Monday, 31 January 2011

The FA Charter Standard: Making it work

As an FA Charter Standard Community Club, Berkhamsted Raiders CFC tries to do things “by the book”. So, as an FA Charter Standard Community Club we buy in to things like the Respect campaign. We get our Club Welfare Officer involved if we come across issues such as bullying or teasing of younger players. We make sure that parents are coned off from the field of play or a Respect barrier is in place. As a Youth Football Club Chairman, I’m always nagging my managers about sticking to the 14 (yes ....14) codes and policies that the Club publishes. Every child and parent that joins the Club gets copies of the relevant codes in our Club Handbook. Hopefully, most of the time, we get it right and most of our managers and parents stick to the codes. (But not always...we're not perfect.)

The FA Charter Standard Clubs programme is coming up to the tenth anniversary of its inception. The question we have to ask is how well is it working... or perhaps how well is it being implemented. The Charter Standard is the kite mark of grassroots football - an indicator of quality. The FA set down criteria which need to be met by clubs in order for them to be recognized as an FA Charter Standard Club. To achieve Charter Standard a club has to commit to various ways of running football and to have in place various codes of conduct and policies..... but does this mean that the Club actually practises what it preaches? Where the FA Charter Standard falls down is in the implementation.

With 550 boys and girls playing youth football at Raiders in our 43 teams, we play lots of different clubs both locally and nationally. And many of these are Charter Standard Clubs..... but there are too many instances when you wonder how some of these clubs have achieved Charter Standard or how they retain that status. The Club Committee may have done the work to achieve Charter Standard but how well is an understanding of it communicated to their managers, coaches, parents and children? Too often, the message doesn’t get through... or if it has, no-one’s paying any attention to it!

I’m the Club Chairman, but I also run one of our teams. I would guess that around half of the teams that we play from Charter Standard clubs exhibit Charter Standard “qualities”; the other half often leave a lot to be desired..... meaning........ there’s little respect for the Respect campaign, and managers and parents seem unaware that abusing players (often their own!) and match officials is supposed to be a thing of the past. My guess is that if I were to ask the manager of the team or any of the parents about the Respect campaign, Charter Standard etc etc they wouldn’t have the foggiest idea what I was talking about. Why? Probably because the message hasn’t got through.... from the top to the bottom of the Club.

So, here are a couple of bright ideas:
  • Bright idea 1.... it ought to be a condition of achieving Charter Standard status that 100% of the managers and coaches within a Club attend a Charter Standard meeting at which the Club/County FA explain the implications of the award and what is expected. 
  • Bright idea 2.... it ought to be a condition of achieving (and retaining) Charter Standard status that 75% (or 100%?) of the parents of registered players provide written confirmation that they have received, read, understood and agree to abide by the relevant codes.
If you have got any bright ideas... let me know, or add a comment.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Who can we blame for England’s World Cup failure?

Now the dust has settled, and the new season is only a few weeks away, it’s worth taking a look at the various reasons put forward for England’s World Cup failure (again...). Much of the criticism has been aimed at youth football development. So... if you’re running a youth football club, or involved in football development, it’s time to take stock.

Let’s take the non-development related reasons for our failure first:
  1. Rooney.... Gerrard....Lampard etc are they really world class footballers? And if they are, they failed miserably to demonstrate it in the World Cup tournament (...again).
  2. Terry.... the classic English bulldog centre half... slow on the turn but quick off the mark when it comes to his team mates other halves and getting the round in on the London cocktail bar circuit.
  3. Fabio’s tactics – any manager that brings on the non-goal machine that is Emile Heskey to turn a match has failed to understand that winning matches requires hitting the back of the net. The average Fantasy League manager could probably have fielded a better balanced team.
  4. The Premier League - Too many games and too few English players. Only 38% of regular Premiership players are eligible for England which is why Fabio had to drag Carragher out of retirement and King off the treatment table. And with Premiership teams packed with cheap to buy but experienced overseas players, where do budding English players get their opportunities?
The simple answer is that our players are just not good enough. When did one of the leading non-English European clubs last sign an English star? Do we see Inter, Real or Barca talent spotting around the Premiership grounds. Yes...on the lookout for the likes of Fabregas, Torres etc.

