Updated: Apr 13, 2022
When my own child was beginning their academy journey I did, at times, feel slightly out of my depth due to not fully understanding the system and its processes. As a result I began to conduct my own research and what I discovered is that there is a distinct lack of information surrounding this unique world of a professional academy football. Through many subsequent conversations with other parents it was evident that many had felt the same way, which is ultimately why this blog was created.
One of the sites I located during my research was that of the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) and more importantly its Youth Advisory Service division. I was fortunate enough to recently get some time to discuss the organisation's purpose with George Bowyer who heads up this particular area at the PFA.
Should your child either be entering or is an existing academy player I highly recommend reading George's comments below as the organisation is a great place to obtain independent advice should it be required.
What is your own experience of playing within the academy system?
I joined the academy system in the u15’s age group with Rochdale Football Club. When considering that players can now officially register with academies from as young as u9’s and many operate pre-development centres, my introduction to the academy system came late. However, like a lot of players I experienced many ups and down’s during my time and although I didn’t have the 10–15-year professional career I hoped for, being part of the academy system with a professional club shaped me as a person.
Your role is now with the PFA Youth Advisory Service. Can you advise how this opportunity came to fruition and explain the purpose of the organisation?
I completed the scholarship programme with Rochdale Football Club however was not made an offer of a professional contract. Throughout my time on the programme, I was professional and tried to apply myself both on and off the pitch as diligently as possible. This paid off in the end as my League Football Education Regional Officer (Craig Skinner) recommended myself for a role that had become available at the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA).
The PFA is the trade union for all current and former footballers and scholars in the Premier League, the FA Women's Super League and the English Football Leagues. Since the formation of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) in (2012), the PFA formed and developed the PFA Youth Advisory Service (2013) to provide a service which offered free confidential advice and guidance to academy players, trialists and their parents and guardians. I assisted with the service development at the initial stage and have been heading the service ever since.
What are some of the youth advisory services that the PFA provide?
The PFA Youth Advisory provides free independent advice to all academy players (u9’s – u21’s), trialists, parents, guardians on the Premier League and the English Football League Youth Development Rules. Promoting better, informed decision making on key academy matters, rules and regulations and processes and procedures that apply. The service provides confidential advice on the following:
Premier League and English Football League Youth Development Rules.
Academy registration and contractual offers.
Football Association and FIFA rules and regulations.
Time & Distance rules and regulations.
End of season procedure.
Player development and player progression.
Compensation rules and regulations.
Are the services offered just for signed academy players and are there any fees associated with these services?
The PFA Youth Advisory Service is a free service which places focus on the u9’s – u21’s academy players, trialists and their parents and guardians. The service does often receive enquiries from individual’s who are not officially registered with academy clubs and the appropriate advice is provided.
Players cannot become official members of the PFA until they sign and enter into a Scholarship Agreement (earliest stage) with either a Premier League or English Football League academy club but prior to this stage the PFA Youth Advisory Service can assist.
Are you able to provide some anonymous examples of when your department has added value to a young player or family during their academy journey?
Since the formation of the service the awareness has increased and the enquiries the department has received have continued to grow. I feel that every interaction the service has it can provide value, each enquiry is important on its own merit and to the individual and we are able to provide that independent advice in order for them to make better informed decisions.
How closely does the service work with the professional clubs as on paper it would appear there may be scenarios which are at times conflicted?
Each season the PFA Youth Advisory Service has created and updated its annual publication which is shared with all Premier League and English Football League clubs electronically and in hard copy format. The service over the past two seasons has been delivering to academies virtually on the PFA and its Youth Advisory Service which is available. The service is not in any way to conflict what clubs offer but to highlight that there is an independent service through a professional independent organisation that they can access.
Player welfare and mental wellbeing is such an important area. Does the service offer any assistance for players that may be reluctant to address this subject with the club itself?
Understanding the obstacles and challenges that players can be faced with during their development. The PFA has an online support platform called the PFA Safety Net, this online resource enables access to an exclusive online confidential support platform, providing tailored information on mental and emotional well-being and other key factors that supports the player and person. This online resource is accessible to academy players, trialists, parents, guardians and club staff as a means of resource.
What would you like to see the PFA Youth Advisory Service looking like in 5-10 years and what are the potential stumbling blocks to achieving this vision?
Service awareness is key and each season it is important to ensure that the service is prominent within academies and across the game. I would like to build on the virtual deliveries which have been well received by academy clubs, parents and guardians and grow this to ensure all academy players, parents and guardians understand the role of the PFA and its Youth Advisory Service which they can access. Increase personnel working within the service and develop the scope of areas which the service currently offers advice and guidance on.
Are there any recommendations or advice you would give parents who either have a child already within the professional academy system or are in the process of joining one?
For parents, guardians and relatives I would advise they consider the commitment that is being made and fully understand what is being entered in to at the time of registering. Support and assist their child or relative with the challenges that they may be faced with in this competitive environment and should they have any questions or queries throughout then the PFA Youth Advisory Service is available to assist them.
For registered academy players, its about enjoying their football in the academy system for as long as it last. Being part of the system is an achievement in itself and treat each training session and game as a fresh opportunity to learn, develop and improve.
Where can more information on the PFA Youth Advisory Service be found??
We have a designated section on the official PFA website which can be accessed via the link below:
Also the annual updated publication is circulated to all Premier League & English Football League academies which can be downloaded here: