Germany decides to put the Fun(ino) back into youth soccer

The German soccer federation (DFB) finally cleared out its old and very possibly corrupt leadership at the end of last week. It elected a new President, Bernd Neuendorf, who is promising cooperation instead of conflict with the Bundesliga. There are now five women representatives on its 15-member board, one of whom — former player Celia Sasic  — will be responsible for diversity and equality.

Just as important for the future were the confirmed reforms to the playing structures of youth soccer.

Up until now, German amateur clubs have stuck to the form of 6- and 7-a-side games from age groups U-7 through to U-11. Although games at the U-9 and U-7 levels officially have "no results," the unofficial emphasis is still far too high on which side has scored how many against which rival club. Some coaches keep their own league standings in a spreadsheet. The pumped-up theater on Saturday morning is all too depressing and familiar — scenes I also saw played out for several years while coaching in the USA. Two goals with goalkeepers, four or so dancing, gesticulating coaches, and several dozen ululating parents way too invested in the sporting performances of their offspring. Fun and freedom for the young players trying to enjoy their hobby? Not so much.

Across Germany over the past few years, though, several regions have been trialing Funino. You may have heard of its hardly revolutionary idea to give kids equal playing time, with the emphasis on enjoyment, plentiful ball contact for all players, and so many goals that not even the most ambitious Dad will bother counting how many times his putative Messi has stuck the ball between the posts. Games at U-7 and U-9 level will be two- or three-a-side, with four goals and no goalkeepers. At U-11, teams will be up to 5-a-side, transitioning to more organized 9-a-side play at U-13 level. All players will be guaranteed equal playing time. No one will be keeping score.

The plan is to lose fewer young players because they are either excluded from the team roster on game day, or because they are marginalized during training and on game days by more combative and precocious teammates. The stress is on enjoying soccer, rather than being so discouraged that you give it up by the time you've reached your 8th birthday. Because of too much pressure caused by too many parents and coaches yelling instructions, when the only they words you should be hearing are, "Get out there and enjoy yourself!"

At the age of 10, I'd yet to play a proper organized game, and had never been the beneficiary of a coach's doubtless valuable guidance. Certainly, I became a better all-around player once I'd received tuition on soccer's basics and tactics during my formative years. But I'd learned to make my own decisions, and my own mistakes, long before that. Most important of all, I was besotted with soccer in a way that a few insane adults on the touchline were never going to spoil. In later years, while playing on my U-15 club team, we'd mimic the louder, more unhinged parents behind their backs and wonder what on earth was missing from their lives that they felt compelled to make such a spectacle of themselves every weekend.

It now only remains for a date to be set for the final implementation of Funino across Germany. Some dissenters are darkly forecasting that coaches will set up unofficial leagues to counter the initiative. I wish them luck with that. In fact, it would be fascinating to see which setup ends up producing the better players and more developed young men and women in the long run. As I was forced to bellow — and not for the first time — at a clutch of disruptive parents at a U-13 game I was reffing last weekend: "This game's for the boys, not for you." Please just let them run and have fun, and keep your useless noise to yourself.

14 comments about "Germany decides to put the Fun(ino) back into youth soccer".
  1. cony konstin, March 14, 2022 at 6:34 p.m.

    Germany just play futsal. 


    But first We need 600,000 futsal courts so kids can play king of the court, 24/7/365, for free and no adult interference. We need a Rucker’s Park soccer environment. We need to create Courts of Dreams. You build them. They will come


    - [ ] 

  2. R2 Dad, March 14, 2022 at 7:37 p.m.

    USSF and all those youth leagues will never go for this. Imagine them telling all those coaches they're not required for kids to play the game. Because we know who the real customers are-- and they're not the parents, nor players. It's the thousands of over-licensed and under-experienced coaches who can't be bothered to teach the basics because they're too busy winning meaningless games! And maybe I can stop refereeing because there won't be as much of a need for officials/targets of abuse.

  3. Beau Dure, March 15, 2022 at 8:05 a.m.

    Germany's copying the USA? Who would've thought?!!

  4. frank schoon, March 15, 2022 at 9:38 a.m.

    Isn't this amazing ,how those in control of soccer keep reinventing the wheel every so often...New ideas but aren't knew. And as long as we don't have PICKUP soccer which is the most equitable way of players to learn ,we're going to keep on having these administrative ruining the development of our players through useless new ways of trying to teach soccer. HAVE YOU  REALIZED HOW OFTEN THEY COME BACK TO THE IDEA OF LETTING THE KIDS, EXPERIENCE AND HAVE FUN. Every so often we come up with a brilliant socalled new idea, which has been around forever but continuously overlooked, or forgotten and reinvented again...

