Congratulations...the academy offer is received.
So after weeks of trial training sessions and matches, you eventually get the call to visit the office of the clubs head of recruitment. A wave of nervous energy begins to develop as you are all too aware that this discussion will ultimately shape the mood of your household for the next few weeks. You knock on the door, both hesitantly enter and pull up a seat. Its then you are delivered the fantastic news that the club wish to offer your child a place within their academy. Upon hearing this I personally felt a number of emotions; Overwhelming joy for my child, Relief for me to not have to watch them go through the rejection process again, Satisfaction that my own belief in their ability wasn't in vain, however the overriding feeling I experienced was just being incredibly proud of my child's achievement.
So your child has been offered a place but what exactly does that mean and what can you expect? I hope this blog will give you that insight and again allow you as parents to be as prepared as possible should your child be given an academy opportunity.
Firstly you have signed but for how long for? The standard signing durations are as follows:
Development Phase (Age 9-12) - 1 year commitment to the player. (Player must live within a 1 hour travelling distance to the club)
Youth Development Phase (Age 13-16) - 2 year commitment to the player (Player must live within a 90 minute travelling distance to the club)
Professional Development Phase (Age 17+) - Scholarship and professional contract.
Once signed, your child is no longer able to represent the grassroots side they have been playing with, even in the event the academy doesn't have a game. Whilst I have heard odd stories of academies refusing children to play for their school or district teams, I have not personally, nor know anyone who has encountered this and in fact have been encouraged to pursue a multi-sport environment for my child.
There are some additional benefits which come with signing including any injuries being assessed and managed by the academy physio, having access to specialists in nutrition and strength &conditioning, some age groups will participate in day releases from their school to undergo some education and training at the club academy complex, opportunities to attend first team matches or act as a ball-boy/girl for the game and also your child being fully kitted out in the club attire.
Now depending on which club you sign for will determine exactly what kit you will receive. Most clubs will provide training tops, shorts, socks, tracksuits, winter jackets, rain jackets and club bags. The very elite clubs will also provide a few pairs of football boots and the goalkeepers will also be supplied gloves due to lucrative sponsorship deals these particular clubs have with the brands.
Not long after receiving the positive news of the clubs desire to sign your child comes the highly memorable day in which your child officially signs with the club. Here you get pictures of them holding up the club shirt, sitting in the press room and signing their club papers in the boardroom. Why did I as a parent enjoy this day so much? Life is all about making memories and this is a documented one that my child can look back on in years to come with great satisfaction of their personal achievement.
Once all the formalities are completed your child is now an academy player but what next? Well firstly the regular communication with the scout and head of recruitment stops as ultimately their job is complete. It's incredible how quickly the fuss around your child signing for the club dwindles and the lack of regular dialogue almost makes you feel isolated once more . The process of receiving feedback isn't delivered by simply grabbing the coach after the game to chat, feedback is delivered in a more formal way. It is generally conducted every 8-12 weeks in which the parent and child sit down with the age group coaches and lead phase coach. Each player will have what is called an IDP (Individual Development Plan) with most clubs adopting the 4 corners model in which players are assessed on the following pillars; technical/tactical, psychological, physical and social. This review session will outline what your child has done well over that period and identify potential area's of improvement. These sessions are also a good chance for you as a parent to express opinions or concerns so an excellent piece of advice is to keep a little notebook of observations in which you can formulate a couple of questions to ask the coaches.
Video analysis is also becoming a huge part of academy football with the improvement of filming technologies such as Veo cameras. All academy matches and some training sessions are filmed for both the player and coaches to look back on. Its a great opportunity for players to review their performances especially against any comments raised by the coaches at the player reviews.
Now as parents we would all love to see our children hit the ground running when they start training as an official academy player however do not be surprised to see an initial reduction in their performance levels. We need to appreciate that they have no doubt been feeling the stresses of the trial situation and its only natural to have a lull. Simply allow them some time to adapt to their new environment. The academy staff will be all too familiar with this scenario so do not panic that they will suddenly change their minds about your child's place within the system.
One subject that is always a topic of debate is the fact most academy matches are not competitive. What I mean by this is there are no league tables. The rationale behind this is that coaches and players can simply focus on development rather than winning matches or leagues. I have always had mixed feelings about this as it is obviously great that development is the main focus however it often then becomes all about the individual and as a result the players are focused on their own targets rather than learning the intricacies of working as a team. I know academy coaches may disagree with my interpretation however I can only reflect on what I see and what other parents have discussed with me.
