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Young footballers are being given a wonderful chance to showcase their talents and make crucial progress as players through UEFA's international development tournaments.
As part of UEFA's ongoing efforts to develop football across Europe, and in response to feedback received from the UEFA member associations, UEFA has set up the development tournaments to offer young footballing talents an additional opportunity to play competitive international matches. Following a pilot phase in 2012, the tournament programme has moved into full swing, with boys' and girls' events staged across Europe.
The U16 age category has been selected, as UEFA believes this to be a crucial stage in a player's development pathway to the elite level. Such friendly matches, as well as the preparation they involve, are key in facilitating the process of player development.
The U16 development tournaments are also designed to prepare the way for players to move into the U17 age group, where European competition begins in earnest. The tournaments have been given glowing references by national associations, coaches and technical experts.
The tournaments are true learning experiences for the youngsters – not just in fine-tuning skills through practice and guidance, but also in allowing them to appreciate an international and highly competitive atmosphere, and sharing the moment with their peers from other countries.
For coaches, the tournaments provide an additional competitive setting to test more players and experiment with players' positions and tactics according to the opposition – knowing that player development, rather than the result, is the focus. For referees, it provides an excellent educational and learning environment involving international teams, but in a less stressful situation, which will positively influence their path towards elite refereeing.
The tournament organising committees, meanwhile, can learn in practice how to handle certain operational issues, while friendships are forged – everybody involved in the tournaments gains a better understanding of different cultures and different people.
The development tournament programme stretches into the future, with national associations keen to use the opportunity that UEFA is giving them.