What the German Football Association Figured Out About Talent Development

In 2000, the German national soccer team was embarrassed and seemed lost after it was knocked out of an early round of Europe’s biggest tournament. The German Football Association drastically altered the country’s youth development program, and the result was on display at this year’s World Cup. It’s a strategy other associations should pay attention to.

If associations need an example of the kind of talent development opportunity offered by today’s disrupted education market, they need look no further than Germany’s national soccer team, which just completed a remarkable run at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, capturing its first championship at the global tournament since 1990.

Associations have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take advantage of a new paradigm that they haven’t seen before, one where we can actively mold those people coming into our industries and professions.

More than a decade ago, after years of struggle that culminated in an early exit from UEFA Euro 2000, Europe’s biggest tournament, the German Football Association decided it was time to reassess how the country developed young athletes who would eventually play for the national team. GFA took the development program, typically run by local club teams, and brought everything in house. The organization began certifying coaches and scouts, building their own training facilities, and creating a system that would churn out talented youth players.

GFA’s program has gained international acclaim in the soccer world. And, according to Shelly Alcorn, principal at Alcorn Associates Management, the association community should take notice as well.

“We obviously have a talent war in the United States. We’ve got skills gaps and we have youth unemployment, but associations have been relatively passive in the face of these disruptions,” she said. “Just like the German Football Association is doing, I think associations have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take advantage of a new paradigm that they haven’t seen before, one where we can actively mold those people coming into our industries and professions.”

Currently, associations work to recruit and engage members and employees, but they wait for colleges and universities to educate young adults, only to find that these employees of the future are graduating without the proper skill sets, Alcorn said.

“The post-secondary system, the way it was constructed, no longer has the capacity to handle the numbers of people that we need that are coming into highly specialized industries and professions,” she said. “Where associations have an advantage over a college system is in their ability to adapt quickly to the changing needs of their industries. They can take their knowledge, put it in online formats that are understandable, and really establish themselves as the go-to source for information.”

According to Alcorn, if associations successfully navigate the education-to-employment market, unprecedented member loyalty could follow. In the GFA example, homegrown German players are increasingly staying in Germany to play for German clubs rather than taking their talents elsewhere.

“I don’t know if there’s a better kind of member loyalty than ‘they helped me train for a job, find a job, get that job, and get a better job,’” she said.

To get there, associations need to adjust their thinking, Alcorn said.

“Right now, we wait for [potential members] to come to us so that we can sell them on the idea that we can help them advance their career after they have had to help themselves and create their own networks,” she said. “We can hack that system by becoming laser-targeted on what our industries and professions need and then going out and creating it. That, associations can do better than anyone, anywhere.”


Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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