Jita Singh, Senior Head of Game Development (FA of Singapore), answers some questions on the FAS youth programmes.
1. How many national-age group teams are there in the National Football Academy (NFA) set-up?
Jita: Unlike other Football Associations which usually have three national age group teams, the FAS have through our National Football Academy established four national age-group teams namely our Under-15, Under-16, Under-17 and Under-18 teams.
The objective of the NFA is to provide our elite youth players with a systematic elite youth development training programme and to prepare these players to participate in the respective international age-group competitions such as the Asean Football Federation (AFF) and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-16 & U-18 qualification competitions.
When the NFA programme was established in year 2000, there were only two national age-group teams namely the Under-16 and Under-18 teams and we are in the process of trying to secure additional resources to establish more younger national age-group teams including the establishment of a NFA Under-13 and a NFA Under-14 teams, to fast track the development of our elite younger players.
2. How about even younger age-groups, what is FAS doing to reach out to these youngsters?
Jita: The FAS Junior Centres of Excellence (JCOE) programme for our Under-8, Under-10 and Under-12 age-groups is part of the FAS Strategic Plan, to systematically develop and nurture our players from a younger age, as part of our long term player development pathway.
In-fact, FAS expanded our JCOE programme from three centres in 2011 to the current 10 and more than 600 young boys are currently enjoying the systematic training programme at the JCOEs.
This year we have also established an even younger age-group, the Under-6s at one of our centres and hope to introduce this age-group at all of our JCOEs by 2013.
3. What is the coaching manual used at the NFA & JCOE?
Jita: The National Football Syllabus (NFS) is the prescribed coaching manual for all of our elite youth development coaches from our NFA, S.League Centres of Excellence (COEs) & JCOE programmes. It incorporates the best practices of the top football nations and was endorsed and commended by FIFA.
Our elite youth coaches are trained in the delivery of the NFS through the FAS Coaches Morning weekly sessions and the JCOE coaches are trained through the monthly Coaches’ Evening sessions, both conducted by the FAS Technical Director and the objective of these sessions are to improve and enhance the technical and tactical knowledge of our elite youth coaches. In fact some of our S.League coaches also attend some of these sessions.
4. Aside from the NFA & JCOE programmes, what are the other elite youth development programmes?
Jita: In addition to our S.League COE programme which comprises of Under-14, Under-16 and Under-18 teams, our partners the Singapore Sports School also provides elite football development programmes for players Under-13 to Under-16, to complement the various FAS youth development programmes.
5. Can you elaborate why FAS chose to field players who are 14 years old to represent the NFA Under-15 team in this year’s Lion City Cup ?
Jita: The FAS Technical Department, after conducting an internal review of our NFA teams’ performance in AFC Under-16 Asian Qualification tournaments in previous years, concluded that our Under-15 team which participates in this tournament, requires at least two years of systematic preparation, in order for Singapore to field a competitive team which would have gained the necessary international match exposure and experience.
Therefore, in order to prepare for the next AFC Under-16 Qualification tournament that will be held in 2013 for players born in 1998, it was decided that our players who are born in 1998, who are essentially 14 years of age, will be selected for the NFA Under-15 team in 2012 and these players will remain in the NFA Under-15 team next year.
Our NFA Under-15 team will have the opportunity to compete in two Lion City Cup competitions this year and in 2013, in addition to other international friendly competitions and matches to gain the necessary international match exposure and experience prior to the participating in the AFC Under-16 qualifiers next year.
The objective is for the team to qualify for the final round of this AFC competition. While our NFA Under- 15 boys will be competing against bigger and older boys, in the Lion City Cup this year, we are confident that they will do their best for Singapore and our fans and in the process gain valuable international match exposure and experience.
6. How about the boys born in 1997 and currently 15 years old, will they get the opportunity to join the NFA programme?
Jita: For the players born in 1997, they are currently training and participating in various competitions with both the Singapore Sports School and the respective S.League COE teams.
Our talent scouts and coaches will continue to monitor the progress of these players and invite them to attend trials in 2013 to select and form the 2013 NFA Under-16 team. The 2013 NFA Under-16 team will take part in the 25th edition of the Lion City Cup and this team will also be prepared to compete at the AFC Under-19 qualification tournament that will be held in 2015, when these players will be in our NFA Under-18 team.
7. Any plans to send the NFA teams and players overseas for training and match exposure?
Jita: In order to fast track the development of our elite NFA players and if financial resources as well as school commitments allows, FAS plan to send all of our NFA teams to travel overseas to play against stronger teams in Asia and Europe on a regular basis, which will enhance their tactical, technical, mental and physical capacities and capabilities.
8. Has FAS tasked any football technical expert to assess the FAS youth development programmes if so what was the assessment?
Jita: FAS requested FIFA to evaluate our various FAS youth development programmes last year.
In this regard we are happy to report that the FIFA Technical Director Jean-Michel Bénézet himself visited Singapore last September to assess the various FAS youth development programmes and he said at the conclusion of his visit that:
“FAS has put in place a detailed and comprehensive plan which will facilitate the systematic development of the youth players. The Association’s youth-specific programmes and initiatives such as the National Football Academy and National Football Syllabus will position Singapore football for success in the future.”
We are both humbled and heartened by the progress of our youth development programmes, over the past two years, however, there remains much hard work ahead and we will need the concerted efforts and continued cooperative endeavours of all stakeholders to work together to shape the future of Singapore football.