    Check this quote out, "There are now five women representatives on its 15-member board, one of whom — former player Celia Sasic  — will be responsible for diversity and equality."

    WOW!!!, we have someone, a player even, who is responsible for 'DIVERSITY AND EQUALITY" on our board. Just think how fortunate we all are to have been born in a time when we have talk of Diversity and Equality to improve the game of soccer..If only Pele,Cruyff, George Best, Zlatan, and so many , many more of those who learned to play in the poorest communities of the world where so many learned their great skills the world has enjoyed. If these famous players would learned their during the time of Diversity and Equality. I can just imagine how much better they would have been....

    Cony, You're right about the courts and it doesn't matter if it's a futsall ball, plastice or rubber ball, or for that matter a court. The important aspect is to nurture a desire to want to play in any space that's open. We need to create a feel of wanting to play pickup otherwise forget it.

    R2, I'm absolutely with you on the over-licensed coaches and inexperienced coaches and their emphasis on winning. This happens in Europe too, Holland ,Germany. But teams like Ajax , Barcelona are not concerned about winning in the youth but development. This is why they hire former players, real technicians of the game, who can teach the youth....

    Beau, to think Germans are copying the Americans???...The American have done nothing but copy the Germans/English. That is the legacy of our soccer having had so many Germans and English influence in the initiating of our soccer years ago which can be seen plainly in our style today and it hasn't changed one iota...

  5. Bob Ashpole replied, March 15, 2022 at 6:58 p.m.

    If they think they are being innovative, that just shows how clueless they are. While we might not approve of Cone's actions, at least the USSF has a hall-of-fame former international in charge.

  6. frank schoon replied, March 15, 2022 at 10:14 p.m.

    Bob, we'll see how well she'll do. Hall of famer or whatever doesn't impress me. The problem is she is to far removed for me for her to do anything good to improve soccer

  7. Ian Plenderleith, March 16, 2022 at 5:34 a.m.

    I don't understand why some people of a certain age (usually white and male) are so threatened by the idea of diversity and equality. The more people who have the access and opportunity to play the game, the greater the talent pool, the greater the chance that you will discover and/or develop good players, and the more people you will have knowledgably coaching and spreading the game in the future. It's the same argument for equality and diversity in society at large - the more people who have access to education, the more you improve the chances of developing a scientist, say, who will discover a cure for cancer or a safe and cheap source of renewable energy. Everybody wins, even blowhard old white guys.

  8. frank schoon replied, March 16, 2022 at 9:28 a.m.

    Ian, I love how so many of the socalled 'white' persuasion as you are apparently are so biased to think that anyone that criticizes Diversity must be WHITE AND OF CERTAIN AGE. That is one category that so many whites like you fit in. It reminds me of the BLM movement which is sometimes totally made of whites when you watch them protest.  I find it so disconcerting to see you spout this nonsense but that's to be expected in today's environment where one is quickly  categorized and called a name if you don't run with the crowd.

    My family on my father's side is black coming from South America, and I'm willing to bet my family is a lot more diverse than your family will ever dream of being; that is if you associate 'diversity' only with skin color, which ,in your case, you do. I'm surprised that blacks and whites, along with BLM don't  protest the NBA for its extreme lack of diversity. But no one seems to care about that obvious discrepancy.. What I don't understand considering most of the black players come from impoverished neighborhoods, supposedly, how did they all seem to make it to the professional level. I wonder ,how did they accomplish this, how did they acquire that access of opportunity to play?  Does the NBA have a 'diversity in Chief' position or perhaps they need one. Wouldn't you think with more whites and asians in the NBA, means more diversity of skin color ,the game would have a chance to be even better, according to how you see things....

    The way I look at it is that Diversity has never played a part in the growth of popularity of soccer world wide. The poorest of the poor are found playing soccer ,world wide. We don't need the 'feel-good' artisians usually of the 'white liberal' bend to put their nose in it....The growth of soccer is doing just fine.

    I do find problems that 'whites' because they are the ones running the show and are so good in organizing, controlling, continue setting up structures for the sport resulting in creating many burned out kids ,having no fun, unlike in poor countries where kids can play all day and have fun. 
    Maybe those who control soccer like in Germany ,should visit the poor neighborhoods and learn why the poor kids have more fun playing soccer and don't get burned out...This would be much better than to recruit for diversity to bring kids into a system where they get burned out by over-licensed under experienced coaches, and having to re-invent the wheel every so often..

