Youth

League and Kick It Out extend partnership to academies

By Pete Lansley 12 Oct 2015
The League, its clubs and Kick It Out do work well beyond the display of T-shirts

New education programme launched for academy players at clubs as well as parents and staff

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With more than 70 different nationalities represented in the Premier League most weekends, the competition offers a great melting pot of cultures and personalities. Yet there remain challenges in ensuring that players treat others in the game with respect.

Kick It Out, football’s equality and inclusion organisation, works to promote inclusion within clubs. It is most visible when players wear their T-shirts ahead of matches. But much of its work at clubs takes place away from the pitch and beyond the first teams.

This weekend the Premier League and Kick It Out launched a new education programme to ensure that the values they want the first-team players to show are also educated to young players in the club academies and their structures.

At Premier League Academy fixtures up and down the country, Kick It Out and the League took advantage of the international break to showcase the work that goes on to raise awareness of all forms of discrimination to help football become the most equitable and welcoming sport possible.

“We’re going into academies doing workshops right across the board from Under-11s to Under-21s with the kids, coaches, staff, officials and parents,” Troy Townsend,  the education and development manager for Kick It Out, told premierleague.com.

“We’re looking to educate on the kind of issues out there within the game, helping everyone understand the effects of banter, finding out about their changing-room environment and the impact it can have, analysing the terminology they can get pulled up on and also trying to help parents support their sons in the right manner.”

Kick It Out's Troy Townsend in a workshop with parents of Spurs academy players
Kick It Out's Troy Townsend in a workshop with parents of Spurs academy players

 

Activities at the academies over the weekend included club and match officials wearing Kick It Out T-shirts, joint team photos, an information video and leaflets, pre-match Respect handshakes and workshops for all visitors, not least the parents, to show how equality inspires.

Townsend, whose son, Andros, earned his break in the Premier League after coming through Tottenham Hotspur’s youth system, attended the Spurs academy fixture and gave parents of the players a workshop about how they might influence their sons.

“No parent wants to be told how to look after their own child,” Townsend said. “But a lot of them have not been in an academy set-up before and they’re sometimes as excited as their son.

“We talk about the various areas of discrimination – racism, homophobia, sexism – but they also have to manage themselves and the situation as well. It’s about considering the parenting skills to deal with what we call elite players. Does this mean we’re also dealing with elite parents?

“We provide a real challenge to the parents at the workshops to be open and honest. We’re asking what they’re like with their young son: pre-match, driving to the game, is there a prep talk, what does this involve and, if they perceive their son’s had a bad game, what support do they offer?

“I’ve been a parent in this situation who’s also coached at a decent level. It’s about making sure there’s a collective approach to making their son the best player and person he can be.”

The Spurs and Watford academy players marked the event before their match
The Spurs and Watford academy players marked the event before their match

Martyn Heather, the Premier League’s head of education, says the academy system is in general a safe and positive environment where players can develop with respect for one another, but the League is not taking the current situation for granted.

“We are not naive enough to believe there might not be incidents of discrimination in our academies,” Heather says. “It happens in societies and all football is a reflection of society.”

So to try to prevent issues from arising every player and parent entering a Premier League academy signs a code of conduct of what is expected from all involved parties.

“We use the word ‘respect’ a lot and it’s about respecting people for what they are,” Heather says. “It’s not just about racial discrimination, there is a broad relevance.”

Townsend admits the growth of social media has intensified the need for players to be politically aware from the earliest possible age.

“The impact of social media goes younger and younger,” he says. “All kids of 10 and 11 have a phone now, most actively engaged on social media.

“As banter flies around, whether in a changing room or on Facebook, players may not realise the language they are using might be discriminating against a team-mate.

Thierry Henry was with Arsenal academy commemorating the launch (credit: Arsenal FC)
Thierry Henry was with Arsenal academy commemorating the launch (credit: Arsenal FC)

“It’s important to be able to capture the younger players and work on their mindsets at the beginning of their academy journey. So in four or five years’ time, the game is a much better place.

“The most important thing is for the youngsters to play in a free and supportive environment.

“There’s still a lot of work to do, right across the board in football, but with the kind of work we are doing here with the Premier League, we’re trying to bring football closer together.”

Heather stresses that the joint education programme between the Premier League and Kick It Out is not solely focused on the youngsters as footballers but as human beings, too.

“We get wrapped up in saying, ‘Not every academy player’s going to make it as a professional footballer’ but I believe the experience they can have in an academy equips them for life and gives them a lot of skills their peers wouldn’t develop,” Heather says. “It’s about a journey and if you get to the end of the football journey, well done.

"But enjoy the fantastic experience along the way and if we can help create better people, better citizens, more socially responsible when they leave the system, then we’ll have contributed to making the world a slightly better place.”

Peter Lansley (@PeteLansley), a freelance football reporter for the Sunday Times and the Guardian, is a Level 2/Youth Module 3 coach working with Derby County Community Trust.

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