The J. League's development and that of Japanese football as a whole depend on the rounded nurturing of each and every individual. The J. League places great weight on not only improving playing skills but also fostering the growth of the whole person.
The league's educational activities encompass character building social contributions, post-retirement career support for players and training for future professional players, coaches, referees and club administrators.
The J. League hosts orientation meetings every year for all new players starting their first professional contract, with the purposes of:
Obligatory social contribution by J. League players began in 2003 under Articles 21 and 87 of the league's regulations. The initiatives range from invitations to children in special care facilities to attend official J. League games to soccer schools for parents and children, coaching clinics at schools, visits to welfare facilities and hospitals, participation in local events and environmental clean up campaigns, cooperation with various charities, fund-raising activities, cooperation with campaigns organised by administrative bodies and other community work.
The J. League established the Career Support Centre (CSC) in 2002 to help players chart out their playing career and find their post-retirement career as well. Since 2010, the CSC has been placing special focus on young players in their first three years as professionals and academy players.
An Education & Career Support Team was established in April, 2013 within the Planning Department of the Administration Division to unite the various functions and coordinate with the J. League clubs on every aspect of career design support for players from the academy level through the first team. Concretely, it handles matters related to education, school enrolment and training for professional players and those now seeking to become such and support for post-playing careers.
Instructors are despatched in response to requests from clubs to provide standardised guidance primarily for young players on the educational issues that matter to current J. League players, with the focus on points which ought especially to be shared throughout the league.
J. League clubs are required to operate a J. League Academy of U-18, U-15 and junior or school teams or clinics in addition to their first and satellite (reserve) teams in order to foster the professional players of the future.
The system began with a project in 2001 with wide-ranging goals that included strengthening Japanese football, raising rounded, self-sufficient members of society, promoting local sport, providing appropriate instruction for young people in each age group, forging cooperative ties with schools, local governments and the community, securing and furnishing facilities, and training and securing the necessary instructors.
The J. League Academy was then launched in 2002 as a training approach appropriate to the needs of Japanese society. Centres were established at J. League clubs to provide integrated training and guidance for future players, provide places where children could learn new skills in close coordination with each community and also perform research on training methods.
Seven model centres were started in that first year and the academies had spread to all of the then 33 J. League clubs by 2008, achieving results with every age group from pre-school children upwards and promoting the further dissemination of football in Japanese society. In 2009, the J. League Academy program expanded with a project to foster the skills that players will need to succeed in other countries. Simultaneously, the J. League clubs' U-18, U-15 and junior teams (2nd, 3rd and 4th registration categories of the Japan Football Association) were brought under the J. League Academy umbrella. Each academy is also now required to appoint a qualified director as stipulated by the J. League.
It has been observed in recent years that Japan needs to provide more nurturing opportunities for young professionals and that young players need to play regularly at their J. League clubs in order to achieve outstanding results in age-specific international tournaments.
The J. League is now studying ways to nurture more exciting young players and make the league more attractive by providing practical playing opportunities and organising competitions so that young players in the U-23 age bracket will be able to build up the experience of playing constantly at a high level.
The J. League introduced a programme of support for career design in 2010 as a new player education activity under the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology's programme to help athletes and coaches map out their careers.
The aim is to provide advice to young people who are aiming to become professional players on how to think about their career, awareness of the challenges they will face, and instruction on appropriate professional attitudes towards work and their role in society in order to nurture their ability to contribute to the local community in the future. The programme was implemented at four clubs in 2010.
Courses to nurture facilitators for this programme were started in 2011 and 35 facilitators are currently being trained. 626 players from 25 clubs participated in 2012 and all clubs are expected to take part in 2013, the programme's fourth year.
U-15 (junior high school) players were the initial target but it is intended to expand this programme to include U-18's (senior high school age) and the academy coaches who work with them on a daily basis on the pitch as a fully integrated educational system.
The J. League also wants to develop this programme, organised by the J. League and arranged at each club, as a three-way initiative by the league, clubs and hometown communities for implementation by local educational institutions and groups with the aim of fostering future productive members of each community.