Much of the blame has to lay with the way we develop players in England.... probably quite alot of the blame, to be honest. And the problems we have are deeply rooted. Here are the development related reasons:
  1. 11 a side football: In England we play 7 a side, and then switch to 11 a side at Under 11. In Holland, they play 4 a side from Under 5. At Under 9, they move to 7 a side. At U13, they finally move to 11 a side. Which model gives kids more opportunity to develop basic skills? It’s a similar setup in France, Italy and Germany. 
  2. Competitive youth leagues: Other countries run their youth leagues much differently... they don’t have competitive leagues. Or at least, they delay competitive leagues and cup competitions much later, to Under 13. So, in the younger age groups, players (and their managers) aren’t pressured to win the league, the Cup etc. Success is judged by player development.
  3. Grassroots coaching philosophy: Too many mini-soccer managers and coaches believe that the judgement of how good they are as a coach is determined by how many games their team wins. Whereas in many other countries, the emphasis is on skill development not winning games.
  4. Quality of coaching: According to UEFA, there are 2,769 English coaches holding UEFA B, A and Pro badges, its top qualifications. How does this compare to other European countries.....? Spain has 23,995, Italy 29,420, Germany 34,970 and France 17,588. So if other countries have ten times as many highly qualified coaches, what chance have English kids got of developing their skills to the highest level.
Many of the issues surrounding development of professional players was covered in 2007 in the "Review of Young Players' Development in Professional Football" (Download here) How many of the proposals in this radical report actually got implemented? After months of power struggles between the Football Association, the Premier League and the Football League... virtually none!

After another World Cup failure, perhaps it’s time they re-read the report and got back around the table.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The business of youth football

Youth football is becoming a business.

We know that the Premiership is about business not football. What’s interesting about youth football is how clubs are developing into mini-businesses run by unpaid volunteers. In my first season at Raiders, we ran two U8 teams and the club had around 120 players. This season at Berkhamsted Raiders CFC, we’ll have 500 boys and girls playing football in 40 teams from U7 to U18 plus a Senior team. At U8, we’ll be running five teams. Here are some facts that get across the complexity of running a youth football club of this size:
  • Annual cost of running the club: £90,000
  • Income from member subscriptions: £60,000
  • Amount we have to generate through fundraising and subscriptions: £30,000
  • Codes of Conduct, Policies etc: Thirteen! (yes..that can view and download them from the Berkhamsted Raiders web site, if you want to see what they are.
  • Committee members: Fifteen.
  • Managers and assistant managers: Eighty.
  •  Burgers sold at annual Raiders tournament....1,124
So, you can see... it’s become quite an enterprise. And it’s getting bigger...which is a concern, as I will explain with my business hat on.

What’s happening in the youth football “market” is similar to what happens in the business marketplace. As the formal structure of youth football develops (e.g. FA Charter Standard, FA Community Standard, CRB checks etc etc), so does the pressure increase on smaller clubs to meet the many requirements. The end result is what’s known as “market concentration” which means that the number of operators in a market reduces as smaller operators disappear and get acquired or merge into bigger businesses.

An example of this is my own U14 age group in the Berkhamsted area. A few weeks ago, our age group had 38 players for next season. We now have over 60, having “acquired” players from two local teams that have folded. This is good news for our club; we were the logical place for these local kids to come. But it’s sad for the teams that folded. One of them was a one team club that had been run by a football dad for the last six years from U8.

The downside is that as the big clubs get bigger and the smaller clubs fold, it becomes harder to find local leagues where you don’t end up playing your own teams twice or more each season. Our local league is the West Herts Youth League. In 2010/11, this league will reduce to two divisions at U14. We have four teams at U14. Our A team will play in the Watford Friendly League. Ideally, our B and two C teams would play in the more local West Herts Youth League but.... none of these three teams is strong enough for Division 1 (we’re an “all abilities” club) which would mean three Raiders teams in the same division....not exactly ideal. So, two of our teams will be travelling further afield to find their opposition.

Does your youth football club face the same situation? Add your comments below.

Friday, 2 July 2010

My youth football management career

After six years of managing a junior football team at Berkhamsted Raiders CFC, from U8 to U14 next season, I thought it was about time I started a blog about football for kids. I blog for my business (see the Health Tourism Blog), so why not do it for my part time unpaid job as well?

I’ve worked my way up the promotional ladder of youth football, holding the following positions on the way:
  • Dad on the touchline
  • Dad who will help put the goals up
  • Dad who will run the line.
  • Dad who will ref the game
  • Assistant Manager
  • Manager
  • Age Group Coordinator
  • Club Committee Member – Communications and Webmaster
  • And currently the dizzy heights of Chairman!
As you can see there’s a clearly defined promotional structure to youth football clubs! You may recognise your own position on the ladder....It's been an enjoyable "career" and one that I don't regret.

In this "Chairman's Blog", I'll give you an insight into running a youth football club, some of the things that we've done at Raiders that other clubs might learn from and some of my thoughts on how youth football and football development should be run (then we might have a chance of winning a World Cup....).

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