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Academies - A Fresh Look....

Posted by CAFS on January 7, 2018 at 12:30 PM

So this month i feel that we should look at new ideas of how the academy system, in an ideal world could work better. How it can be utilised to improve grass roots football not just in standard but in terms of environment and how we could potentially create more top quality players with the experience and psychological capacity to compete at the very top level of the game and represent their country in a positive way. Lets start with looking at the system as it is now. Academies can currently sign players from Under 9 age that live within 60 mins of their primary site. To be clear we are not talking about development centres, we are talking about professional academies run by the club and playing within the games programme created by the Premier League, Football league and FA in sync with the Elite Player Performance Programme (EPPP). Once a player is signed to the Academy they will receive training 2-3 times a week lasting 2 hours and play games of 4 20 min quarters 3 out of every 4 weekends. Players then receive a review every 12 weeks in the Foundation Phase (U9-11) and every 6 weeks in the Youth Development Phase (U12-16). Once a player is registered to a professional academy they can no longer play within the grass roots game. All coaches at pro academies are minimum Level 3/UEFA B Qualified and hold the FA Youth Award.


From my first hand experience some of the coaching that takes place in academies up and down the country is by far the best around and most child friendly and child orientated, especially within the Foundation Phase age groups. Sessions with Team, Unit and Individual challenges, backed up by sound technical and tactical knowledge to help the children understand the game through question and answer, trial and error, guided discovery and peer to peer learning taking place. Ownership and accountability for learning and sessions being given to players to help develop these cognitive decision making skills so vital in the modern game after all its the ability to make the correct decisions at the right times that separates the best from the rest. So with all of this good work going on is there something letting the whole thing down? Is there enough quality out within the community to boost numbers of players having a shot at becoming a professional one day or is the gap between grass roots and academies growing by the day? And we don't just mean in terms of players but also coaching. Whilst travelling to and from many Academies over the last 4 years i find myself thinking is there a better way to do this? I personally have been a great advocate of the hours of contact time children get within Academies and with 6 hours of training from UEFA qualified coaches and 80 min matches players will improve as a natural consequence of the environment. Grass roots players that receive 90 mins a week training from Level 1/2 coaches and 40 min matches really, over the course of a season, have no chance of developing to the same level. So here is the radical idea that sprung to mind.


WHAT IF ACADEMIES HAD A TEAM OF FOUNDATION PHASE COACHES BUT NO ACTUAL TEAMS? WHAT IF THESE COACHES WERE UTILISED OVER 12 WEEK BLOCKS TO COACH GRASS ROOTS TEAMS AT THE ACADEMY FACILITY? WHAT IF EACH ACADEMY WAS ALLOCATED 9 LOCAL CLUBS PER SEASON TO WORK WITH DURING THE FOUNDATION AGES? WHAT IF THE ACADEMY DIDN’T REGISTER PLAYERS UNTIL U13 AGE?


So currently professional academies have teams of signed players from the age of U9 with most also running under 7 and 8 teams to try and capture the imagination and loyalty of players prior to this age. Again, as previously stated, this coaching, on the whole is superior to grass roots coaches due to the qualifications needed and rigorous recruitment process coaches have to go through for the opportunity to work in the environment. The idea here is for the club to retain all of these coaches Under 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and them work with a cluster of clubs within their catchment area. With 2 coaches for each age group this brings us 12 UEFA qualified coaches of which 4 could work in one club with the ages stated, another 4 could work in another club and so on. This would be done in 12 week blocks and means the club could spend a good amount of time with 9 clubs in the area every season. With it taking 6 seasons for a player to go from U7 to U12 this would mean that children starting at U7 in the scheme would get 72 weeks of coaching from the academy coaches and develop a great deal whilst also still being able to play grass roots football and have a well rounded experience of the game.


I hear you ask, “how would the 9 clubs be selected” and the answer is that there could be a criteria around equal playing time, position rotation and processes that the clubs wanting to be involved in the scheme would have to adhere to. If there was 20 clubs all wanting the service, then it would be down to the scouts/coaches to go and assess the environment within the clubs based on a strict criteria of what the club is looking for and their philosophy.


During the 12 weeks, one session per week of the club training would take place at the academy facility in the academy environment, again developing that all round experience of the game, playing from muddy local pitches to pristine academy pitches and 3g surfaces. In terms of a games programme the teams being worked with during the 12 weeks would play development fixtures against the teams other academies are working with based on category grading. As an example if Bristol City are working with AFC Burnham and Cardiff are working with AFC Whitchurch then the academy takes all of the age groups mentioned to play in games, one home, one away during the 12 weeks, each week they play a different academy. Now think of the impact this would have on grass roots football.....


• The coaches would learn and could be invited in to assist the academy coaches along with a CPD event during the 12 weeks.

• This would in turn improve those clubs that struggle to maintain standards and continuity within their club.

• The children would all be getting access to academy standard and style coaching from some of the highest qualified and experienced coaches within their area.

• The standard of player would improve across the sport and the gap between grass roots and academy would get closer with the ups killing of coaches, volunteers and players at the bottom end of the game.

• Pitches would have less games on them during the season so would be in a better state.


SO WHAT HAPPENS FOLLOWING UNDER 12’s AND WHY TAKE IT PAST THE END OF ‘FOUNDATION PHASE’?


Following U12’s the clubs would then offer contracts to the children they had ‘ear marked’ through the years that they had been working with those clubs. This would mean that clubs could only sign players within their catchment area of 60mins from the primary location (as per EPPP rules). The reason for pushing on and not registering players until U13 is to allow the children to enjoy an easier transition into the academy, at the end of U11, the children are moving from primary to secondary school, which is a huge transition. By leaving it until end of U12 it allows them to settle. So the key messages from this are:


• Academy coaches working in the community.

• Improved standard of grass roots clubs as they try to reach required standard for the programme.

• Improved coaches in the community through exposure to academy mentors and professional CPD events.

• Improved players at all levels of the game with a more rounded experience.

• Improved opportunity, not only for players to achieve success within the game, but also for clubs to keep options open when it comes to signing players at young ages.

• Players have a better ability to deal with set backs if and when they are either released or do not get invited into the program, due to their age.

• Better pitches due to a better split of games across pitches.


To summarise, the clubs work in the community until U13 age allowing the children to play with friends, compete at differing levels of challenge and have some exposure to an academy setting without the signing contracts and potentially being released. Players 'earmarked' for the academy are then invited into the programme from U13 up. This isn't to say that this is set in stone and if you dont get offered at this point you never can, players invite into the programme would be given a 12 month agreement and every 12 weeks have a progress report and then annual trials for other grass roots players would happen every Summer to give an opportunity for all to impress.


The idea is to bring clubs closer to the community and to stop clubs putting children as young as 5 through grueling trials and then giving them the news that they are 'not good enough'.....How do you know????


Feel free to comment and share this article through your social media and get the conversation going...


Until next time....

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