It is vital for young players to build up match experience in order to raise the outstanding players of the future. In addition to Japan's longstanding U-18, U-15 and U-12 divisions, the J. League organises leagues and other tournaments at one year age intervals for intermediate age groups as well.
The J. League launched this U-18 tournament for J. League clubs plus four invited member clubs of the Japan Club Youth Football Federation in 1994.
A match between U-18 J. League players and outstanding players from the national senior high school tournament was introduced in 2010 for presentation before the Fuji Xerox Super Cup. This introduction of U-18 players at such a big occasion builds for the future of Japanese football.
The U-13 league was started in 2007 and the U-14 league in 2008 to give players in intermediate age groups regular match experience.
J. League U-14/U-13
The 2012 season was played from April to December and contested by 49 teams in the U-14 and 120 teams in the U-13 competition (including both local clubs and junior high schools).
The challenge league for U-16 players of J. League member clubs was organised in 2009 as the precursor of the future U-16 league.
The J. League has been taking representative teams of academy-aged players on overseas training camps since 2005 to help them improve their game through international play and grow as fully-rounded individuals through their interactions with the local people and experience of other cultures. Promising players are also brought together for domestic training camps and matches to provide an extra stimulus and help them discover new approaches to their game.
In 2012, the U-13's went to Thailand, the U-14's to China, the U-15's to Brazil and the U-16's to South Korea.
[ Camps by Age Division ]
U-13 South Korea (2009, 2010, 2011) Thailand (2012)
U-14 Holland (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011) Germany (2007) China (2012)
U-15 Brazil (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012) Germany (2007)
U-16 UAE (2008) Holland (2011) South Korea (2012)
[ Training Camps for Academy Players (U-13, U-14) ]
Training camps for the U-13's and U-14's were held in Osaka in April and June, 2013, respectively. The J. League also intends to gather 55-member squads of players believed capable of playing in the J. League and internationally on the basis of recommendations from J. League clubs for training camps and matches.
The J. League inaugurated the J. League Academy Calbee Global Challenge together with Calbee, one of the J. League's leading partners, in 2012. This programme has the aims of promoting international friendship and nurturing the next generation of players by pushing forward with one of the J. League Academy's core goals, that of fostering and strengthening players who will be able to play at the global level.
In the inaugural year, 2012, Tokyo Verdy, winners of the Best Youth Scheme Award* at the 2011 J. League Awards, were able to send their U-16 team as the J. League Academy's representative to participate in the Gothia Cup in Sweden from July 15th-21st.
* This award was introduced in 2009 and is assessed according to how many players advance to the first team, how well they do there, the quality of coaching and the training environment, results in youth tournaments etc. It is awarded to one J. League club each year.
To nurture good coaches is one of the most vital elements to raise globally competitive players.
The J. League unifies player and coach training by providing instructional courses for the academy directors and coaches.
In addition to coaching skills on the pitch, the aim is also for the coaches to develop as leaders who can contribute to the further development of their own club's academy and acquire off-the-pitch skills that will help players grow individually as members of society.
The referees and assistant referees of official J. League matches must be first-class JFA referees.
The J. League and the JFA hold regular training, physical fitness and other sessions through the year and make every effort to ensure consistency of judgement and strengthen cooperation with the match officials.
The JFA also awards the status of Professional Referee (PR) to referees with sufficient refereeing experience and consistently high performance for them to be able to earn their main income from refereeing activity.
The number of J. League clubs has risen from 10 at the start in 1993 to 40 today and this expansion has also produced great diversity in their local situations.
The range of management issues encountered by the clubs has also increased accordingly and produced a growing need for people with the appropriate club management and specialist skills.
The J. League undertakes activities aimed at nurturing these people, spreading awareness and disseminating the knowledge of best practice.
The General Managers Seminar was renewed in 2008 (it first started in 1999) and the 26 graduates of that second seminar are receiving follow-up instruction every year for continued learning.
The goal is that the people fostered through these activities will contribute greatly to realisation of the 100 Year Vision and become a springboard for new advances.