In these series of articles, we cover the inspirational summer school sessions our young people have been participating in. The second session saw our young people visit championship club QPR to learn from some of their academy players and coaches at the club who provided insights into the professional game.
There is much about football that is timeless, it is ultimately a game that boils down to the performances of two 11 aside teams competing against one another. However there is much that has changed, from the various technological innovations that have transformed the coaching of players to the way academies are run, the game constantly evolves. Therefore we were privileged to get the opportunity for our young people to meet those at the frontline of professional football to discuss the reality of the game in more depth.
One of the biggest changes in modern football has been the mental health element of the sport. During their visit, our students had an opportunity to learn about why sports psychology has become such an important element of football in the modern age. QPR’s sports psychologist, Dr Misia Gervis, explained the importance of helping players develop and nurture their mental health, for example developing the mental resilience skills of academy players through the club’s education programme.
She noted “here at the academy we work with the players to develop resilience through some core actions. This includes working on their breathing and mindset to ensure that you can problem solve quickly and regain conviction.” She added “whether they make it as footballers or not, being psychologically resilient in this world is really important and it is something that will help the players go far.”
Our students also posed their questions to some of the young academy players at QPR. They had the opportunity to learn from them and their coaches about some of the transformations in the game they have witnessed. The way in which academies are run and how young people are coached have been one of the areas that have seen significant transformation and our young people had the opportunity to learn first-hand about these changes from them.
Although making it as a professional football remains incredibly tough, the support system for those that do not make it has also become better. Responding to FBB student Cerny’s question about the level of support in the past for young player who ended up being released, QPR coach Paul Furlong painted a bleak picture. He highlighted that when he was released from the Tottenham academy there was no support system to help him transition from that disappointment.
He added, “When I was slightly older 16 or 17 I was here at QPR and when I was released from here, again, there was no real support. I didn’t have any one in front of me guiding me through these circumstances and I had to figure it out for myself”.
In agreement with this point was the former England striker and current director of football at QPR, Les Ferdinand. But he was also quick to point out the need to realise that in all walks of life people face rejection. Although he personally did not experience being released at a young age, his pointed to the experience of his son, as well as his current position where he comes across individuals facing these circumstances.
He advised our young people that while a support system is vital, it is also important to understand that we all go through disappointments in life. What is crucial for anyone is to be prepared to “get on with life”. That while we may have not made it in one particular field, it does not mean we can’t make it in another.
Mr Ferdinand also shared some personal insights about the challenges he faced as a young person growing up in a council estate and how this experience helps him to relate and support young academy players. “I grew up in parts of London where some of my childhood friends ended up in prison, some of them were killed. And each one of us knew what was right and what was wrong, but unfortunately some took the latter route.”
So how did he manage to choose the right direction? “In life you always get influences, for me because I respected my parents they really shaped me and how I conducted myself – the last thing I wanted was for my mum to come to prison and bail me out. So, no matter whether I became a footballer or not, crime was not ever an option for me.”
Reflecting on the visit, FBB co-director Jasper Kain said: “It was another excellent experience for our young people. Our aim at FBB is to develop our young students, who have a passion for football, into responsible, socially aware and engaged individuals who have a clear idea of how they can achieve their potential. Thus, opportunities to learn about the various aspects of the football world, through visits like this one is extremely beneficial. We are grateful for QPR for their hospitality and their willingness to impart valuable lessons to our participants.”
Our participants have written an article about whether the academy system is failing to support the welfare of young players which will be published in our youth-led magazine publication that will be released in the Autumn.