Ventures like Sport4Kids Franchising Ltd vital for the FA’s long-term strategy
Back in 2013, the appointment of Greg Dyke as chairman of the Football Association was a turning point in English football’s underlying strategy and the start of its emphasis on developing homegrown talent.
Little under a year after England’s state-of-the-art St. George’s Park national football centre opened in Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire, Dyke gave an eyebrow-raising speech about how the national team would ‘fail to seriously compete on the world stage’ if it did not address fundamental problems surrounding development and opportunities for young English footballers.
Citing statistics from 1993 to 2013, Dyke explained that the number of English players featuring in starting lineups for clubs in the Premier League, the top-flight of English football, had fallen from 69 per cent to 32 per cent.
Between 2011 and 2013, Dyke also highlighted that the proportion of new signings made by Premier League clubs who qualified to play for England had fallen by 12 per cent.
Dyke labelled English football a ‘tanker that needs turning’, setting about an overhaul of how young players were developed and given opportunities and set the FA a target for the England National Team to win the 2022 World Cup, set to be hosted in Qatar.
Dyke’s immortal words from that speech in 2013 were: “If the best of our emerging young players can't get a game here, then we have a serious problem.”
The solution was an FA commission which asked serious questions about how the England National Team's long-term prospects could be enhanced.
One aspect that needed further attention was grassroots level sport, something which Sport4Kids Franchising Ltd specialises in.
Speaking to The Parliamentary Review, its chief-executive officer Steve Jones and chief-operating officer Dr. Mark Gould, told of how the Sport4Kids model was unique and groundbreaking in children’s sport development and coaching, combining child-centric Montessori learning methods with world-class sports techniques such as the Dutch Coerver method and Spanish tiki-taka.
Jones and Gould said: “From day one, we recognised the key issues and challenges for various stakeholders in children’s sport and education.
“We address each stakeholder’s view and build unique services by exercising best practice in child psychology and development, product design, customer experience, training, processes and technology. We call this “The S4K Way” and it drives everything that we do, every day.
“We have researched world-class sports techniques to create a detailed children’s sports curriculum defining each movement and motor skill. Each sport has its pillars and player pathways with individual record books for the progression of each child.”
“Quality and control is critical with detailed monthly lesson plans, coach training and closed-loop class audits. Innovation underpins the entire methodology, and allows us to inspire, entertain and transform the progression of children in sport”.
There are currently around 30,000-40,000 children a week being taught under the S4K curricula. Without opportunities such as this for young children, clubs and academies looking to equip fresh talent essentially have no supply line.
Something which Jones and Gould highlight as being a particular hindrance for sport at grassroots level is the lack of a set curriculum and technical skills and funding for sports in primary schools.
“With no set curriculum and a lack of technical skills and funding, primary schools struggle to provide a healthy sporting foundation for our children.
“Ofsted measures schools on narrow academic performance with audits that focus on non-sporting activities. There is no universal standard for sport, nor the appropriate directives and recognition. Nurseries are similarly challenged when it comes to their resources. Sport is a key part of a child’s early development, and it is a missed opportunity for too many children and parents.
Sport4Kids provided its own solution for this issue too, devising a pupil pathway and curriculum for various age groups, while generating more income for schools by hiring their sports facilities to host skills classes during weekends.
It does beg the question of course as to what the end product is from focusing so heavily on development at base grassroots level. However, there is evidence that this focus on delivering grassroots programmes and providing room for further development at academy level as a knock-on effect is having a tangible impact on the development of young English footballers and the opportunities they are being given.
Since Greg Dyke’s FA Commission was launched and more of an emphasis was placed on grassroots football and younger players, the England national football setup has enjoyed some successes.
The England teams at under-17 and under-20 level both won the World Cup for their age group in the year 2017. The England senior team followed that up with a run to the semi-finals of the World Cup in Russia one year later. All but two of their 23-man squad had been previously capped by England teams at U21 level or younger.
As of June 2018, the members of England’s U20 World Cup winning squad were also finding themselves being handed more first-team opportunities, averaging 17 first team games in the 2017/18 domestic season. Only one player from that side did not make a first-team appearance.
Even the most successful sporting talents in the world must begin their development somewhere and the role grassroots level sport has to play cannot be understated. Indeed, it is now being recognised as an integral part in developing new sporting talent by those of influence.
For example, Jadon Sancho, one of the members of England’s U17 World Cup winning squad, has now worked his way up to the England first-team. He grew up in South London and his first taste of football came on street pitches. Recognising the importance of this early experience, he recently launched a new street football facility in Lambeth to provide more playing opportunities for local youngsters, in a collaboration programme with Nike aimed at benefitting the local community.
The importance of grassroots level access is also being widely recognised in the political arena too. Part of the Labour party’s manifesto ahead of the December 12 general election included a pledge to ensure that a portion of the vast sums of money generated from the Premier League’s lucrative television rights is invested into grassroots football facilities and the next generation of players.
Yet, there is always more that can be done. Jones and Gould raised the issue of the lack of sport integration in primary school curricula, for example. This is always something that the major parties could look to address in future.
What has become clear is that the recent successes of English football has cast a lasting spotlight over the importance of grassroots level development, with more emphasis is now being placed on it than ever before. Such programmes look set to be maintained across the UK, and the likes of S4K will continue to be at the forefront of delivering them.