Time seems to have escaped me recently. My writings have become more sparse the busier I have become (I’m sure there is a correlation between the two things!)
Last year, in addition to all my ongoing stuff I started taking an FA course with a view to becoming a qualified football coach. That happened … and for the past few months I’ve been taking more courses to get even more qualifications. I’m not planning a career change, but it has led me to becoming an Under 9’s football coach and manager for a grassroots team in Leeds.
I love it.
It’s purely voluntary but it fits me and I enjoy getting the boys to try and play some rock n roll football!
I also seemed to have been sucked into the political side of football with some issues that need looking at … and others that can wait on the back burner.
One issue that I am particularly passionate about, and hoping to influence the English Football Association, is what happens to young players when they sign for professional team academies. This week I published an open letter (see below) to the English FA with a view to getting this looked at. It will all make sense when you read it. It may seem a bit random, but I’m trying to get the FA to look at the issue and take action.
Better go prepare for another tournament in a few days …
Dear Sir / Madam
This month several of my players have left my grassroots team, Churwell Lions Under 8’s in Leeds to sign contracts with professional academies.
On the one hand this is potentially a great opportunity for them, however over the past few days I’ve had teary eyed unhappy kids telling me (or their parents) that they don’t want to leave the Lions set up. Many other grass roots coaches in this country will have experienced the same thing.
I don’t want them to leave either … but their contracts state they have to.
Every club they have signed for states they CANNOT play for a grass roots team and effectively the club in question has complete exclusivity over them. This is a very similar scenario for many players (aged 8 upwards) joining professional academies up and down the land. It is morally and ethically wrong.
Clubs are essentially saying to foundation level kids at the age of 8 or 9 that … NO, you can’t play football with your friends (and sometimes family) that you have been with for several years.
It also completely contradicts two of the four corners of the FA development model that the complete FA philosophy is based upon for this country. The main one being SOCIAL which is critical to such things as confidence and self-esteem. This improves around their friends and comfort zone that a grass roots set up offers. The other being PSYCHOLOGICAL which also relates to their confidence and mental well-being. The negative knock-on effect of this means the other two corners (Physical and Technical) will most likely be affected negatively as well.
The academy set up should be an addition to their grass roots set up, not a replacement of!
It is a statistical fact that not only will most of these foundation players not become pros but many of them won’t see out the year of their contracts and will end up trying to find a new grass roots team or try and integrate back into their old set ups … and we are back to the negative effect of at least two of the FA four corners in the development set up.
There isn’t a coach, manager or psychologist in this land that can reasonably explain or justify how it is acceptable, or required, for kids at such a young foundation age to be taken out of their grass roots set up, which is ultimately where they have the most FUN, the very thing that should never be lost sight of during their formative football years and beyond.
There is no financial gain for the child (nor should there be at such a young age) so it is not as if the academy is paying a retainer of any kind to justify having sole rights to the player. They receive nothing more than a training kit and the offer of two or three days of training / games per week.
In light of this, as the governing body of this country, I implore you to bring in legislation as soon as possible that prevents ANY professional club academy having exclusivity over any child until at least the age of 12.
This would ultimately keep the young players happy and having the most fun, playing with their friends at their “home” clubs, and wouldn’t change them being able to facilitate playing at an academy as well.
With legislation like this in place I see nothing negative that could impact young players development or enjoyment of our beautiful game through their young foundation years.
Churwell Lions Under 8’s manager