The Irish Football Association today launched its first ever Youth Football Strategy.
The Let Them Play strategy will shape how youth football develops and grows in Northern Ireland over the next 10 years.
Through the initiative the Irish FA will work with a range of partners to empower boys and girls to develop a lifelong love for the game, not only creating talented players who can one day play for Northern Ireland but helping to nurture positive citizens who can contribute to society.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill, who launched the strategy at an event in Stormont Pavilion, said: “This is the first time the Irish FA has developed a comprehensive Youth Football Strategy and we look forward to sharing our new plans with the world.
“It is an exciting time for football in Northern Ireland and Let Them Play, which covers the period from 2015 to 2025, will enable us to work with all our partners in youth football to ensure we deliver the best for all our young people.”
Irish FA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson told the audience: “Creating positive pathways for young people to fall in love with the game of football and stay involved in the game is a key priority for the Irish FA.
“The building blocks of this new strategy are every bit as important as the building of the new National Football Stadium. This strategy allows us to have a clear focus on how the youth game will develop, with clear targets for us and our partners to meet over the next 10 years.”
Around 50,000 young people already play the game in Northern Ireland, but one of the key objectives of Let Them Play is to increase youth football participation rates to 75,000 by 2020 and 100,000 by 2025.
The strategy also aims to increase the percentage of schools where football is played to 90% by 2020 and increase participation by 100% by 2025.
Other objectives are to embed a culture of club and volunteer development throughout youth football by 2020 and to create new Irish FA youth football coach education pathways as well as new player development pathways. Youth development programmes within men’s and women’s clubs will also be bolstered.
Meanwhile, UEFA President Michel Platini is also supporting the strategy. He said: “UEFA welcomes this Irish FA strategy and is pleased to support the objectives that will make a positive difference to youth football over the next 10 years.
“Long term strategic planning is in our opinion key to increase the number of football players. Let them play.”