Managing expectation at Pro academies - Sports Psychology expert

Academy football is an eternal battle between blurred vision & misplaced expectation. The numbers don't lie, but for parents of those involved in it, reality often does. 



Life as Premier league player is what young footballers aspire too. The 'Prem' is the ultimate. That said, any career in the game has appeal. Nothing wrong with having ambition, though. Problem is, who's driving that ambition?

When a youngster gets invited to an academy for a trial or training, it's an opportunity. An opportunity to experience something fun and to enjoy in different surroundings. Not just the chance to be a footballer.



wayne-rooney-celebrates-a-goal-playing-for-everton-academy-football4footballEXCEPTION: Some players show promise very early and translate it into future stardom


We [football4football]  come across two schools of thought. 

One, young players should have supreme focus on making it as a footballer, end of. And two, let social development as a child first guide any technical progression with a ball. 

Focus, drive & ambition all things needed to become a top pro. There must be enjoyment for promising young players leading up to this. Otherwise, that destination will be harder to reach. 



Young_players_hold_up_the-cup-after-winning-a-tournament-football4footballWINNING: Success at grassroots can give a false idea of whether a player will make it or not




Pro football clubs want the best, and rightly so. What that best is at 7 or 8, might not be the best by 10 never mind 16 [scholar age]. After selection by a pro club, staff aim to improve and develop. It's their job to do that on the pitch. The child's adult support off it will make the difference. 

Figures for those in football academies all over the world, to the numbers that go on to have a career, are very distorted. Should football clubs be accountable because they can only have so many in a squad? And as such, want the best available. Of course not. Arguments are thrown up with statements of 'shattered dreams' and 'broken promises'. 



Players_sit_on_the_bench_waiting-to-play-a-football-match-football4footballNUMBERS GAME: Limited places in pro academies means players will be released at some stage


From involved experience, we're not aware of any pro club turning to a seven-year-old and say, "Wow, you're amazing. You are going to make it!"

But, as soon as a player goes into a club, unfortunately, the majority of adults supporting that child will tend to think they will. 



I was more worried about getting told off for not doing schoolwork by my mum then about a contract
EPL winner & Ajax academy graduate
Nigel de Jong exclusively to football4football





See, there's nothing quite like football to get the imagination and 'what if's' going. How many parents with a child doing well at school in science, thinks the child will go on to be a scientist? Ok, you could argue that academy players dedicate a lot of time and energy to football.

The mad thing is, they should be doing more of the same, realistically more, in their regular schooling environment. Specialist Richard Dean explains the realism of the situation, feeling the reality be dealt with 'head-on. Managing the child's reaction is down to what has been feed to them in the first place.   



The first thing I'd do at an academy is to sit the parents down of each squad and say: the chances of making professional football are not high
Sports Psychology expert
Richard Dean to football4football


Using a school scenario, an A-grade student might not become an expert in a certain field. Unlike school, it won't have the same emotional impact as not making it as a pro footballer. 

If the conditioning has been, "You're going to make it. You're brilliant. You're better than everyone else". Well, then you're heading for a massive fall and a very disappointed child.

Academy football should be about enjoying, learning and realistic expectation. This makes any potential rejection easier to take.

Which, in turn, can keep that young player in a good place. Essential if they want to 'go again' at another club. Many players have gone into the academy system early, get released but bounced back to play in the Premier League.



spurs-coaching-staff-watch-an-academy-football-match-football4footballOPINIONS: Pro clubs have to make tough decisions based on what they believe at a particular time


You see, clubs nine times out of 10 get it right. Getting it right though is about the right now. Right now, might not be right 12 months later. Players and their families must try to have a clear perspective of the process. 



I was devastated when I got released. My family were immense in getting me back on track
Sheffield Utd & Ex England defender
Phil Jagielka exclusively to football4football



From first-hand experience we know, getting signed is the first step, but no guarantee to make a big career in football.

Sports Psychology Expert, Richard Dean feels being at an academy is a success in its own right. To actually make it, well that's a bonus. 


two-football-academy-players-duel-for-the-ball-football4footballYOU & ME: Progressing through academy football needs focus, commitment & talent. But it has to be an enjoyable experience




Factually, out of thousands of footballers locally, that child has been chosen as being elite to the rest. 

Variables start to kick in as you move up the pro academy scale. Most clubs these days have satellite training centres dotted around the country. [to satisfy the FA's regulations on travel distance] Clubs cast their recruitment nets far and wide. 

Someone could well be the best 10-year-old centre mid in a particular area. If the club is doing their job right, then they'll have a 'like-for-like' somewhere else nationally. And, if they're a big club, then that somewhere else will be in another part of the world!


young-asian-footballers-play-football-an-academy-game-football4footballGLOBAL APPEAL: Top clubs now have feeder clubs or partnerships all over the world to find talent

Big fish in a small pond could describe it. Parents/Guardians of young players have to be aware of this. Praise the selection, support the effort but be mindful of it being a business with a long roadmap to the top. 

This will go a long way in dealing with both failure and success. One of the most famous and productive academies in the world, Ajax, have a brilliant saying. "Develop the person, develop the player"



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Whatever young boy or girl beginning the journey to pro footballer status, treat it as a journey. A single adventure, during one part of their whole life. Who they are as people and individuals, away from the game will improve the chances of success. That could be playing in front of 60,000 fans, or being a fan. They've played a part.



parents-watch-children-play-at-a-football-trial-in-the-uk-football4footballSUPPORT: Parents want the best for their child, which can cause misguided expectancy



Try and be someone who's engaged in the process of life outside football as well
Richard Dean to football4football

Wealthier academies will provide access to specialist support systems, including psychologists and professionally trained counsellors. These are a help, more so,  if tools have already been out in place by that child's most essential coaches - the adults who care for them, footballer or not. This is paramount in nurturing mental well-being in children to build a positive relationship with their involvement in football. 

Final Note

It may sound like it, but it is not all doom and gloom! Hard work pays off, even if it is not the top-tier of football that the players end up.

Experiences gained within the academy system are transferrable into the every-day world—skills which help navigate life outside football.

Parental support needs to include encouraging good education and identifying alternative plans.



In the up and coming weeks, football4football will feature academy staff from all levels of the game from the UK & around the world. They'll detail, in exclusive football4football videos, exactly what they look for in young players and share strategies for effective parental support.