Football’s Academy Rejection Dilemma – What about the parents??

I felt I had to write a piece about an article I read online about young players being rejected from academies and how this rejection has a detrimental affect on their life after sport. I have a few issues with this article but none more so than the fact that parents seem exempt from any responsibility. If you wish to read the said article then the link can be found here  ‘Football’s biggest issue’: the struggle facing boys rejected by academies | Football | The Guardian

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Everyone in this day and age knows the football industry is ruthless, in fact all industry is ruthless such is the competition for career places. A young footballing apprentice not turning up on time, not showing progression or not showing a good attitude and being difficult to deal with is going to receive the same result as a young apprentice in any profession acting and performing in the same way. Suffice to say, like any opportunity, you rarely get a second chance. Mess it up and there’s always someone else that will gladly take your place. It’s the conveyor belt mentality and it’s not just prevalent in football. This is nothing new.

Like all performing arts, you need some degree of talent before hard work and other attributes are taken into consideration. In football, hard work doesn’t guarantee success but it is essential. In fact, you can make the same argument for ‘talent’. The best players at 7 and 8 years of age are not always going to be the best players at 12 and 13. In fact, the best players at 15 and 16 aren’t always going to be the best players at 17 and 18. There are just too many developmental factors to consider, alongside the added threat of injury that makes it almost impossible to predict who makes the grade and who doesn’t. Whilst talent within sport is probably the only realistic barometer with which to measure possible career success, we should all know by now that talent is nothing without hard work and in the case of football, attitude and hard work mean nothing without talent. In this day and age, it is either ridiculously naïve or plainly moronic to be shocked at the ruthless nature of football and the low success rates of academy players ‘making the grade’.

Where the difference lies, however, is that, in football, kids begin their apprenticeships as young as 7 or 8 years of age. Ultimately, it is the parents who decide this. It’s exciting, you may even say every kids dream or dare I say, every parents dream, but as we should all know by now, it does come with certain ramifications. Ramifications no bigger than the eye opening statistic that ‘less than 1% of footballing apprentices nationwide go onto forge a career in the game’. This statistic should forever echo in the ears of hopeful parents. The academy route for players generally revolves around three possible scenarios. The first scenario is that some kids enter the academy system and may remain in the system from foundation phase right through to professional phase, if they’re lucky, or at the very least the development phase before rejection hits or a professional contract is offered. The second scenario is that some kids flit in and out of the system right throughout their young sporting lives on the basis of their development and deal with rejection regularly before the main rejection blow is dealt or professional contract offered. The third scenario is that some kids are deemed not good enough early on in their sporting development and are rejected outright never to return to academy life. The point being, rejection in football is inevitable, it’s just a case of dealing with it ‘when’ not ‘if’ it comes. If all these rejected players are to achieve their dream, then they are forced to go off and find another route.

Without question, the professional clubs aren’t perfect, perhaps focussing more on sporting development more so than academic performance and holistic development, but let’s not kid ourselves, that is their industry. They are in the business of producing footballers and whilst more could be done in the holistic development of all players, top level academies do provide a platform for success both academically and sportingly. A platform which provides a Plan ‘B’ in case the ‘very slim’ chances of Plan ‘A’ don’t materialise. It’s up to the player to take advantage of this and it’s safe to say that not all do. It all just seems too easy to cry foul and blame the system when a child’s dreams are crushed but who, truly, has allowed this to happen?

Surely, it is the parents who should be the main drivers in their own sons holistic development and as such, should be held accountable when all their sons eggs, placed in one flimsy basket, smashes to smithereens. I’ve been there and got the tee shirt. Every aspiring footballer believes he’s going to be a superstar and every aspiring footballer, indeed most if not all teenage boys, detest academic life. I was no different. However, what my parents insisted upon before I signed any professional contract, much to my disgust, was that I remained in Ireland to complete my Irish ‘A Level’ equivalent qualifications. It turned out to be a masterstroke. That very decision allowed me to sidestep the ‘football scrapheap’ and go onto university. It opened the door to life after football.

You see, parents are the only person(s) that have, or indeed should have, the 100% best interests of their son at heart. Mine did and whilst I didn’t agree and rebelled with everything you’d expect from a sulky teenager, I had to accept it and get on with it. In this case, they protected my interests and I am forever grateful. Correct me if I’m wrong but it is the parents who agree to day release programmes from school, it is the parents who are coerced by their son to sacrifice education in favour of football, it is the parents who agree to send their child to a professional academy at the age of 7 and 8. In my experience, there’s never a gun pointed at heads when decisions have to be made. When a child is 7 or 8 years of age, is it really the kids dream to play at an academy or is it, more so, the parents’? Is a child’s enjoyment compromised for bragging rights?

Similarly, as the player progresses up through the age groups, what do the parents do when their son’s academic performance drops in a professional academy environment? What do the parents do when they see or hear that their son is showing a bad attitude, whether it be not listening, answering back to a coach or simply not working hard during a session? Further to this, what do parents do when they notice that their son is not enjoying his football or is just not up to the standard in which he takes part?

Yes, of course, the clubs could do more but it’s all too easy to lay the blame at the door of professional football clubs. Guess what, you don’t always get what you want. Disappointment is part of life but unequivocally, the stage of life this disappointment arrives is a decisive factor in a person’s ability to deal with and overcome such adversity. In the case of youth football, this responsibility lies with the parents. For the vast majority, parents are the only people that can educate, develop and shape their son’s attitude and application as well as broaden their horizons with 100% unconditional and unbiased guidance. Kids might not always like what they hear but more often than not, parents know best. Being a parent brings this responsibility and we are the only people who 100% have our sons best interests at heart but perhaps, when it comes to football, this isn’t always the case.

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