Youth football guru reveals where Australia is going wrong

Youth development guru Tom Byer believes football in Australia will not improve at all levels unless Australian children play and train more regularly all-year round.

Byer consults with football associations and top clubs around the world and has been involved in grassroots football in Asia for decades.

The American, who will be visiting Australia next month to hold a roadshow in three cities, says the technique and skill level of Australian players will not get better unless they practice more at a young age, which then has a flow-on effect to senior and professional football

Byer also believes Australia’s reliance on a pay-to-play model, compared to most countries in the Asian confederation, is pricing a lot of youngsters out of football.


“In the community leagues the season only runs for about 18 weeks,” he told The World Game.

“It’s a very short window. Often in these community clubs, kids might only train once a week. So if you add that up you’re talking 18 weeks – 18 hours, maybe 20 hours – which is tantamount going to school about three days a year.

“So what we’re trying to show is that if you really want to be a good footballer it takes engaging with a ball outside the organized practice.

“There’s no doubt about it. There’s a big controversy over the pay-to-play model as well, which is very similar to the United States. So you basically have two or three options in Australia, one is the community/recreational leagues and they’re seasonable.

“It’s such a short season. So you have to assume the kids playing in those leagues are multi-sport kids, who are perhaps playing cricket or whatever. Then you have the SAP (Skill Acquisition Phase) program, which is a pretty expensive buy-in.

“If you compare it with Japan, for my own kids we pay about $150 US dollars a year for them to play. The reason is that it comes down to culture. Japan is a culture when it comes to football, that is a collective community with a volunteer spirit.

“For my kids’ clubs and all the clubs are like this, the facility that they use is local elementary schools, public schools, they use no money to use that pitch. The coaching is done by parents, usually fathers. And it’s very low-cost.

“The kids play 52 weeks of the year – that’s a lot of football. Japan does have pay-to-play models, like commercial schools, but for the most part kids between the ages of six and 12 can play football that’s affordable.

“In Australia and America, we’re leaving out large segments of the population because they can’t afford it, first of all."

Byer is a firm believer that Australia’s failures at Under-17, Under-20 and Under-23 international level in the past decade, along with recent struggles in the Asian Champions League by A-League clubs, are all linked to problems in the development system, with Australia finding hard to regularly produce quality players.

He believes by improving the base level of skill of all players in the football food chain, from a young age, will lead to better elite players being churned out, better results at international and club level, and also an improved standard in the A-League.

Byer will speak to audiences of parents and coaches at free events in Melbourne, Sydney and the Central Coast in April. The 57-year-old feels that getting children more comfortable with a football at an early age is paramount to improving technique and skill level as they get older.

“Our real target audience is getting to the parents,” he said.

“The challenge with that is that we’re trying to focus on parents who have children that basically haven’t join teams yet.

“Our goal is to influence parents to get their children to engage very early with a ball before they cross over that line into organized play. From what I’ve seen this is really the game-changer.”

FFA has been contacted for comment.

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4 min read
Published 17 March 2018 at 3:09pm
By John Davidson