Many children enter football with aspirations of becoming a professional footballer and with their role models being readily available on TV, newspapers and computer games, there is no hiding from the status this brings. For children playing the game at a younger age, this ladder starts with a step into the world of Academies and Centres of Excellence (CoE), run locally by Professional Clubs.
All Professional Clubs, as part of their position within the Football League or Premier League, are required to run a youth development programme from U9s offering talented boys the pathway to become a professional player. For girls, there are a number of Clubs that also offer this pathway, and offer an excellent standard of football from U10’s.
So, what happens and how does the process work? This article will hopefully clear up a few myths surrounding the transition between youth football and the professional game.
The journey typically starts for a young person playing for their local club and doing well, standing out above other players as having ‘some talent’. There may be two routes they might go to end up becoming a signed player at an Academy or CoE.
Many Clubs will have a network of Talent Development Centres or ‘Shadow Squads’; a tier of regular training opportunities for more talented players that might show some promise. Children can be invited to attend these, alongside their existing youth club programme, without having to commit to leaving the local team behind. It’s like extra tuition or private coaching and should be viewed as this – there is no commitment from either side of a place in the Academy or CoE squad and expectations of all should be managed at this stage. At this stage, children can play football for their school teams, club teams and partake in Development Centre matches too, if they wish.
Academies or Centres of Excellence Trials
If children show some extra potential within these Development Centres, or sometimes even directly from youth football, they might be offered a ‘trial’ with the Professional Clubs Academy or CoE team. This would typically be an invite into training for a six-week spell, to see how they compare to existing players in the system, whether or not they like the experience and have the technical, physical, psychological and social skills to be part of an elite system. Most Professional Clubs will train two or three times a week plus being part of a games programme with other Professional Clubs; therefore it is a much bigger commitment.
At this stage, children can still play for their junior clubs, attend training and matches with them but as the commitment at the Professional Club is greater, they may want to just take part in one area of football at this stage. They can still play matches for their school as well too.
Signing for an Academy or Centres of Excellence
At the end of the six-week trial, or sometimes even before the end of this, the Professional Club may offer the child a contract for the season, and depending on the age and stage, this might be one-year or it could be more. The commitment at this stage changes – if the player signs for the Professional Club they can no longer play youth football with the local club they played for. However, they can still play for the school.
The realistic approach to this has to come from the parents and it is important that signing for a Professional Club doesn’t mean they are going to have a career as a footballer. In fact, statistically, the vast majority of children will not end up making the level required and being ‘released’ by a Professional Club can be a very difficult time for the child. You are going to have to help your child through a period of time that can be heart-breaking and by entering this system you are accepting this time is ‘likely’ to come. However, this could also be the highest level of football your child ever plays and they could take away some unbelievable memories they will remember forever, and this needs to be taken into account too.
Within the Professional Club, the coaching that the children should get, boys and girls, is expected to be a higher standard than their local youth club. The coaches at the Centres have to have a higher level of coaching qualification and more experience working with talented players in order to coach within this part of the game. The children will also benefit from being around better players, raising their own standards further and playing matches against better teams will also help them improve.
It can be a great opportunity to extend your child’s friendship network, let them experience a higher level of football and receive better coaching. You just have to keep their feet on the ground!
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