In New Zealand, junior soccer programmes for children aged 4 to 12 have been supported for more than a decade by the fast-food company McDonald’s, a global sponsor of the FIFA World Cup for 20 years. The focus of junior soccer programmes and youth soccer programmes for those aged 13 to 19 years is and has always been, to help Kiwi children and their families enjoy football.
The junior programme has been formulated to make football fun, a way to make friends, and also for those who dream of following in the footsteps of their heroes. The McDonald’s Junior Football programme is aimed at children aged 4-12 years which through age-appropriate activities and coaching will increase passion for the game, as well as basic movement and playing skills.
There are three programmes are offered in the junior programme:
First kicks are as much about developing the child as the player. This means that children are allowed to make mistakes and given appropriate support. Activities are short, but energetic within appropriately sized areas.
This programme offers players more game-specific activities, which are fun and exciting. Throughout the season, children learn the physical and technical basics about movement. At this age, most children want to be active and have motivation and enthusiasm to be so. Coaches offer a lot of variety and allow children to explore new things through play.
The Mini Football programme offers games that are motivational and competitive, with the added challenge of learning technical skills of the game. Game days are more focused on matches with teams of seven or nine, before introducing teams of 11 in youth football. Mini Football is still focused on enjoyment, and no results are recorded. Instead, the focus is on ensuring core skills are in place, using the more competitive edge that children have at these ages, and skills to apply them to the game.
New Zealand has implemented a national Youth Framework for soccer so that all youth players can access opportunities to play at an appropriate level to their ability, maturity and interest. Matchday guidelines are linked to the adult New Zealand Football Playing Philosophy, supporting players to increase their technical proficiency, tactical understanding and love of the game.
The Talent Perform programme is for young players with potential, who will be offered a place at a Talent Centre where programme offers training with the best coaches, training against players with similar skill in the region, and nationally. They may then join the National Youth League, for national competitions.
The Talent Excel programme has a focus on the most talented players from across the country in order to help prepare and expose them to international football. Young people are given a place on a Talent Acceleration Programme which can lead to a place in the U17/U20 All Whites / Football Ferns