, designed and structured to promote development by making sure the competition is 'age appropriate'.
That means no more oversized balls, goals and pitches with too many kids around for everyone to get that vital touch and time on the ball – important factors when it comes to football development at a young age.
“We are thrilled to welcome FourFourTwo onboard as a title sponsorship partner for the forthcoming ESPZEN Junior League Season 2 commencing in January 2015," says Lee Taylor, Director of ESPZEN Pte Ltd.
"The ESPZEN J League is the start of a long journey to ensure Singapore youth have the chance to play 'age appropriate' competitions and tournaments, and allow soccer schools to adapt their models accordingly. Our J League format replicates changes to kids football which have already been made by most football federations around the world many years ago. With our 10 year history of revolutionizing adult league futsal and football, the ESPZEN Junior League is destined for the same success."
Aiding technical and tactical development
"The first step to fixing structural problems in any country's youth development system is ensuring when the children are playing football that all activities, including competitions are age appropriate," says Robert Moss, a former coach with Leeds United's U11 Academy and now Senior Coach with ESPZEN Soccer School.
"No young player who is 7 years old can possibly understand 8-a-side football. As a consequence, young players will not be able to meet expectations and will make errors. Such an environment will not be conducive to development."
The move to small-sided games for young players and children is an integral part of the J League, and is based on educational research on the way children learn. Just as with any academic learning, football education is progressive and studies have shown that small-sided matches improve the game environment for younger players as opposed to the adult version of the game.
Imagine for an instance, the number of possible passing connections between players on a field. Each time an extra player enters the field of play, the number of possible passing interactions goes up dramatically and the level of complexity increases likewise. Younger players find it difficult to understand such complex patterns of play and the learning experience becomes that much more difficult.
The changing face of youth football
"As professional youth coaches we were very surprised that Under-8 youngsters in Singapore are asked to play 8-a-side, this is akin to sending children to university before they have been to school," says William Patz, former Aston Villa, WBA and Manchester United coach and current ESPZEN Soccer School Program Director.
"Having witnessed changes that have taken place in youth football within Europe with regards to competition format, I am thrilled ESPZEN’s mission to get Singapore’s young footballers playing age appropriate competitions with correct sized balls, pitches, goals and formats is gathering pace."
The benefits of 5v5 and 7v7 games have quickly become apparent, with many advantages demonstrated in Season 1 of the J League. Coaches were reporting far more touches on the ball, more attacking 1v1s, final third and penalty box entries, and repeated decision-making opportunities for developing players.
It's something that has also been observed in research studies both in Europe and the United States, and is now being put to effect in Singapore with the FourFourTwo ESPZEN J League.
The fixed game venue and fixture list allowed planning in advance for participating academies, with set kickoff times for each age group also allowing clubs to plan their coaching resources and parents lives easier. Season and match day squad sizes are also not limited, giving participants more freedom in picking kids to play each week.
"As a youth coach myself this is a subject close to my own heart," says Andy Jackson, Brand Director of FourFourTwo.
"To produce skillful and technically proficient young players it's vital at the early stages of a player's development that they get to play on age-appropriate pitches and numbers with the right sized ball. But equally important is that players get as long as possible actually playing the game with limited input from coaches to allow them to just play. In that regard, this partnership with ESPZEN ticked all the boxes and we're looking forward to being a part of this exciting and important league in 2015."
FourFourTwo ESPZEN Junior League
- YouTube www.youtube.com/espzenjleague
- Facebook www.facebook.com/espzenjleague
- Website www.jleague.espzen.com
The J League website contains match reports of each game, player statistics, player and team profiles and match previews never normally associated with youth football, supplemented by thousands of photos taken on match day on the Facebook page, as well as video highlights on YouTube. Registration will end on the first week of January.