Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Development of Footballers - Player Pathways 足球運動員的發展 – 球員之路

The Development of Footballers - Player Pathways

I am sometimes asked how a young aspiring footballer in Hong Kong can progress from being a beginner to a fulltime professional. Actually there is no short cut, even for the most talented players.

The conventional wisdom is that it takes around 10,000 hours of purposeful practice over say 15 years (equivalent to 13 hours a week) to develop a world-class footballer. For a number of reasons it is difficult to achieve that level in Hong Kong. That is why it is problematic for us to be competitive with other countries. Through Project Phoenix we are trying to implement change and simultaneously improve every aspect of football development to give all players the best chance of success. We must ensure that the systems, structures, facilities and resources are put in place to allow footballers to practice longer, harder and smarter. We need both quantity and quality of opportunity for training and competition. There are undoubtedly a lot of talented footballers in Hong Kong. Unfortunately talent alone is not enough; it needs to be blended with opportunity and relentless hard work. So aspiring footballers must be dedicated as well as talented.

Our new Strategic Plan Aiming High – Together has been written to make it as easy as possible to develop footballers. We are introducing a systematic and coordinated player development continuum where every footballer is given the chance to participate and progress to their level of competence and where the most talented footballers within each age group are identified at an early age and given more and better quality training and conditioning. Aspiring footballers should be able to negotiate seamlessly along this continuum and the pathways must be well sign-posted and accessible. This new system is illustrated in the diagram below.

The Football Development Continuum (Pyramid and Pathways) in Summary

Children need to be introduced to physical activity and basic ball skills at a very young age. This will need to be done by parents, helpers, kindergartens and nursery schools. In some cases children will attend football classes when they are toddlers. The HKFA does not envisage getting directly involved with children at this age but will encourage early years participation and provide information on how and when to introduce basic skills.

Initially players will be introduced to ‘grassroots’ football (age 6 to 12) either through a HKFA programme, an amateur club, the schools system or a Commercial Soccer School. Their progress through the grassroots stage must be monitored. They must be given every opportunity to develop their natural talent. Once they are 13 the children interested in football should be able to continue to participate through HKFA Youth Development programmes but also at a commercial soccer scheme, amateur club or though the school sport programme. Those children involved in HKFA programmes will join District training programmes/leagues or be talent spotted by one of the professional Clubs. If their talent and ambition is confirmed by a qualified coach, there should be pathways to the next level so that their potential can be developed. This would mean attending additional training sessions at one of six HKFA Regional Centres of Excellence. The children that are not of the requisite quality should still receive expert training at the District level in recognition that some children are ‘late developers’.

A major pathway particularly for talented players will be for them to join a professional Club that has an accredited Academy but it is recognized that many of the Clubs will take some time to develop these Academies. In view of this and until the Club Academy system is fully developed, the HKFA has established centralized Academies for the most talented players. These players will therefore receive additional and higher level coaching in age group squads.

After the age of 17 or 18 Players will either be ‘signed on’ by a Professional Club, where they will be eligible to play for one of the Hong Kong senior teams e.g. U20. If they are not good enough to play professional and representative football then there should be pathways to amateur football, coaching, refereeing or football administration. Retaining people in the sport is important regardless of playing ability.

It is the aim of the HKFA to ‘scout’ talented players that possess the hallmarks of a professional player (technique, tactical awareness, intelligence, physical conditioning and mental strength) and ensure that the pathways and systems are available to nurture that talent and propel them to success.

‘Game Changers’

The new HKFA Strategic Plan, Aiming High – Together has been written to focus on the major changes that will make a difference to football in Hong Kong. It is deliberately ‘player-centric’ and in essence it is all about player development through a systematic approach. There are some fundamentals that need to change. These are summarized below:

