Hans-Joachim Watzke calls the ongoing reform of children’s football “incomprehensible” and, as a member of the DFB executive committee, calls for alternatives. His comments on this are hard to beat in terms of level – a comment.
Imagine trying for years to reform an old, bad system with a lot of effort and against resistance. Then you are finally on the right track, almost all districts have already implemented the reform. And then, only then, does your own presidency intervene. A prominent member of this executive committee calls the reform “incomprehensible” and “incomprehensible”, arguing in a poorly informed and populist manner. This is exactly what is happening at the German Football Association (DFB).
The member of the presidium who shoots across the board is called Hans-Joachim Watzke. When asked about the reform for four to eleven-year-olds at the DUP Entrepreneur Day, he etched in the style of a regulars’ mobster: “Soon we’ll be playing without a ball. Or we’ll make it square so that it doesn’t run away from the somewhat slower youngsters.” Some may laugh about it, but the many DFB forces who have been hard at work convincing them for years certainly don’t.
Poisoned greeting for Hannes Wolf
Like several other celebrities before him, Watzke took a single detail out of the comprehensive reform: the omission of tables and (notated) results. “If when you’re six, eight or nine you never feel what it’s like to lose, then you’ll never find the great strength to win.” The new DFB sports director Hannes Wolf should now show alternative courses of action in the next one or two years, “we’ve just decided.” It remains unclear who Watzke means by “we”, because according to the DFB there is no such kind of committee decision.*
It’s a poisoned greeting for Wolf. At his inaugural press conference, he had vehemently defended the children’s football reform. Above all, he expressly emphasized to the critics that winning and losing was by no means abolished. In the future, the children will play several games in small teams on small fields. If you win a game, you advance one space, if you lose, you have to go back one space.
If tables, then also consistently
Apparently, despite Wolf’s words, Watzke did not understand that the children will continue to experience victory and defeat, even more often than before. Even in training, children always know exactly whether they have won or lost, who scored the goals and which children are better, tears and cheers included. This intrinsic motivation does not need league games.
In any case, tables only make sense and are meaningful if those involved do everything they can to be at the top. In the previous league operation in seven against seven, this also means in training: tactical positions, a lot of playing time for the stronger ones, ball actions mainly for the two best in the team.
Competitive and popular sports benefit
It has long been clear that children in smaller groups have a lot more ball actions and duels, which means they learn more effectively. It is logical to implement this principle in games as well, because this encourages all coaches to increasingly use small pitches in training.
Competitive sport will benefit from the fact that Germany will ultimately have more technically well-trained eleven-year-olds. And mass sport benefits from the fact that even less ambitious children can have more fun and participate – the critics must be strong now.
The DFB is late
Incidentally, the DFB hasn’t come up with anything crazy here, but is catching up on what countries like Belgium, the Netherlands and England have been successfully doing for years. The basic idea of Funino dates back to the 1980s.
The fact that it took so long to reform children’s football in this country is due to the federal structure of the DFB. The state associations and in some places even the district and city associations are responsible for organizing children’s play operations. It took many years before everyone finally decided in March 2022 at the DFB Bundestag to make the new forms of play mandatory nationwide from the 2024/25 season.
Watzke gives a devastating picture
The Presidium is also part of the Bundestag and had a say at the time. All the more devastating is the picture that Watzke is now giving with his blanket judgment. Of course you can argue about the details, which is why many local associations also rely on different rules than the DFB proposes.
Incidentally, the DFB proposals already provide for an optional classic seven-a-side game in the E-Jugend (U10, U11). This means that switching to play festivals is only mandatory for daycare children, first, second and third graders. But many older men from the professional field see a scandal even in this – which says a lot about the culture in German football.
*In a first version, we wrote that, according to Watzke, the DFB Presidium asked Hannes Wolf to show alternatives. Later, when asked by the sports show, the DFB made it clear that there was no committee decision.