The J. League's development and that of Japanese football as a whole depends 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 88 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. The centre coordinates with the Japan Professional Footballers Association 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 (chiefly U-18). In close coordination with the J. League clubs, this includes club-related orientation for new players, social education related to community activities for players in their first three years, and instruction for academy players on what it means to be a professional.
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.
The J. League launched the Jump Project for U-23 players in 2009 with the aims of helping them acquire the experience of performing at a consistently high level and making both the J. League and player education more attractive. The project's members include people with team management, coaching, training and administrative experience from senior high school up and seek to provide and enhance playing opportunities for these young players.
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. In 2010, the programme was implemented at the four clubs of Vegalta Sendai, Yokohama F-Marinos, Gamba Osaka and Avispa Fukuoka.
U-15 (junior high school) players were the initial target but it is intended to expand this programme and related educational systems to younger (primary school) and older (senior high school and new professionals) recipients in due course. The J. League also wants to develop this program, organised under the J. League at each club, as a three-way initiative by the league, clubs and hometown communities for implementation by local educational institutions and groups with that 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 in 2010-2011
The 2009-10 season was played from April to March and contested by 47 teams in the U-14 and 122 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. 10 clubs divided into 2 groups of 5 participated in 2010. The competition was played in a round-robin format with each team then playing off against the team that finished in the same position in the other group.
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 2011, the U-13's go to South Korea, the U-14's to Holland, the U-15's to Brazil and the U-16's, also going abroad for the first time in 3 years, to Holland.
[ Camps by Age Division ]
U-13 South Korea (2009, 2010, 2011)
U-14 Holland (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011) Germany (2007)
U-15 Brazil (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011) Germany (2007)
U-16 UAE (2008) Holland (2011)
The J. League's referees and assistant referees must all hold the JFA's Class One licence or the equivalent. Gatherings for study and match analysis, fitness training etc. are held for referees and assistant referees regularly throughout the year. The JFA also awards a PR (Professional Referee) contract to referees with sufficient experience and technical consistency at the highest level, who are thereby able to receive their principal income from their refereeing work.
36 referees and 70 assistant referees have been assigned to the J.League for the 2011 season.
The J. League seeks to provide consistent education for players by organising training sessions for academy directors and coaches aimed at imparting not only pitch coaching techniques but also the skills of off-the-pitch education to help players grow as fully rounded individuals and contribute to the further development of each club academy.
Since 2010, a training course has also been organised for women coaches attached to the J. League Academies.
The General Managers' Seminar has been conducted since 1999 to nurture and reinforce the business managers of J. League clubs. It was thoroughly revamped for 2008 with the introduction of fuller and more pertinent lectures together with rich case studies and overseas training.
Participants since 2009 have been receiving a two year course of lectures, training and discussions on the communication, leadership, risk management and other knowhow required of the senior administrators of professional clubs. The curriculum includes basic management skills for J. League clubs; sustainable fostering of new club staff; accumulated knowhow and experience of the J. League and its clubs; updates from abroad and overseas observation and study visits; and also opportunities to encounter many richly experienced people. The fostering of management staff is recognised as an important goal for realising the J. League's One Hundred Year Vision and lays the foundations for the J. League's own further growth.