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9 Pillars of the Icelandic Football System That Form the Foundation of Their National Success

June 28, 2016 - Posted by

Yesterday the underdog Iceland beat England in football at the 2016 UEFA European Championships. Incredible and energizing indeed, but this victory is only the tip of the iceberg. When we look at the invisible yet fundamental part of Icelandic football, we find a well-established youth sports system.

In January Daily Records published an article about Heimir Hallgrimsson, Iceland’s co-coach at Euro 2016, the national team’s co-manager and a part time dentist, where he said that the current national team are the fruits of 10-15 years of Icelandic coaches’ work. We have picked out 9 key points why Hallgrimsson thinks that their system has been successful:

1. Everyone trains. Kids are organized into biological age and level specific training groups to provide everyone with suitable exercise and challenge.

2. Constant measurement of kids’ activity. “Every year we do a questionnaire to all the kids in school. ‘Do you do sports? How many times do you train? Do you do drugs? Do you take alcohol? Do you smoke? What are your grades?’” They have found out that active kids do better at school and stay away from drugs.

3. Kids do many different sports at the same time. Excellent motor skills picked up at an early age help them master new techniques and become better improvisers in the game. We have covered the importance of physical literacy and long-term athlete development in our previous blog posts.

4. Off-season is longer than competition season. Due to climate in Iceland the football season lasts for only 5 months and 7 months of pre-season give them enough time to work on making their players better.

5. Coaches are well educated. 70% of Icelandic football coaches have a UEFA B Licence and 23% have the A Licence.

6. Coaches are paid. Parents pay for the kids to play and that money goes into paying for the coach. Not all coaches are necessarily full-time, but it is still a good part-time job for PE teachers and ex-players.

A full-size indoor pitch
A full-size indoor pitch. Photo by Alexander Ottesen (Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

7. Local authorities build the facilities and clubs run them. Currently there are 7 full-size indoor pitches, 12 half-size indoors, 23 artificial pitches outdoors and 136 artificial mini-pitches at schools. The last ones are really important as they let kids play before and after school and during breaks.

8. Local authorities subsidize clubs with 186 Euros per kid. This adds up to the training fees and helps the clubs to maintain their facilities.

9. Coaches put the health and well-being of kids at the core of everything they do. Sounds like common sense, but if you have been a coach, you know how much everyone hates losing and that it takes character to keep your eyes on the long-term benefits. This system has worked well for Iceland.

If you know other means that have worked well in various countries, or on the contrary, have been clearly harmful for kids and the sport, then please add a comment below. Everyone here would appreciate it.

You can find the original story here.

Tõnis Saag

Tõnis is the founder of Sportlyzer.com. He was an active sports karate athlete, representing the Estonian National Team 53 times over a 10-year period and winning numerous international tournaments and Estonian Championships. Tõnis was a certified youth coach for 13 years, working constantly with 100+ athletes. Half of that time he was also responsible for their club's development and daily administration. He was also a co-author of the first Estonian textbook for karate coaches and a board member of the Estonian Karate Federation for 2 years. Before starting with Sportlyzer, Tõnis founded and managed functional testing and sports medicine lab Vomax.ee.

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