28 May Blog 2 – the private academy
The private academy and private coaching organisation industry has grown massively over the last 3 years. So on that basis I’ve written blog number 2 on the role of the private academy and the part they play in the football landscape.
Back when I was playing (circa 30 years ago now 🙈) I would play for my school (approx 4/5 games per year) my local grass roots club who would train for an hour on a Saturday and play games in a league on a Sunday. From there for the chosen few there was district football and county representative football. The latter two did not train and again played approximately 3/4 games per season. My local professional club AFC Bournemouth would train once per week and play periodic games in half terms. Back then you could actually play for a pro club and a grass roots club. This is in some ways was a best of both worlds scenario where you had the opportunity to play with friends and obtain quality coaching (I remember then first team manager Tony Pulis actually taking sessions!)
The draw back for this was only a very small select group received A, extra and B, quality coaching. As a result of this the local talent pool ended up being very narrow with 10/15 players excelling and playing district, county, pro club and everyone else training for an hour and playing a game on a Sunday.
With this differentiation in contact quality and time the gap becomes almost insurmountable within a short period of time.
To give an example of my cohort who signed only one player (Anthony Griffin) signed from a BH/DT postcode and all others coming from across the region.
Fast forward a few years when I began coaching I went back to the club as a coach of the under 15/16 Centre of Excellence (before EPPP) differing from when I played once you signed a registration you then could not play for your grass roots club.
Our set up tended to be train Monday, Wednesday (gym/S&C) Saturday morning with a game on a Sunday. Our under 16s would train Mon, Weds, Thurs and play on a Saturday. A couple of observations early on were, A the groups were broadly extremely talented and secondly they all had a great cohesion and togetherness (a coach in this environment I’m sure will testify this isn’t always the case!) on delving a little deeper into the camaraderie of the groups it became apparent the majority of them had been together since 8/9 years old and one or two would have been added by u10/11s. I put this down to the the opportunity gap being a lot smaller at that age with everyone receiving a similar level of contact time and quality. Once past the 8-10 age range the gap then opened for the players already in the set up. Moving on, on average the players could have been together for 8 years prior to the U15s/16 age group. This means they’ve received quality structured coaching for circa the same timeframe which again made the leap from grass roots to our groups almost impossible for a player that had received maybe 25% of the contact time.
Periodically we would have players come in on trial and the combination of the daunting situation of going to a new club, alongside an established group who had all been receiving 75% contact time it was no surprise that very few players could bridge the gap (with one notable exception, a certain Danny Ings)
I can remember having a conversation with a trialist player and his parents after pretty much every session and trying to reassure and convince him to at least see out his 6 weeks for his own experience if nothing else, this wasn’t an issue with our environment or our welfare and duty of care for trialists as actually the benefit of a small coaching staff and department is you can create a family atmosphere and we always rolled out the red carpet for trilists as we not only wanted to give them the best chance of progressing but also if they didn’t quite make it they went back to their clubs and at least reported a positive experience.
During half terms we would play grass roots clubs with us playing a year and two years up in cases as a way of integrating into the local football community. All to often even trying to manage the game the scores would be double figures and neither team would come away really gaining anything.
Fast forward to today and the rise of the private organisation has played a key role in improving the general level of ability across the board.
Extra structured coaching to take the contact time on parity with academy football alongside a massive improvement in grass roots football in terms of qualified coaches and resources available have seen the gap close dramatically.
Grass roots clubs in terms of their structure, organisation and resource have definitely improved the base which is extremely important. The key role the private organisation plays is they can prepare the player for a new environment when they may not be playing with friends (at least to start with) they can also prepare the player for potentially a different methodology of coaching which again can be really important to a player going on trial that the practices/structure are similar. Couple this with contact time to mirror their academy counterparts and the gap is much closer than previously. The organisation can also be a useful confidant to the player and parent so they know what to expect and can offer advice. We speak to the player and parents prior to the first session and highlight the process and offer advice, from there we tend to be in weekly contact throughout the trial process with the club and player/parent to help feedback and offer suggestions of areas of development etc which may have been feedback via the coaches of the club. For players who go in later (under 15+) we tend to send a representative down with the player on the first session and to watch sessions game if possible. If not we watch the games in a highlight reel so we can assess how they are faring. This is a crucial time for the players and we want to ensure we as an organisation work closely with the player/parent/club to ensure the best possible outcome.
