Friday 09 March 2012
Five years after being part of the first Premier Skills pilot scheme in Egypt, Robbie Earle remains as passionate about the initiative as ever.
The former Wimbledon and Jamaica midfielder is currently in Mexico, the 17th country to benefit from the intensive coaching and refereeing programme that is run jointly by the Premier League and the British Council.
Since its inception, Premier Skills has trained almost 1,500 new community coaches and reached nearly 400,000 young people, with over one million football-focused English language materials distributed globally too.
Earle has been involved in delivering the initial Premier Skills 'Phase One' training courses in Egypt, India, Botswana, Morocco, China, Malawi and Cameroon and also led the more advanced 'Phase Two' projects in Kolkata and Vietnam.
"To be able to come to Mexico shows you the value of the work we are doing"
- Robbie Earle
And the 47-year-old UEFA Pro Licence-qualified coach - Premier Skills' most experienced Head Coach having now taken part in 13 week-long courses - admits he never thought he would be able to take the project to a place like Mexico.
"Mexican football is healthy and they produce great players, so I didn't think we'd be able to come here," said Earle, who is leading the week-long course from 1-9 March. "I thought we'd be confined to the countries where football is still developing, like China.
"But to be able to come to Mexico really shows you the value of the work we're doing.
"It hasn't followed the normal format because many of the activities we normally do in Phase One of Premier Skills already exist in Mexico, so we picked a group of 50 male and female coaches and have gone straight into at Phase Two level, which has been challenging.
"Structured training projects and courses exist in Mexico already because football is so big, so we're focusing more on community and volunteer-type work.
"Most of the guys here are volunteer coaches who work in local communities, some even teachers. They're not in professional ranks or associated to club soccer courses; we've gone in at a level below that with our applicants.
"We're using football as a learning tool for delivering significant social messages. Many young people here are involved in drug or gang culture because of the money and prestige attached to it and the challenge is trying to keep them away from that.
"What we've done is highlight how you can work with young people and educate them by using football as a delivery of those messages and get it to them at an early age. It's all about helping them address the issues that are relevant in their communities."
While Phase Two of Premier Skills typically works with coaches who have displayed the greatest potential for further development, Phase Three sees those coaches beginning to deliver sessions in their own communities, training yet more coaches using the Premier Skills methodology, something that has already begun in countries like Botswana and Uganda.
And Earle is excited that the initiative is now seeing coaches in the countries involved taking more of a central role.
"We've given the knowledge and experience and they can start delivering it themselves"
- Robbie Earle
"I always think of it as we are lighting fires in people's minds," added Earle, who scored 45 goals in 243 Barclays Premier League appearances. "By using the brand and the name and our experience, people can then go and touch so many more lives in their community.
"If projects are to grow and have an impact, you have to bring in more people and let go of some of the control - and that's the case with Premier Skills.
"We're now hitting Phase Three, and that's really starting to round the circle in terms of the coaches who have been part of the project now delivering the next stage.
"That gets you to where you want to be, self-sufficiency, which would allow the Premier League to maybe start to take a bit of a step back from some of the areas where the projects have taken place.
"Now we've given people the knowledge and the experience and they can start delivering it themselves with confidence - and maybe a little bit of guidance from one of the UK's Premier Skills coaches."
Earle sees the popularity of English football on a daily basis at his home in the United States, where he is a studio guest and pundit for ESPN in their coverage of major European leagues, including the Barclays Premier League.
And he believes initiatives like Premier Skills are vital as the Premier League tries to make a similar impact overseas off the pitch.
"The more people football interests, the more it can help communities all around the world"
- Robbie Earle
"It's one thing to be held up there as the best league in the world, but there's also a responsibility that the Premier League has taken upon itself to go into places and develop and grow the game," said Earle.
"This way, the more people football interests, the more it can help countries and communities all around the world; and this is the main aim of what we're doing.
"When the project started in Cairo in 2007, I never for one moment thought it would develop as it has done.
"When we start with these guys, the name 'Premier League' to them means people like Wayne Rooney, or clubs like Manchester United - you know, the glamour of the League.
"But with Premier Skills, they learn about the powerful impact football can have on people's lives and the way in which you can use that influence for positive means - and that's why Premier Skills has been so successful."
Read the full Premier League Creating Chances report.