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10 | 11 Sweden Study Visit

Although Sweden failed to qualify for this summer’s World Cup, FA Regional Coach Development Manager (5-11), Jack Walton, found a country making progressive steps in their approach to football development on a recent study visit.

To say Sweden are one of the most successful sporting nations on the planet, may come as a surprise to many. However, based on population size Sweden’s modest nine million inhabitants regularly places them amongst the top performing nations in the world when it comes to major sports played internationally.

Culture Sport has always been a huge part of Swedish culture. In 1970, the government passed the ‘Sport For All’ report, which gave every man, woman and child the right to access sport, whatever their circumstance. The country and government are very clear that sport is ‘physical activity in order to perform better, have fun and feel well. Consisting of training and play, competition and display.’ (Swedish Sport Policy).

Interestingly, Swedish PE lessons are often co-ed and explore more about leadership and cooperation than fixtures and competition. However what separates this country from most is the importance placed on organised sport within independent clubs.

Stockholm’s largest football club, and one of the largest in Europe, boasts 240 teams from youth to adult, male and female whilst handball clubs of 80 teams are not uncommon. I stress the importance of the term club as opposed to a collection of teams who happen to wear the same shirt.

Affiliated clubs must have a clear mission statement and philosophy which is demonstrable by its members. This is driven by the club’s Coach Developer - another mandatory factor for affiliation. This person is responsible for the formal and informal development of all the club’s voluntary leaders.

In every organisation visited throughout the trip, the individual club values were visible. What’s more, all club members including committee, volunteers, players and parents could relay these values on request and demonstrated them at all times. It was a clear philosophy in action.

This is partly driven by the expectations of the community. Swedish society expects independent sports clubs to first and foremost develop decent people. This ranks far ahead of developing elite athletes and fits in with the ‘Sport For All’ ethos. The community see this social benefit as an output for their investment into the clubs.

The country is particularly clear on its strive for equality. Fifty percent of sport coverage on TV is devoted to females and forty percent of sports coaches are female (UK: 33%). Training time and facility access is also equal and in some sports such as handball, professional females often earn more than their male counterparts.

Law of Jante This phrase cropped up several times during the visit and it is clear that this cultural concept is firmly ingrained in the social fabric of the Swedish. This ‘law’ is a mindset that frowns upon boasting and self-promotion as unacceptable, distasteful and rude whilst promoting ‘us’ i.e. the group, the family, the club. As two of the rules within Jante, roughly state: ‘You’re not to think you are more important than us’. ‘You’re not to think you’re too special’.

Education and Funding Sport is heavily subsidised by the national and local government with affiliated clubs receiving a few Krona (~30p) for every attendee per session. It is in everybody’s interest to keep maximum participation at the forefront of priorities. Funding is also allocated to clubs on the number of coaches (or ‘leaders’) who volunteer their time, regardless of the qualification they hold.

The monies received by the clubs however have no cash value. Instead, each club holds an ‘Educational Account’ with SISU (The Swedish Sports Movement’s Education Organisation) and the credits saved can be redeemed for further club development, for example to hire a consultant, purchase educational resources or to pay for coaching courses.

A club can even claim attendees at a parents meeting or informal coaches meeting back to SISU to earn further development credits. It is, in effect, an educational virtuous cycle. The whole picture adds up to one in which both formal and informal learning are rewarded and valued.

Swedish football structure and formats

24 District FA’s who govern and organise football and deliver the Swedish FA coach education programme.

Each has autonomy to decide their own format of football

Most now playing 5(U7) > 7(U9) > 9(U12) > 11(U14) a side with some adopting 3v3 for U6 and below.

No league tables or published results until U13 (at any sport)

Four year age band to play up or down based on ability and maturity. Recognition that education of coaches around this is key.

District FA’s employ full time technical staff who work solely within grassroots clubs (similar to FA Club Mentor Programme - average of 10 visits per season).

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