    Somehow talent always comes to the top without worrying about Diversity for diversity sake.....

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, March 16, 2022 at 3:52 p.m.

    Ian, I think the problem that "diversity" has is that people in control don't hear "diversity". They hear "change". Getting anyone to change is difficult. IMO getting large organizations with vested interests to make meaningful changes is near impossible. I could never do it.

  10. Ian Plenderleith replied, March 17, 2022 at 4:43 a.m.

    Frank, my comments were generalized, not aimed at you specifically - diversity's not a competition, so a comparison of your family background with mine is of no relevance. I do not think you have any understanding of what a diversity program involves, though, or what it aims to do - your take is entirely negative and therefore of no use to those who are undertaking initiatives to spread the game and make it accessible to groups who have been unfairly excluded throughout the history of soccer. I suggest you read Tracy Light's essay 'All Inclusive' in the anthology 'Football, She Wrote'  (reviewed here last year) about the difference playing soccer made in the life of her teenage son, who has Down's Syndrome. Soccer "provides him with the building blocks for a happy and fulfilling life. It's the key to his mental and physical health and wellbeing. It allows him to be fully involved and immersed in a community who accept him without bias or exclusion."

  11. frank schoon replied, March 17, 2022 at 9:13 a.m.

    Ian, your comment might be generalized, but at that moment you wrote it , I was the only poster, one of 3, that made a critical comment about 'Diversity'. Why would you have taken that road if it were not about my Criticism on Diversity....

    What really set me off is your statement which is so typical, so often heard from the left is "some people of a certain age USUALLY WHITE AND MALE feel threatened by the idea of diversity and equality"...blah ,blah, blah. But ,at least, I knew where you were coming from. That statement was very presumptious of you and that shouldn't  belong in this discussion. But this is so typical of the left who are very judgemental about others who disagree, calling them racist, homophobe, anti-immigrant....etc, whatever.....

    My reaction to your narrow-minded statement does not fit in my world view and therefore I brought up my family backround, not as a comparison to your family but to give you a better, more fairer picture of myself that does not fit your description, for this WHITE MAN has quite a bit of diversity in his life....

    I agree with your other points, why shouldn't everybody have a chance to play soccer...I'm all for that.
    That is not the issue. If you have club and there are some kids that lack the finances, I'm all for giving them a hand out or help, but that ,to me, that doesn't come from having a feeling of diversity or create an official position for Diversity, which you don't need , instead it  comes  from the HEART!! In Europe where so much is socialized, they have lost the feeling of helping that comes from the heart.  Whenever I send my relatives in Holland stories about Americans who write out a huge tip to a waitress, or a church group gets together and builds a home for someone in need, the charitable work others do for others that amazes my relatives. Their reaction is 'we don't do that here' and whenever I send them stories of others helping others they simply know that's an American experience. How sad these Europeans have lost that feeling ' from the heart' in helping and instead they rely on the gov't to that or some other official dept., like the dept of Diversity, for help, how sad. 

    What the left has done is to force it down others throats if you don't comply , or be canceled, or called a name ,which they are so good at. So whenever I see someone head the dept. of Diversity, I wonder is that person 'heart' oriented or see it as just a job....

  12. Ian Plenderleith replied, March 18, 2022 at 8:57 a.m.

    Dear Frank, there's no doubt your comments triggered memories of similar comments I've heard in the past down the years, and probably it was just my bad luck that these comments always came from the same demographic. God forbid that anyone would suggest that particular demographic is resistant to change!

  13. Kent James, March 17, 2022 at 12:32 a.m.

    This is a welcome development. U10 and below should be essentially organized pickup, with no refs and minimal rule enforcement.  Kids should be switching sides to make small-sided games competitive (we gave everyone in the same age group a t-shirt of the same color, one coach ran the field making subs for both teams on the field).  Kids being challenged at a level they can handle is important, keeping track of victories is not.  This also cheaper because volunteer parents can run the games (since it's mostly organizational).  

    The next step is to make sure pickup games are available for the older kids too.  Coaches should encourage kids to play pickup so they can try things in a less pressured environment (though there is still pressure to perform in a high end pickup game), and so they can continue to have fun and be motivated to play.

  14. frank schoon replied, March 17, 2022 at 9:18 a.m.

    Kent ,totally agree. 

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