Football Development

  • Hong Kong Style of Play and National Curriculum: Devising, adopting and implementing the Hong Kong ‘shape and style’ of play consistently and comprehensively across Hong Kong will result in better player development. This should be articulated in a National Curriculum so everyone knows what needs to be done, why and how. The curriculum will cover all aspects of football development from the grassroots up to the elite level and include modules on men’s and boy’s, women’s and girl’s football and futsal.
  • Integrated Player Pathways: As mentioned above, there should be a structured and systematic progression from beginner to elite international footballer. Pathways and progressions should be clearly ‘sign-posted’ so that every player has equal opportunity to reach their potential. The HKFA should have an overview of all football development activity in Hong Kong (not just its own activities and programmes) to facilitate effective talent identification.
  • Grassroots Football: It is imperative that effective coaching of footballers starts as soon as possible. The HKFA and other providers should adopt a small-sided games approach from the age of 6. Techniques, skills and game awareness should be taught in a fun, safe and progressive way.
  • Youth Development: From the age of 13 children should progress to play 11 v 11. Again the emphasis should be on player development rather than ‘win at all cost’. Good playing habits should be reinforced and between 13 and 18 time on the pitch should be maximised to give the players as much opportunity to hit 10,000 hours by the time they are 18. The pillars of development (technique, tactics, conditioning and mental strength) should be developed in a holistic way.
  • Talent Identification: Better players should be selected for additional training and coaching during their formative years whether this be in a Regional Centre of Excellence, Club Academy or HKFA ‘high performance’ squad. These ‘stars of the future’ should be given every assistance and should play against other talented players based on the ‘best v the best’ philosophy. Their performance should be constantly monitored to ensure that they continue to improve.
  • High Performance: Hong Kong must develop effective systems for and an engrained culture of high performance football. Once elite players are in the system they must be given every opportunity to become full time professional footballers if that is what they want. This means sports science and medical support, analysis and evaluation and the best coaching available. Top quality competition must be arranged as well.
  • Professional Football: Football must become a worthwhile career option. The top tier of football in Hong Kong must become more economically viable if it is to encourage young people to aspire to become fulltime. This means raising the standard of play on the pitch so more people watch and more commercial revenue is generated. This will provide the resources to make playing football more lucrative.
  • Player Education and Welfare: A way must be found to make sure that academic achievement and football prowess are not mutually exclusive. This will mean schemes to link Education with Football Development through academies, scholarships, bursaries etc and on-going vocational education of footballers to give them second-career opportunities. A further safety net for footballers could be provided through a Professional Footballers Association that would be responsible for the welfare of players if they are injured or in dispute with their Clubs.
  • Mindset: As a generalization, at the moment youth coaches are more concerned with winning than player development. Attitudes will need to change.
  • Inclusivity: All of the football stakeholders in Hong Kong should be encouraged to ‘buy-into’ this strategy including adopting the Hong Kong playing style and National Curriculum, the grassroots small-sided games approach and player development systems and pathways. No child should be disadvantaged or slip through the net.

This new approach to football development must be underpinned by other strategic considerations. These are summarized below.

Coaching and Coach Education

It is impossible to produce good footballers without good coaches. The HKFA intends to train more coaches to a higher level and maintain their knowledge through regular re-training. The quality of coaching sessions needs to be constantly evaluated. It is critical that our coach education syllabus reflects the Hong Kong playing style and National Curriculum. The level and competence of coaches should be commensurate with the level of football being played. Minimum standards will be set so for example, those involved in coaching high performance football will have an ‘A’ Licence as a prerequisite.

Refereeing and Officials

Similarly, the standard of refereeing must reflect the standard of football. Additional referees will be identified and trained to the requisite standard. Referees will be monitored and assessed continuously to ensure on-going improvement.

Football Facilities

Perhaps the biggest problem with football in Hong Kong is the inadequate supply of good quality football facilities. This is a difficult problem to solve but there is a need to re-assess priorities and the current quota system. The strategic plan suggests a hierarchy of facilities from the grassroots through to the professional Clubs through to the elite international level. Again minimum standards are set on a District, Regional and national level. At the top of the hierarchy is the provision of a Hong Kong Football Training Centre. This long overdue facility is now critical to the development of football.

Integrity and Equality

It is important that football is ‘clean’ and seen to be ‘clean’. This means being transparent in terms of governance and ensuring that all football stakeholders uphold the highest standards of personal, management and financial probity. Systems will be put in place to monitor match-manipulation and there will be a zero-tolerance adopted to those that fail to comply with a new code of conduct. The HKFA will abide by the principles contained in Article 3 of the FIFA Regulations on equal opportunities and anti-discrimination.


The Hong Kong Football Association as the Governing Body for football in Hong Kong and the FIFA Member Association must lead the development of football in Hong Kong. It is recognized however that it can’t do everything itself. The title of the new Strategic Plan, Aiming High – Together reflects the fact that many stakeholders and partners must buy-into the plan and work collaboratively in its adoption and execution.


The delivery of the recommendations contained within the strategic plan will require additional resources especially money. Public sector grants and charitable donations will need to ‘pump prime’ the work of the HKFA and ensure that the organization remains financially sustainable. It will take time before this financial catalyst results in more commercial revenue streams from gate receipts, broadcasting and sponsorship. Football contributes significantly to the health and well-being of Hong Kong at the individual, community and societal level.

If all of these ‘game-changers’ are addressed in the next few years it should be much easier for young players to identify the pathway to becoming a professional footballer as well as much for rewarding for those that eventually make the grade.





