New ideas sought for Japan's youth development

Nobuyuki Uenoyama, head of the J.League's technical committee, says the league has to face up to the fact that it has a serious problem with its youth development. "Most of the people who trained the Samurai Blue into who they are today are high school teachers," he told Shinichi Chubachi of the Asahi Shimbun. "Our J.League training system has many issues regarding instruction and its ability to produce players."

Twenty years ago, when the foundations of the current professional structure were laid, clubs were required to establish training structures that many at the time thought would take over as the main suppliers of professional talent in the country. It has not worked out that way, says Uenoyama: "We are gathering good players, but they are not developing very well."

J.League youth teams are difficult to get into, but once players are accepted they often stay on their teams during their three years in junior high school and three years in high school. J.League officials are aware of the "comfort" factor inherent in such a culture, but say that they can't do anything about the problem because of fears about the reaction from players kicked off the teams.

One team, Kashiwa Reysol has formed partnerships with 10 nearby clubs with teams for elementary school and junior high school players, and has established a system where promising players will be brought into Kashiwa's youth teams. Kashiwa will assist players moving down from its youth teams by helping them join one of the 10 clubs.

"There may be complaints and misunderstandings, but I hope to proceed with the plan while deepening understanding with all parties involved," said Tatsuma Yoshida, head of training at Kashiwa Reysol.