Welcome back to another ramble from myself!! Again, I am thankful for anyone who is taking the time to read this post and today I am talking about something which I feel very passionately about.
The last year has been a massive challenge for everyone and especially those involved in playing, coaching, organising or just being a parent involved in youth sport. My thoughts are solely geared towards football as this is the industry I currently work in and have done for the last 10 years.
For me there are three parts to this sector, Grassroots Clubs, Private Sports Companies and Professional Football Clubs.
Let’s look at them all one by one;
This is the absolute foundation of football from the bottom to the top and run by mostly an army of volunteers and parents some of the work done here is nothing short of fantastic.
For me this serves such an important purpose as a first experience for all young boys and girls to start playing football, learn new skills, meet new friends and make memories that last a life time.
But in a wider setting this is also the foundation of every professional football player and so the skills taught here are key to the development of the top players we see now in the premier league!
Away from the football side this environment can be a social escape for children with mental health problems, it’s a physical activity which keeps children healthy and it’s a vehicle which can shape a child to become a respectful and well-rounded adult.
This has been a very tough time for grassroots clubs and I take my hat off to every club that has gone out of their way to make sure that as lockdowns have come and gone that all players could train in a safe environment when allowed to do so.
I also however feel that the pandemic has highlighted the negative parts of grassroots football, I know teams have continued to train, I know teams have continued to play matches during lockdown periods which to me is disgusting behaviour by the coaches and parents involved.
This for me highlight’s the failure in appropriate coach education and mentoring to ensure that coaches are making the best decisions for players in terms of safety and development. Also that there is a gap to be filled in terms of educating parents on how to best support their child’s journey through grassroots.
I know we could not have foreseen the pandemic but the stance from the FA has not been strong enough when teams have broken the rules.
For me the coach education courses on offer lack enough detail on the real-world experience of delivering within grassroots and we need more focus on effective communication, dealing with players learning styles, mental health awareness training as well as a stronger message on WHY coaches should get involved in being a volunteer.
My experience within grassroots before and during the pandemic has ignited a passion inside me to set out on a mission to help support, mentor and educate as many parents and coaches as I can to in turn positively affect as many players as I can. Some of our biggest projects as a CIC will be focused on running face to face and online training events for coaches, parents and teachers involved in grassroots sport to look at some of the issues and gaps in knowledge that I see.
We do still unfortunately see resistance from coaches and clubs to attend FREE events and while I know people are busy and they do not get paid as volunteers involved in grassroots – everyone involved needs to understand the impact they have on the young people they work with and that they must strive to be the best they can be in order to give these children a positive experience.
Private Sports Companies
I know some people have an issue with companies who are involved in youth sports. It is often seen as a bad thing to make money from what they do. I cannot sit here and say that I agree as I run a company (ProFormance Global) which does just this. There is 100% a place for companies who offer extra paid services to further develop and enhance children’s experience in grassroots sport, however when involved in this industry I firmly believe that the players experience and development must come before the balance sheet as much as possible.
This is a market which is booming and there is such a massive amount of companies involved in this and seems to be new companies popping up all the time. This is also one of very few unregulated markets, a quick sale on WhatsApp, a promoted insta post and the money is flowing.
First of all, I am not perfect and I have made some mistakes and decisions which now as I reflect I do not feel comfortable with and something I have been addressing over the last year (will follow up on this with further blog posts).
There are some FANTASTIC people and companies working in this sector who provide top top quality services and experiences to children, however there are some who clearly can see the ££££ that can be made from children and parents who are chasing a dream of becoming a professional football player and will do anything to reach this goal.
The biggest issue I have seen this year has been with 121 training, this market has boomed during the pandemic. Which when it’s allowed can be a fantastic development tool for players looking to push on and further develop. A lot of sessions you will be seeing yourself are almost unrelated to the game of football. You can even see 1-2-1 football coaches promoted as personal trainers to avoid lockdown.
Certain individuals and companies have used the pandemic to deliver these sessions against the lockdown rules. As a company we have tried to follow the restrictions at every point, but it has been a massive challenge for us to survive financially. We knew though that we had to put safety first.
Some companies have done this in private, (GOING INTO PEOPLES HOUSES AND GARDENS DURING A NATIONAL LOCK DOWN) some companies have just been completely blazon and advertised their offerings online (why hasn’t more been done to stop this?).
For me this just highlights that these people will always priorities the amount of money they make over the safety and welfare of the players. There is always the disguise that these coaches care so much about their players. So much they have to charge them to do a session and to do even more sessions during a lockdown than when there isn’t one.
I do feel it is hard to blame the parents completely on this as some are so desperate and are sold so many lies by these companies, again I feel it highlights the education needed for parents on what is best for their children.
For Me, I have found it really hard to not just pack it all in because it seems so hard to compete, (I hate this word as we should not be competing, we should be working together to create the best experience for all children) but It is so hard as a business to stay financially viable when working against companies who have no focus on development and welfare and have no moral obligations of lying to parents who will follow anyone who tells them what they want to hear.
This has been another reason why we have set up our CIC and I really wanted to show everyone that what we do has the players at heart at every point, our CIC is non-profit and we have dreams of one day running our Talent ID programme which can be completely free to parents and players.
Not much to say on this on really, I love the work that most clubs do with their academy set ups. I am a massive advocate of the work that is done all the way from U6 pre-academy to U16 when players are offered a scholar.
If we see a player who we can help make the step into being a player that is signed to a professional club we will try and support this process.
The majority of the 92 professional clubs do still have an academy. They do still invest in young people within their community. They can still offer a life changing experience to hundreds of young people.
I think there is still a lot of work to be done on the release process, some of the stories are tragic and this is especially at U16 and U18. The governing bodies that run the game are striving to improve standards and player care is becoming a big industry on its own. This are of support around being released from ‘elite’ environments is a project we hope to get involved in through our CIC in the not to distant future.
I have tried to condense this and to be honest I could probably have written a book on this (maybe I will one day). I basically just want to highlight some of the positives and negatives of youth football and how this underpins the reasons we have launched this company, I would love to hear from anyone who agrees or thinks I’m an idiot!
ProFormance Pathways Director