球員發展模式 (金字塔及出路)大綱









港隊足球風格及課程指引:設計、採用及實行屬於香港的一套比賽風格,持續 及廣泛地加以推廣,將有利球員的發展。這種風格將與課程指引相互關連,即每個人都會充分明白應該如何及怎樣達成目標,該課程將會涵蓋足球發展的各個層面,包括草根足球以至精英程度,分別適用於男女組別的足球及五人足球上。

  • 整合球員出路:上述提及,足總將要有一套完整的計劃,幫助足球愛好者逐步由初學者發展成為精英的國際級運動員,有關其級別及出路皆會「明確指示」,讓每位球員都在公平對等的機會下達成所求。足總將會全面檢視整個足球發展計劃(並不單指本會的活動及計劃),令更多具天賦的球員能夠更有效地識別出來。
  • 草根足球:由具有效能的足球培訓開始是當務之急,足總及其他足球授學團體應該為6歲或以後之小朋友提供小型比賽方式,在歡樂、安全及循序漸進的環境下提供技術及課堂知識。
  • 青年發展:13歲的青少年開始,應該傾向採用1111人的比賽方式,再次強調一點,這是以球員發展為依歸,而並非講求單純的「勝利不惜代價」。一個良好的比賽習慣應該予以加強,而在1318歲期間,在球場上進行訓練的次數亦應該盡量提高,讓球員在其18歲之年有足夠時間達成10,000小時的訓練量,並全面地發展各項才能(技術、戰術、體能及心理質素)
  • 識別天賦球員:在球員的成長之年,不論他身處在地域訓練課程、球會的青年軍或足總的「高效」陣容中,皆應該甄選能力較佳的球員去參加額外的訓練及指導。這些「明日之星」應該給予足夠的輔助,同時在「最強對最強」的理念下,他們可以與其他同級球員切磋球技,足總將會密切監察其表現以確保其成長進度。
  • 高效能:香港必須徹底發展一套有效機制以取代目前根深蒂固的傳統文化。當精英球員被發掘出來,便應該給予足夠機會,幫助他們成為職業球員,因此運動科學、醫療支援、分析及評估以及優秀培訓必須全部到位,同時亦須安排頂級賽事,讓他們加以磨練。
  • 專業足球:從事足球工作將會成為值得晉身仕途的一個選擇。假若愈來愈多青年人投身足球事業,屬於頂尖的本地足球活動將會變得更有商業價值,這意味著球賽的水平提升,吸引更多觀眾入場,從而增加商業利益,變相提供更多資源投入其中,因果循環下自然增加更多經驗效益。
  • 球員教育和福利:必須尋求方法以確保學業成就及球壇成績不會相互抵觸,即該足球發展計劃必須與教育掛鈎,透過諸如教學、獎學金、助學金及持續職業教育等方式,協助足球運動員獲得第二職業的選擇,同時亦能透過職業足球員工會為球員提供保護網,若他們與球會之間產生矛盾或受傷,工會有責任為球員謀求福利。
  • 思維:一般情況下,青年教練只關心比賽勝負而忽略了球員發展,這種心態必須加以改變。
  • 相關人士:所有涉及足球業界的本港人士都應該一致採用這套方案,包括屬於香港本身的比賽風格及課程指引、在草根足球上選用小型比賽方式以及球員發展機制及出路,以確保具天賦的青少年獲得重視或不會被埋沒。.









在足球運動中,「清白」乃非常重要的一環。簡單而言,在球會管治上,所有足球業界人士必須在其個人、公司管理及財政上保持廉潔及高度透明,而有關制度並會高度監察任何關於操控比賽的情況,以零容忍的態度打擊任何違反專業操守。足總將會嚴格遵守國際足協條例Article 3有關平等機會及反種族歧視的指引。








  1. This is an inspirational and visionary sharing of football development in Hong Kong. Hope HKFA gains more support from different stakeholders to develop soccer in HK. It is sometimes depressing to see the hurdles in soccer development in Hong Kong and the far from promising future of the professional footballers in HK!

  2. Dear Sze Yeun Colin Mak,
    Thank you for your comment. There is nothing earth-shattering or revolutionary in what I'm saying. It is just common sense and best practice. I am presenting my five-year plan to the Football Task Force at the end of this month. Hopefully there will be some buy-in from the main stakeholders at the meeting. Afterwards, I will make the strategy document public so everyone can air their views. If we can generate the support of Hong Kong football fans, I am sure we can start to build up a bit of momentum. The roadblocks need to be pushed to one side.

  3. Hi Bob,

    While you are preparing this youth development plan, I hope you also get a chance to listen to a parent.

    My kid is ten years old and he has been trained in a local elite soccer club for more than 4 years.
    He received 3 days training every week. Apart from participating the local tournaments, he had gone outside HK
    like Europe, Singapore, mainland for 5 times in the past 3 years. I would say, he is a very elite player at his age.
    Apart from that, he is rather good at academic.

