The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) has hit the reset button on youth football.
After almost three years of inactivity owing to the pandemic, the TTFA kick-starts its rebuilding phase with screening sessions for Under-14 boys and Under-15 girls.
These trials take place in both Trinidad and Tobago and begin with the girls at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva on Saturday from 8am.
Over the next few weeks, local coaches and TTFA officials will observe, assess and evaluate these potential players and handpick standout athletes for selection to their High Performance teams.
TTFA technical director Anton Corneal said covid19 put a damper on the development of local players and the association is intent on bouncing back with a long-term goal to improve on existing, and unearth new talents.
“I think it’s really hitting the reset button. Programmes came to an end when we had the covid19 restrictions and this was an opportunity for us to restructure the development of football. A lot of development was not done in the last three years.
“Now we’ve got to put new programmes in place or revisit some of the programmes we had before and look at areas that we can possibly improve. Some of the results that we have seen, it’s quite clear; it showed a lack of any programmes building up into some of these tournaments,” he said.
TTFA’s High Performance programme spans a four-year period. After the screening sessions are completed with the U14 boys and U15 girls over the coming weeks, the 40 top players will be placed into another specialist programme which affords them three to four years in preparation for the national U17 team.
Corneal said the TT U17 coach, four years from now, would get an opportunity to work with players who have been through their High Performance programme for a lengthy period.
This, he said, will be one of the first steps to bridging TT’s gap with the also advancing Caribbean territories.
“FIFA is going to come in and advise (us). First we have to show them (FIFA) what’s being planned and that’s being done right now. Hopefully we can have better results. We are now seeing where there’s a gap (in TT) when it comes to being ready in all aspects of the game.
“There’s nothing magical that can be done but if we put the different stages in place and we are consistent, have some of the better coaches driving this programme we will see better results as a long term outcome,” he added.
Corneal confirmed the TTFA met with zonal bodies, first collectively and then individually. They agreed that there is a financial challenge to start these programmes but said the TTFA plans to be the driving force behind zonal screening process, and by extension, nationally.
Although optimistic, Corneal and his team are approaching the programme cautiously.
“We’re in unchartered waters. We don’t have as many teams training, as many academies as before, so we are hoping that most of them will be up and running in the next three to four months,” he said.
The former national striker said they will utilise coaches and past players who participated in TTFA-sanctioned programmes, particularly in the girls/women’s divisions.
“I was very excited when we had a course (previously) with only women; I think the first of its kind in TT. I can see a lot of them playing major roles when it comes to scouting young girls and being part of their development.
“We will be taking advantage of those certified in the next two to three months. Those who have played for the 2006 World Cup team, others who have been in and around the team. This augers well to have resourceful people coaching in our academy and youth clubs. Better coaches, better players.,” Corneal said.
He affirmed that TT needs to put return football to top priority and also understand the importance of development.
Corneal continued, “We can’t wait for three weeks to a month before a tournament to being preparation. Countries have long term development plans and we are seeing that in a lot of the islands, they are now getting the desired results.
“So all of a sudden St Kitts and Guyana are competing especially in the girls division, but also in the boys. We have to make sure we continue to do what got us there when we were successful. Success happens by design. We’ve got to get back there.”
He called on support from the Ministry of Sport and Community Development, Ministry of Education, Secondary Schools Football League, Primary Schools’ League, zones, academies and corporate TT to come on board.
“We have to empower people. They must see the role they have and the bigger plan. Hopefully we can put specific programmes in place one at a time. By doing that in the space of 12 months we should have all of our programmes up and running,” Corneal concluded.