Updated: Jan 28, 2022
So you arrive at the ground, park the car and head towards the pitch with your child. Whilst walking over you spot the other parents huddled together and whispering to one another, you sense the atmosphere appears slightly different to normal. As you reach the pitch an eager parent points you in the direction of the coach and, more importantly who they are speaking to. There in their winter jacket, embellished with a professional club badge, is an academy scout.
The above scenario is probably one we have all encountered in our time involved in grassroots' football but its the reaction of the parent's I wish to dwell on for a moment.
Now the grassroots club may have notified the parents, prior to arrival, of the scouts attendance at the match or they all could have only found out when turning up at the game. Whatever the means was of discovering the potential presence of a scout does not change what happens next. The very first thing parents generally do with this newly acquired information is to tell their child.
As the pre match warm up begins, parents start calling their children over and quietly making comments like 'Try and play well today as a scout is watching' or 'Here's your big chance, make it count'. Instantly the fun has been drained out of the activity and you have transferred unnecessary pressure on to your child to 'perform'.
Throughout the game the parents scrutinize their child's every move, hoping the scout see's the 'good bits' and misses the 'bad bits'. The final whistle blows and the parents zealously watch the coach and scout talking, all desperately trying to read who and what they are discussing. Even worse is when a parent attempts to grab a scouts attention and strike up a conversation. Its absolutely exhausting and why do I know this? I have been that parent!
Now looking back and reflecting with hindsight I ask myself the following questions;
Did my child really need to know a scout was watching?
Was my child's performance enhanced by this knowledge?
Did my child subsequently enjoy their playing experience in that match?
The answer to all of the above is obviously no, so why do will feel the need to act the way we do? Ultimately it comes from a good place, we as parents only want the best for our children and wish for them to have every opportunity to succeed. We feel that by making our children aware that a scout is watching that they will 'raise their game' or be 'switched on'. However in most part it either brings the child increased anxiety which impacts performance or they actually try too hard to impress and do not play the way they normally would.
My advice to you if you spot a scout watching a game is to do absolutely nothing. Simply wish your child good luck, smile and cheer them on from the side-line.
The Role of the Academy Scout?
In summary, their role is to identify young, talented players with the required attributes to be further reviewed within the academy environment.
Now the first thing many parents ask is what exactly does a scout look for? Well that is the million dollar question. Anyone involved in football at any level knows the game is full of a variety of opinions, one mans rags is another mans riches. Obviously talent is key but there are many other attributes which may leave a lasting impression with a scout such as athleticism, character, awareness, leadership etc.
The scouts will regularly attend their clubs academy training sessions/matches and along with the coaches work to identify particular area's of improvement needed within each of the age groups. As a result there may be a type of player they are looking to identify at a particular time.
For those coaching a grassroots team please note a scout/recruitment officer should always make themselves known that they are in attendance and watching your match or training session. The scout should always have their club identification on their person so if you have any doubts of their intentions then ask them to present it.
If a scout subsequently identifies a player of interest then they should only approach the team coach and not the parent or player directly. The club will then feedback the scouts comments to the parents for consideration.
Should the player and parents wish to take it further then telephone numbers will be exchanged and that scout will become your initial point of contact. This doesn't mean you will be immediately invited into the academy for training sessions. Many professional clubs run a number of local 'elite' centers and here the boys or girls identified by the scouting network will be sent for review and to see whether it is considered they are of the required standard to have a formal academy trial. I will discuss the different types of training centers professional clubs run in a later post but the general rule of thumb is that if you are paying for a training session then your child is not currently on the academy pathway.
Now the protocol above is generally followed by most professional club scouts however grassroots football has significantly changed over recent years. There has been a dramatic increase in grassroots clubs who label themselves as 'academies' and many have direct links themselves into professional clubs. As a result of this I have been made aware of scouts being refused to watch a particular game/team or even worse that their interest in a player wasn't passed on to the parents because either the coach didn't feel that player was 'ready' or that their own academy links have first pickings of their players. I think this would come as a surprise to many parents who pay good money to attend some of these set ups.
As a result of the above and the widening scope of most professional club networks, the scouting process is becoming increasingly more difficult.
I personally have dealt with a number of scouts and should you ever be in a discussion with one about your child I would raise the following:
How many times have you watched my child? I would suggest asking this as I remember one scout watching my child for 5 minutes and then stated (directly, may I add) he wished to invite my child to their 'elite' centre. Now whilst I believe in my child's ability, I think they should be watched a few times to gauge a genuine interest rather than being one of a quota being looked at.
Which of my child's attributes have stood out to you? I remember one scout saying to me 'When you have been doing this as long as me, you just have an instinct'. Now that sentence I do not doubt but as a parent I'd like to know what has stood out and how that fits into what the club academy is looking for.
What is the next process? If there is a genuine interest in your child then in most cases they will be invited into a 'elite' centre with a number of other 'spotted' talent. As previously mentioned, this training should be free of charge, so if you are told a cost to pay then this opportunity isn't part of the academy pathway. This process tends to last 6-8 weeks which will involve a weekly training session and a few matches. The coaches will evaluate each trialist; some will be unsuccessful and told its the end of the road, others will be asked to do a further 6-8 weeks at the center and a very select few will be invited to undertake a formal trial with the academy squad. Please ask the scout to explain the process so you are in full understanding of what will be required.
Set a timeline for feedback? Make sure you raise with the scout that you wish to receive updates on how the process is going as it enables you to manage the expectations of your child. In my personal experience, try not to hound the scout too much though as it will become abundantly clear if there's an interest for your child to progress further as the scouts/coaches will quickly make there intentions known.
I hope you found some of the above a useful reference point. In the next blog the formal academy trial will be discussed.