    His aspiration is to become a professional player outside HK, and also able to be a university graduate.

    As his dad, I believe there will be a very tough road ahead of him, but I think he has prepared to work hard for this.

    After reading your article on youth development plan, I have a lot of worries about how this can be achieved.

    First, who will provide this 10,000 hour "elite training"? This 10,000 hour translates to 2 hours every day, Mon to Sat.
    My current soccer club provides only 3 x 1.5 = 4.5 hours every week. I doubt whether they have enough coach, pitches and more importantly, the incentive to increase the training hours.

    Second, even if this 12 hours a week is available, how can the local education system support, or to say the least, accommodate?

    I am not sure if you know much about the training of young elite players of other sports in HK.
    e.g. The most elite table tennis player at 10, trained 5 x 2 = 10 hour every week, plus tournament
    For squash player 3 x 2 = 6 hours, plus weekly tournament
    Swimmers trained even more.

    Individual sports can gain support from schools easier, because the players earn reputation for the schools in the
    inter-school tournaments. Unfortunately, it is not true for team sport like soccer.
    The public image of soccer player is also not as good as other sport players.

    Apart from that, when these individual sport elite players turn professional (or half-professional) at the age of around 15 or 16, they got much more support from government or outside. I have never heard of such support for youth soccer players.
    Look at the HK U15 team who just got a very good result. What level of support they receive if they plan to go
    professional or semi-professional to receive even more training?

    I have read through all your blog and I believe you have been doing a very good job paving the path of HK soccer.

    People in HK like to criticize, but please stay positive and continue with your good job.

    I do hope that my kid can have his 10,000 elite training, plus his university education dream.
    Under the current environment, he has to sacrifice either one sooner or later.


    1. Dear Charles,
      Thank you for your comments. You make a number of excellent points. We fully appreciate how difficult it will be for a young footballer to reach his or her potential given the current football 'infrastructure' in Hong Kong. We need more and better facilities. We need more properly educated coaches. Most importantly we need to find a way in which a young person can combine sport with academia. All of these things are possible but it will require a strategic approach across all stakeholders including players, parents, clubs, schools and higher education.
      I discuss this at length in our new Strategy - 'Aiming High - Together'. This will be published soon so I hope you will take the time to read it and comment.
      It is unlikely that football will be desigtnated as an 'elite' sport and be part of the HKSI because the criteria are more difficult for a team sport to achieve, especially a universal sport like football. However we must try and get a similar level of resource so that young players like your son can follow their dreams.
      I sincerely hope that we can put in place systems and resources so your son can get close to 10,000 hours of practice before he is 18 and that this can be achieved at the same time as he gets academic success. Football is a cognitive sport these days as well as physical and we need intelligent players.
      Thanks again and good luck to you both.

  4. The HKFA needs to take control and organize all of HK's Youth play-through leagues.

    Separate Regions further bracketed by tiers: Elite, Gold, Silver, Bronze, Copper, and Recreational Pre-competitive. Each bracket can have multiple tiers (i.e, Silver 2, Silver 3).

    For example, an area surrounding MK could be Region 5, and a youth team could be playing other clubs in the Region 5 U10Boys Gold2 Spring Play-through league.

    All clubs would be subject to licensing, which would include coach licensing (min. education requirement) and background checks.

    As a further illustration, I am a board member of a youth football club in California, United States. My club plays under District 2 Area of California Youth Soccer Association's North region (CYSA-North CYSA is under the jurisdiction of US Youth Soccer which covers all insurance and liability under their umbrella. US Youth Soccer is answerable to the US Soccer Federation (USA's FA). Teams within our clubs play in various tiers and age groups (U8-U19) of Division 2's Play-through league. Here's a listing of our district's Fall tiers:

    One caveat, the play-through leagues must be managed aggressively and with rules and bylaws that foster youth technical development. A recent development in Northern California is the emergence of an alternative (private enterprise) play-through league that places an emphasis on long-term development and coaching education as opposed to the results-oriented style of CYSA. The alternative league ( gives free coaching courses in Fiorentina Method as well as organized trips to Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and Fiorentina to learn from their youth programs.

  5. Dear David,
    Thank you for your interesting comments. I have looked at the link you sent me. It certainly seems like an extensive programme. We are looking at changing our youth league structure from 2014/15 so that there are different divisons and a high performance youth league. We are also devising a Club Accreditation scheme to ensure a consistent quality.
    We also believe that the youth leagues should be about 'player development' rather than 'win at all costs' which is why we introduced 'rolling substitues' this year into our U13 and U14 leagues. It is not easy however to change people's mind sets.
    Thanks again.

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