Whilst your child may have been playing a specific position at grassroots level that does not mean it will be their position in academy football. In my experience players are rotated in many positions. Also, based upon their performance reviews, there may be area's of their game that needs particular attention. This may result in them playing in a position completely foreign to them in order to work on those identified weaknesses. The coaches will also give your child specific game instructions so whilst you may be on the sideline questioning their match decisions, the coach may be delighted with their performance.
Another thing to bear in mind with academy matches is that they can be played all over the country which is quite a contrast to playing for a local grassroots side. A Sunday academy match can mean leaving at 8am and returning home at 4pm. In some instances families choose to get a hotel the evening before in order to ensure their child gets a good nights rest. It can therefore prove to be a huge impact on both your time and wallet.
An interesting dynamic for your child to face is when a new trialist arrives for a training session. Whilst many players are fully aware that a new trialist may well be looking to take their place, I think its us, the parents, that generally raise the pressure of the situation. I've seen many a parent asking their child who the new kid is as soon as they leave the training pitch. I assume those same parents are in the car telling their child that they have to be on top of their game whilst the trialist is there. My best piece of advice is to simply not raise the topic of the trialist. If your child happens to raise it themselves then just steer the conversation back to their own enjoyment and development. Do not under any circumstances start comparing the trialists ability to that of your child.
As the end of the current season looms, the time arrives for the dreaded 'retain or release' to be conducted. This is ultimately when the club makes a decision on whether they wish to retain your child for a further period or to release your child from the program. The way in which the clubs handle this process varies slightly however it generally involves a discussion with the club coaches in which the rationale behind their decision is outlined. If your child is released it is obviously a bitter pill to swallow and incredibly tough for them to take. I've known young player's to leave their local grassroots side, play for an academy for a year only to get released by the club. Its a brutal procedure and one which happens to all academy players from the age of 9 years old. Now its not just hard for the players released, the remaining academy players also suffer. Friendships are built and then just taken away given many children live in completely different area's and their place to be with one another is the club environment.
Now when the club choses to release a player or the player decides they no longer wish to be at the academy, complications can occur. When a player leaves an academy system they are required to sign a 'release' form. These forms are either under the stipulation of 'with compensation' or 'without compensation', which in simple terms means that depending on the form you signed will depend on whether any potential fee is due to the academy should another professional club wish to sign them. Now this system was brought in to protect smaller clubs from the financial impact of developing players only for a player to reject any academy renewal offer and move to another club for nothing. Now the actual fee that could be due by any new club will vary depending how long the player has been with the academy they are leaving, however a 14 year old who has been with an academy for 5 years could find it will cost a new club over £40k to acquire their services. Where many complications occur is a 'with compensation' form is signed at release and 1 month later a club expresses interest in your child. They then subsequently find out it will cost them £20-40k in compensation and their interest disappears. As such many parents and children are left frustrated, in some cases there are parents willing to offer to buy their child out of such contractual burdens. My advice here would be anything that is required to be signed by you then please seek reassurances from the club on its intent. If you are still unsure then request the assistance of the youth advisory services at the PFA.
When a player is released by an academy they are added to a 'released' list in which other clubs can review and make an approach for them to join their academy. There are also events called exit trails in which released players can participate and these are watched by various club scouts.
Whilst there have been recent positive actions taken for players released from the system, a vast majority of this assistance is focused on scholars who do not manage to sign professional forms. Many academy parents of young players have felt completely let down by clubs who simply release their children and end their interest. Greater assistance for parents to manage this situation needs to be provided from both a playing and wellbeing standpoint. Professional academies need to understand that they are inadvertently subjecting the children to a number of life scenarios that many usually experience with greater maturity when they are much older. As such an increased duty of care is required to provide a support framework for the families of children struggling to handle these situations.
Playing for an academy side is both a huge privilege and commitment. Your child will experience playing at some fantastic academy complex's on perfectly manicured pitches. As mentioned earlier the memories that will be created will last a lifetime. The commitment to train numerous times a week whilst balancing school work can be challenging and its hugely important to ensure your child's education is not being neglected. Many clubs in fact require school reports be submitted to them in order to monitor this. As much as your child may desire to be a footballer, their education must always come first.
What the academy system brings is a unique environment to learn the game. Your child will be developed by highly experienced coaches who will aim to get the very best out of them. The transferable skills learnt such as self-discipline, work ethic, determination etc, will also carry over into any career outside of the game.
Ultimately just let your child enjoy the experience as its their dream, not yours.