Q and A with Formosa Football Academy’s Robert Iwanicki

When I first moved to Taipei it was a very rare thing to see people walking around in football shirts. Each year there has seemingly been a steady increase as it’s a lot more common to see someone rocking a Germany, Argentina or a Barca top. 

We wanted to find out about how youth development has been improving (or not) in Taipei and if this increase in interest from the general public has helped in generating more young people playing the beautiful game, so we were glad that Robert Iwanicki Royal Blues Taipei manager, accepted answering a few questions on this topic.

1. When I first arrived in Taiwan it was very rare to see people wearing football shirts. Now it’s a more regular occurrence to see someone wearing one, has this increase in interest had any effect on people playing the game here?

You will see these people mainly in the biggest agglomerations like Taipei, Taichung or Kaoshiung, it’s due to fact that young Taiwanese are travelling abroad and picking up some of the football fever.

There is an increase in people playing football indeed, partially due to social networks like FB or Twitter, people are better informed and can see that there is another option besides basketball and baseball and once trying it, they will figure out, that it is at least as fun as the traditional Taiwanese sports, if not better. The government might keep ignoring people’s desire for playing football, but in the end, it’s themselves who decide what’s best for them.

2. Is there any youth league in Taiwan? If yes when does it start and end?

There is the Victory 8 league in European School, organized by MFA, a local football Academy ran by foreigners. Our U10 team participated this season for the first time and all the kids, parents and coaches enjoyed it, so we plan to participate next season again. It just finished, I am not sure when it will restart again.  

Besides this, there are the school leagues, organized by the government, where all the Taiwanese kids are playing, as long as their school has a football team. There was a TYL (Taiwan Youth League) a few years ago, a good approach by CTFA but I am not sure if they are still running it.

3. Has there been any increase in young people playing football in Taiwan?

Yes, at least in Taipei! There are more and more new teams, the bigger academies like ours are growing on teams and members. It’ might look different outside Taipei I think, where you might be missing qualified coaches.

4. Have you seen any increase in playing ability?

Not really, it’s not that easy. We might expect to see the first results in 5-6 years, where the kids who are coached now and have started 5-6 years ago, will turn into adult football. Development is a long-term process, where you need to invest a lot of passion, work and patience. As the more patient, you are the better quality players you will produce. There are some clubs who are trying to take shortcuts, but like in real life – these short terms projects will die first.

5. I have heard a lot of young people won’t continue to play sports in Taiwan after age 12, does this statement have any truth in it?

This is true, it’s mainly due to the school change. People finishing elementary school and heading to Junior High School, where the studied intensity is higher and workload after school is bigger so that the parents decide, their children need to focus on school and take them out of the teams. It’s difficult to do anything about it. In my opinion changing the education system would help here a lot but unfortunately, we coaches have no influence over this.

6. Culture in Taiwan places a higher priority on studying traditional academic subjects, do you think this has an impact on sports participation?

Like I mentioned in the question above, it’s a fact and there is not much we can do about it. We can try to educate parents, some percentage are already aware of it, but there is a long way to go. Parents need to understand that the kid's brain has only a limited time span where it is soaking the knowledge efficiently, after 6-7 hours the input curve will decrease. But again, most parents are working long hours and are just happy to send their kids to a Buxiban (cram school) to keep them busy.

7. Recently you made an agreement with a team called Vikings to participate in the OTPL (On Tap Premier League). What will this mean for young players from Formosa Football Academy?

At Royal Blues and FFA, we’re trying to establish a traditional club system like in Europe, so that the kids have a clear path, and can develop from U6 until U23 in the same club, with the same friends. At the moment we are having a range from U6 until U12 and will try to split the U23 into U23/U18 in the next years. As you can see, there is a gap between U12 and U18 (most of the U23 squad are under 16-17 years old). We will try to fill the gap in the next few years and provide the whole range of youth teams.

8. As you are also the manager of Royal Blues Taipei have you or will you ever have any young players you coach from youth level to play in the Taiwan first division?

We definitely will, I am absolutely positive about it. It’s gonna take another 5-6 years but there will be some FFA players joining our 1st team at some point.

9. What do you predict for the future of Taiwanese football?

It depends on government support, the CTFA development and coaches qualification. I am sure Taiwan’s football will improve, the question is, how fast.

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