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Creating the next breed of leaders
As a Regional Talent Club (RTC) programme, our mission statement is to ‘develop elite female potential’.
But this development is not measured purely by the technical and tactical elements of the sport.
We are aware that not everyone who comes through our programme will make it as a top-level footballer. So it is vital we develop the players as people, too.
While the emphasis is on football, we aim to holistically develop the skillsets of all young players who come through the pathway, through our environment, guidance and investment into them as young people.
We provide participants with opportunities that go beyond the technical and tactical elements of a coaching session, with the aim of helping each person find their own potential within or outside the football world.
We believe the soft skills we incorporate into our programme will help each person become more confident in speaking in front of a group or giving their opinion on a topic, help them to organise and direct other young people and, most importantly, be comfortable being themselves.
When I first took the role within York City FC Foundation and the RTC, there was only one other female member of staff out of roughly 15 people working on the programme.
I am a firm believer in ‘If you can see it, you can be it’, which is one of the reasons I looked to identify, employ and develop more female members of staff across all disciplines within the RTC environment.
It is so important to have visible female leaders within sport, which has been male- dominated for years. We aim to make this the norm within our female programmes, while recognising and encouraging high- quality male allies doing excellent jobs within women’s sports development environments.
We now have seven female members of staff, one in each discipline area, who I believe are excellent role models for the players. We are still keen to add to the number of female staff we are able to put in front of the players.
Our current club manager, Rosie Todd, was herself a product of the player pathway when the RTCs were Centres of Excellence. She is currently still playing, at a club in the third tier of the English pyramid, and it is fantastic to have her as a playing role model.
But it also promotes visibility for female leadership and management roles that players could look to aspire towards after graduating or exiting the programme.
Before COVID stopped our on-pitch coaching sessions and fixture programme, we would regularly see player-led warm-ups across all age groups, where the girls could be seen putting into practice the terminology – and, more importantly, the reasoning – behind specific actions and movements they have been taught by the team of Physical Performance Coaches.
Our staff place a high value on player education and ownership. Within our Foundation Development Phase (FDP) age groups (U10s-U12s), player-led matchday warm-ups and team-talks, supported by experienced technical staff, are commonplace within our environment.
We believe it is a vital part of a player’s journey to help empower them and provide them with a platform to succeed. Peer-led analysis and feedback is also incorporated within on and off pitch learning, enabling players to support each other throughout their journey.
In our Youth Development Phase age groups (U14s and U16s), we have a few initiatives, designed to develop the players holistically, that take place during a usual training week.
Both age groups have a leadership group, made up of a handful of players who can raise any potential issues with the coaching teams.
This is more common practice within open- age teams in today’s environments, so our aim is to prepare our graduating players for when they move into the adult game, whilst also enhancing their ability to communicate important messages, concerns or technical and tactical information with peers and adults alike.
Like all elite development environments, all our players have an ‘Individual Development Plan’.
We allocate specific time during the week for them to independently work on areas for development and ‘super strengths’, challenging the players to design practices or come up with ideas that relate to these areas. This is done with ‘check and challenge’ guidance of an experienced technical coach, facilitating discussion and collaboration between players and coaches.
This enables us to see some of the quiet leaders come to the forefront – players who might not be the loudest members of the group, and who might not yet necessarily organise others, but in their own time are thinking and planning for these sessions, using their actions to set an example for the rest of the group and showing staff and players alike that they are invested in their own development.
Like most other environments this season, our RTC programme has continued to support players and families in an online capacity. As a group of staff, we have tried to provide a variety of activities to engage and develop our players across all age groups.
We have had a different theme each week, including ‘Social Week’, which incorporated player-led quiz nights for all age groups.
“Player-led warm-ups and team-talks are commonplace in our Foundation Phase…”
Within their usual ‘Physical Performance Coaching’ sessions, they were asked to pick exercises and explain the mechanics and benefits to their peers.
Our Youth Development Phase groups were split into smaller groups where they each planned, delivered and evaluated an activity to our FDP groups. Most players were outside of their comfort zone but it was something they were all keen to give a go.
We reiterated to the players a term that I personally think holds a lot of value in development environments – ‘if you can teach an action, skill or concept to others, you are more likely to understand it yourself’.
This notion of having to fully understand something, break it down and then impart that knowledge onto another person is something I believe will have a significant impact on players’ own development as they progress through the RTC pathway or into senior football.
One of our Under-16s said: “I really enjoyed the opportunity to lead a session for the U11s. I know they look up to me and it’s important that I’m a good role model for them.
“We wanted to find out as much as possible about the U11 group as players so we could try to help them improve with the session we did for them.”
Our players who are already aged 14 and over have been offered the opportunity to undertake the new FA Playmaker course and subsequently volunteer their time within our female programmes when we are able to restart, passing on their vast knowledge and becoming a new generation of role models for players just starting their football journey.
We understand not every person who is involved in football will want to go down a coaching or leadership pathway and, historically, even fewer of those have been female.
When young boys are possibly more dominant during school sports, females with the same ambition may feel less able to pursue this option.
We hope that by providing our players with opportunities to continue to develop their own leadership skills within a football setting, while also having positive female role models in all areas of our programme, we will inspire them to go onto play a role in the game at some level after graduating or exiting our programme. WSC