Overhaul of Centre of Excellence structure should help England Women in future.
Close, but just not quite close enough.
Consecutive World Cup quarter final appearances (2007 & 2011) and a European Championship Final defeat to Germany (2009) is proof of England Women’s steady ascent in the international game. The gap between contenders and silverware, however, is one still to be bridged.
Last summer saw an overhaul of The FA Girls’ Centre of Excellence programme, a move which aims to improve the quality of the women’s and girls’ game at every level. Previously 52 centres around the country fell under the Centre of Excellence banner, providing a development programme for girls between 8-16 years of age. Although the structure provided many benefits, it was felt talent was being increasingly diluted.
“When the U15 international squads came to us, they were lacking various parts of their individual development, whether that was technical, tactical or physiological,” explained Kay Cossington, FA Project Manager for Girls’ Football and U15 Head Coach.
“The jump between the Centres of Excellence and international football was far too big. The jobs we were doing at International level were really what should have been going on at Centres of Excellence.”
A detailed review of the system highlighted the necessity to bridge the gaps between the various layers of the game. In order to address the dilution of talent at Elite level, the start of the season saw the number of Centre of Excellences reduced to 30 and a new three-tiered approach adopted.
“It was quite evident that there were far too many centres and not enough talent. The word ‘excellence’ was being used quite loosely,” added Cossington, who outlined the plans for more co-ordinated approach including: Player Development Centres, the Centres of Excellence and the Elite Performance Camps.
The 30 centres awarded a licence for the 2011-12 season were subject to a stringent application and review process. Evidence of staffing, supporting programmes, facilities, funding and infrastructures had to be displayed; measures Cossington believes are integral if the programme is going to move towards the highly coveted mark of excellence.
“In ten or 15 years’ time it would be great to have 50 Centres of Excellence. But we want to ensure they are all true ‘excellence’ programmes. Throughout the review process it was evident that everyone agreed that we had to go backwards to go forwards.”
Geographical location also played an important role in assigning the licenses. Player data was collected in order to highlight areas of talent, with centre licenses distributed accordingly. The restructuring process is one The FA admit hasn’t been easy, but one that is necessary for the future of the game.
“It was very difficult. There was a structured and robust programme and criteria. It was an open application process first and foremost, and that’s the first time that has happened. Previously, the 52 Centres just applied for their own licences and we wouldn’t have invited applicants from outside the Centre of Excellence programme,” she added.
Working in partnership with the County FAs the new structure puts an emphasis on supporting the grassroots game more effectively. The aim is a better quality of player entering the Centre of Excellence system from the outset. Former Centres of Excellence will continue to support the programme providing football in the grassroots game, further strengthening the base of the pyramid.
Silverware success hasn’t, however, been wholly elusive as a result of the former player development structure. In Belarus in 2009 England’s U19 side won the European Championship, a team grown from Centre of Excellence schooling. It is the majority of the current senior side, however, that missed out on the benefits of the support structures and development those in today’s game have. A new breed, is beginning to emerge.
“We’re just now seeing the players go through [to the Senior side]: Sophie Bradley, Jess Clarke and Claire Rafferty all came through the Centre of Excellence and then the youth international structure. But at the absolute top end, when you’re talking about Faye White’s era, the infrastructure wasn’t there then,” added the U15s Head Coach.
“It’ll be interesting to see, in ten years’ time, to see some of the current U15 players, those that make it into the seniors, to see if they are better equipped and how much more developed they are.”
Cossington is quick to stress that the longer term development of player’s is dependent on the calibre of staff recruited into the programme. Developing better coaches in the girls’ game is central to the ethos of the programme.
“Last year we put together a stringent in-service Continued Personal Development programme [for coaches], which is a national programme, covering all areas of the game. All the staff at the Centres of Excellence have the chance from FA National staff. We will share our experiences with them and work with them on our expectations for a Centre of Excellence. Without great coaches and great support staff we won’t get great players.”