Many youngsters can only dream of receiving an invitation to trial with a football academy and to experience training where the professionals do. When hearing this news make sure the first thing you do is to take a moment to congratulate your child on this huge achievement as many do not even make it this far.
Now it will not take long before your mind will start speculating on what your child is to expect and whether they will be able to cope. This article will hopefully shed some light on the process and make you, as a parent, better equipped to manage the situation.
So firstly before any trial starts you will have to complete some basic paperwork outlining details of your child. You will also need to fill in the actual trial form itself which will outline when the trial will start and its duration (the standard length is generally between 6-8 weeks). The trial will normally require your child's attendance to 2-3 training sessions a week and then a game at the weekend (if selected). Some of the top academies will provide club training kit during the trial process but don't expect that everywhere.
Before you send your child through the gates of the academy training complex its important to set some realistic expectations with them. I would personally focus on the experience rather than the outcome. Some of the UK's academies have facilities that are outstanding and just to trial there will create life-long memories for your youngster.
Parents should be fully aware that the trial process is extremely tough as your child is effectively entering the lions den. Despite the tender age of some of the academy groups, these players are all abundantly aware that your child is effectively there to take one of their places.
The reality is a trialist will not often succeed if they are simply 'as good' as the current crop of players, they have to bring something to improve the group. It might seem harsh that your child is immediately at a disadvantage but if they are just 'as good' as the current group then why would they club chose to sign them?
Another interesting point that was raised to me by a Category 1 coach was that an academy team is built to facilitate 3 or 4 players within that age group so ultimately you want your child to be in that select club. Now those 3/4 players may change over time but those players cant progress without having a team of other players to play with. That's not saying that a professional academy just sign anybody but its important to know that there is even a hierarchy within each age group once signed.
It will be highly likely that your child has been dreaming of signing for the club since receiving the trial invitation however there is a good chance your child will be unsuccessful if they do trial. That is just the difficulty of the situation they are facing. My own child had 3 separate trials with Category 1 teams before the age of 11 and was rejected by all of them! It is important as parents to prepare yourself for the impact of this on your child and whether they have the emotional maturity to handle this kind of scenario. My own child's confidence definitely was hit hard and it then took a few months after each rejection to build them up again however there will be some that never get their confidence back. Its essential that you only send your child into a trial because you think they are ready. Looking back there was certainly one trial opportunity I regret not turning down for my child however I fell into that group of parents that thought they may not get this opportunity again.
Once the trial starts your child will not only be playing with some really talented players but will also be watched by a number of different coaches. You will be surprised just how many coaches there are on the training complex and as a 'new' parent it can feel frustrating not really knowing who the decision makers are! These coaches are unlikely to make themselves known to you throughout the process which only adds to the uncertainty of the whole situation.
Whilst the coaches will never put any pressure on your child directly, the environment itself can be quite daunting if your child has never experienced it before. The key to success is adapting to that feeling of constantly being watched and reviewed. This is ultimately what academy players experience week in, week out, once signed. The training sessions will generally be at a high tempo and your child will have to acclimatize quickly.
Research into human behaviour shows that it takes less than 7 seconds for first impressions to be formed. In light of this make sure you set the right tone from the start and send your child into the first training session on time, looking smart, well-mannered and eager to learn.
One element of frustration during this process is that your child will not necessarily be involved in all weekend academy matches during a trial period. It may be they only play 2-3 times in the 6 weeks. Many parents obviously question how their child can be judged on such a small amount of games and then are left speculating on the coaches reasoning should they not be selected. Its the uncertainty of the whole situation which is difficult to grasp especially when coming from a grassroots team in which your child was probably one of the star player's and was always selected.
I would highly recommend maintaining good communication with your child's grassroots side throughout the trial. Its hard trying to organize a grassroots team especially when players are out on trial. The coaches will of course be willing your child to be a huge success however also appreciate that for that 6 weeks they do not know if your child will ever be coming back. Simply update the coaches and stay in touch as remember it will be these very coaches you will entrust to build you child's confidence back up if they are unsuccessful in their trial.
So once your child is training with the academy you would assume that you can just watch them in peace, wrong! Now you have to contend with the other academy parents. It generally starts with the 'Alpha Dad' who's child has been with the academy for a number years and is confident of his child's status within the club. Alpha Dad is on a fact finding mission to discover your child's playing history, playing position and whether they have been at any academies previously. Alpha Dad then reports their findings back to the wider academy parent group.
Over the coming weeks a number of parents creep over, generally of players who play in a similar position to your child. The gist of these conversations are trying to uncover whether you have received feedback on how the trial is progressing but most importantly how it could impact on their child.
I have met some great parents throughout my child's academy journey so far however my own general rule is to keep myself to myself. I exchange pleasantries and then find a good spot to watch my child play. The great thing about an academy set up is the parents are not allowed to shout instructions during training or games ,which means you do not have to listen to that particular parent who think they are the new Guardiola or Klopp.
Now as the trial comes to an end the anticipation is palpable. Generally most parents of players I've known to sign for an academy have been given a steer prior to the end of the trail, that's not to say this always happens. If your child is successful then its a huge buzz to see them so happy and that their hard work has paid off. My own child's face was a picture, especially having had a number of disappointing experiences previously.
The opposite end of the spectrum is when a trial is unsuccessful. It can be hard for everyone and how the club communicates this message to you will hugely vary from club to club. In my own experience we had a club call us into the office to explain the reasoning and give some excellent feedback to take away with us, whilst another gave us absolutely nothing other than an email stating their intention not to sign them. We have also received what can be best described as tick-box feedback which appeared to barely relate to my child. This is a huge frustration to many parents I have spoken with who have often juggled other commitments over the trail period and something clubs must do better on. It often appears that whilst clubs chose to offer out trials they do not wish to always provide the constructive feedback needed which often leaves the parents to pick up the pieces. Most parents will prepare for the bad news however have no answers when their child asks 'why?'.
This 6-8 week period can be an emotional rollercoaster but always remember the process is also to decide whether the academy environment works for YOU as a family. Academy football takes up hours of your time with matches all over the country. It can also really impact the lives of other children in the family with a parent gone 3 nights a week and at weekends. Its a full family commitment so if a club does offer your child a place then please do take a moment to consider the wider implications on your daily lives.
Its not for everyone and remember that's ok.