Also looking at the football landscape today against when I played and when I began to coach the gap is much smaller now, when we play professional clubs we play the same age group in most cases and have been competitive in every game. This would never happen 10+ years ago. I’m using Champion as an example but this is across the board in most areas of the UK now. Also players going on trial and being signed from outside the game is much more prevalent then previously with lots of players now either being signed or giving a great representation of themselves. We recently had an under 16 player go on trial at a Premier League club and altougth he didn’t quite make the grade he made an excellent impression over the 8 weeks and if not for Covid19 could well have gained a scholarship elsewhere. Again this was nearly unheard of 10 years ago.
AFC Bournemouth current first year scholars of 12 players 5 have been signed from BH and DT postcodes. Of the 5, Jack Whaddon and Aaron Roberts were both in our set up prior to be ping signed. I actually attended Jacks first session at Dumpton School as an u11 and Aaron’s first session at Canford Magna as an u13. As you can imagine we are immensely proud of both of them and to have played a small part in their development.
Deciding on whether to send your son/daughter to a private organisation and which one can be difficult so below are a few pointers on what to think about when selecting the organisation.
⁃ what Are you looking for? Understanding the reason why you would like to send them is a good starting point. It could be the players first step into the sport to keep them active prior to the commitment of playing for a club, or it could be to give them extra training if they are already at a club.
⁃ what does the organisation offer? Finding out what the organisation offers is an important step to selecting the correct session. For instance we offer introduction sessions for younger players who maybe experiencing football for the first time, Skill Schools for players who are at clubs but want extra tuition, Advanced sessions for players who are further on in their development journey, futsal sessions for players who want to experience futsal and the benefits it brings with it. On top of this we also run an academy and a full time football/education program. With the variation of our offering it’s important for us to ensure the player is in the correct session for them. Most organisations have websites where you can get a feel for what’s on offer. If you are not sure contact the organisation I speak to them to find out the most appropriate and convenient session.
⁃ when selecting the organisation don’t be afraid to ask to try before committing. Any reputable organisation should offer a free session to ensure you feel it’s correct for your son/daughter. We want every player to attend our sessions because they want to and not because they’ve committed for 6 weeks and what to see their time out. If the player does not feel we would be of benefit we would rather know straight away and a free trial is the fairest way to ascertain this.
⁃ once at the session look out for, if you are greeted on arrival? does the environment feel inclusive and comfortable and one in which the player can flourish and learn in? Does the coach keep the players engaged? Does he looked engaged himself? All of these factors can leave clues on what you are getting into.
⁃ people at the top – who heads up the organisation and what qualifications and experience do they have? The people at the top will set the standard and impart their knowledge on the organisation. To give you an idea, We have 4 full time staff who all bring a different skill set to the organisation. I worked in academy football for 7 years before working as a men’s senior national team coach and now technical director of a national association, alongside that I lectured football at a university for 12 years, Luke Burbidge our academy manager was a scholar at AFC Bournemouth and is in his 10th year as a semi professional footballer and also side this has 6 years teaching experience and is a qualified sports scientist. Jake McCarthy is a former professional footballer with AFC Bournemouth and is currently captain of Weymouth FC. Pat Brown has 7 years teaching and coaching experience. Jake and Lukes background allows them to have a great empathy with our players especially when they’ve either been in or about to go on trial. They are also great role models in terms our players watching them demonstrate as it gives them an idea of what they need to be and able to do and what a good player looks like. Pat brings great structure in terms of understanding how players of 7-14 learn. This is a useful skill when putting a coaching point across. Understanding who’s at the head of the organisation and what they can offer will give you a good idea of what to expect
⁃ exit routes/opportunities – again when selecting an organisation it would be useful to see a long term goal. Enjoyment is always key but working to an end goal is always helpful. Consider, what age do they go upto? What’s the plan after, is it good bye and thanks or is there an exit route on offer? If so is it tangible and can you see the exit routes being taken up? Does the organisation offer games, if so can you commit to this? If you have other siblings and a game on a Sunday do you have the time? How far do you travel for games? Does a 10 year old for instance really benefit from travelling 2/3 hours on a Saturday for a game? We used to have a comprehensive games program on a Saturday but revised it to half terms and offered transport to make parents lives easier. I think this consideration is a really important one and this really separates the good from the average. Our academy program (which starts at 15s) allows players who may not have signed for a pro club something new to aspire to. With our new partnership with Shaftesbury we now have a direct route into semi professional football and beyond. Couple this with our fulltime education program and the tours we offer our genuine exit routes is something we have worked extremely hard to create and are very proud of. A question we are often asked is do we have links to clubs. My answer is always “if Guardiola wants your player Guardiola answers the phone, if the player is good enough you have the link” we are careful to not publish links as we want players to attend our sessions because they want to be there and they want to improve as a player, rather than attending as they feel it’s the best way of getting a trial. Ambition and aspiration is healthy but players/parents should understand that reaching maximum potential is the best chance any players has of progressing. Links for me also suggest a short cut into the club. The cold reality is you have to be very, very good to make it into the professional game, so if you to aspire to that work as hard as possible on a every area of your game and lifestyle. Our job is to inspire but also be honest and offer realism at the same time.
⁃ Fees – interestingly fees are always a bone of contention and the private organisation is often known as the ‘cash cow’ I can only speak for us (im pretty sure most organisations are a similar cost) but it doesn’t take the chancellor to work out total number of players x fees – venue/coaches/equipment and you will be left with a modest figure and certainly not the cash cow some may claim. I have a daughter who played grass roots netball, our fees were the same. I have a daughter that dances and one which plays tennis. Their fees are roughly 4 times the cost of ours and actually I believe football is one of the most economical sports in comparison to most. When selecting an organisation check fees and don’t be afraid to ask if they offer a sibling discount or a multi session discount. We offer both of these as a matter of course any would expect ,OST organisations to as well.
⁃ Should I leave? This is another delicate area. I often feel players/parents are to quick to jump and looking over at the seemingly greener grass doesn’t always work out. My advice would be if you aren’t happy with something then communicate it. Occasionally we have a parent or player make an observation, and in my experience when they make an observation they are often right. I would always look at firstly is the parents observation valid, and if so how can we change/enhance. If we can and it’s of general benefit to all players than we would. As an organisation we always try to show loyalty to our players as they all go through peaks and dips through the years. Coaches and organisations are the same and I definitely think there should be some give and take as long term the loyalty will be rewarded both ways. Our first cohort the majority of the group stayed with us though great, good and indifferent times and 7 of the group came on our education program this year and have all competed their first year education, gained an FA level 1 qualification, won the Tactic Premier League and finished 3rd in the Football Cup Barcelona (having won it twice previously) the loyalty and patience the players/parents showed has really bore fruit. Be careful about being lured across by the promise of extrinsic motivations (trial etc) as we see lots of players/parents moving from organisation to organisation, in my experience I can’t think of one player who has ever gone on and archived anything meaningful by adopting this approach. The same principle applies to grass roots clubs as well.
⁃ How many should I go to? Again another question we are often asked. I would try and avoid going to a different organisation every night. Specialising in one sport in the foundation age (7-11) does not benefit the individual as much as you think and players need to have some free time as well. When speaking to a new parent/player we always try and ascertain their workload before offering them a place. We had a request from a player who had a spare evening and wanted to fill it with another session, in this type of scenario we are unlikely to be able to fulfil their request as we have a duty of care to ensure players have a realistic balance. I would say at maximum 3 evenings from 7 and then review session times and travelling distances etc for each one before committing
⁃ How do I choose? Again I would consider days/times, location, track record, exit routes and the people at the top firstly act in the best interests of your son/daughter and if you believe they have sufficient knowledge and experience to have a positive impact on the development. Once you have decided I advise you to stick with it unless there is no other option.
I’ve had the privilege of visiting 19 countries to either compete, train or visit for study/education purposes and I genuinely believe the UK is currently one of the best in the world in terms of structure, access to coaching and opportunity (5 professional leagues is unheard of anywhere else) the FA overhauling coach education, a strong grass roots program, the rise of the private coaching organisation and the investment in resource and infrastructure at academy level have all played a part getting the game to the level it is.
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