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Football is our National sport. It can be found in all areas of society, from watching live coverage of games to getting up to the minute news on the many sports channels on TV, to reading reports, analysis and stories in our newspapers. It is a moot point in many bars, businesses and schools up and down the country every week. We have incorporated its terminology into our language and for some, it can lead to many a sleepless night.
It gives meaning and provides identity for a countless variety of people. Due to its obvious influence on society, many sports organisations now see football not just as a pastime but the ideal tool to engage and develop individuals, groups and communities alike. Many companies now use football as a device to aid social inclusion, equality, empowerment, to reduce crime and improve health. Meanwhile, the organisations who, play, govern and regulate the sport, in the form of the Football Association (FA), clubs both professional and amateur, the FA Premier League and educational institutions, are focused on developing people to play or coach the game in its many competitive settings.
Although the sport generates a huge amount of enthusiasm, using football as a development tool can prove to be a somewhat complicated. Many companies and organisations are using football for reasons that could be construed as selfish, and this brings an air of contradiction to what the FA are striving to achieve. For example in their search to find and develop the next George Best, Trevor Francis, Gary Lineker or Gareth Bale, Professional clubs may have a very different agenda to say a community group, who are looking at using football as a device to connect with 'marginalised young people'. Much is the same with amateur grassroots clubs whose main objective is to improve performance. These clubs would no doubt struggle to find the common ground with organisations attempting to empower sportsmen/women with disabilities. These issues are not uncommon in the 'football family', and as a result, football development has become a widely debated subject.
This doesn't mean that nothing positive has come from the work done by the organisations concerned. However, as football plays such an important part in our culture, it is important to understand the politics and business interests of those concerned with the sport before anyone can come to any real conclusions about the potential it has to offer as an effective medium for the development of sports or social intervention.
Over the last 20 years there has been an influx of books, documents and reports that reflect the more serious side of football and its impact on society. This dates back to the 1980s when football had taken a downward spiral and debates on the best way to run the sport was actually taken up by the government who were considering direct regulation of the game. This action was brought about due to the disasters of Heysel, Bradford and Hillsborough as well as the rise in hooliganism. Their reaction was to threaten the obviously uninterested football authorities with an array of drastic measures that if applied could have had detrimental effects on the sport from grassroots to the professional stage. However, the publication in 1989 of the Heysel and Taylor Reports seemed to calm issues down somewhat, and opened up opportunities for state and corporate investment. This saw the gradual rise of professionalism and commercialism within the organisations responsible for football.
From the early 1990s, Football gained more on a reputation for professionalism as stadia up and down the country were refurbished or newly built, which hastened the 'gentrification' of the sport. Around this time, interest began to appear within academic circles as Rogan Taylor, the inspiration behind the Football Supporters Association, founded a research project at the University of Liverpool. This was followed by others within education that brought about and applied new ideas, techniques and different views on studies and investigations based on the sport.
Then in 1996, England was hosts to European Championships. This set the stage to show how the sports popularity had increased, which confirmed to the then in power Labour Party that football had become deserving of government attention. However, despite the obvious spin and election tactics of MPs playing football with top names in football and the like, politicians did have concerns on the general state and direction of the game.
There were to five main aspects of concern:
The first was based on the way the Football Association conducted its management and regulation of the game as a whole. There was a number of people/groups that saw the FA as the leading figure responsible for the manipulation of the sport concerning its commercial interests; the downgrading of such competitions as the FA Cup; suspect financial management that saw the FA squander money and the inconsistent performance of our national team. The one concern was to how the 92-member FA Council represented the many avenues of interest in the game, if at all!
Secondly, issues were raised on club ownership and the way that they were being run. The introduction of the FA Premier League brought about a shift in club ownership. This saw many supporters marginalised as a result. A perfect example of this was the demise of Wimbledon FC, a team I had supported since the 80's, however there is an ever growing list of clubs being consumed and destroyed by those with their own agenda and vested business interests.
The third issue related to the extent of corruption and inside deals within the game. With the increase in agents in the sport came what was known as the bung culture, whereby large amounts of cash was passed to secure transfer deals over other clubs. It had been uncovered that betting frauds were taking place within the game. These were all causes for concern.
Forth on the list looked at how all communities were being represented in respect of their participation, spectatorship and administration. Top of the list was the inclusion of females within the game, however, this soon included people with disabilities and ethnic minorities.
Finally, there was a belief that clubs both professional and amateur could and should involve themselves with programmes in their communities. This concerns the development and education of young footballers between the age of 5 and 15 as well as devising a community development program where football would be used as a social intervention.
Over the last 14 years policy and academic work on all these aspects has shown significant increase. A major impetus for this came from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport when they commissioned the Football Task Force who were responsible for fresh condemnation of the FA, in the form of papers, texts and books, which called for a greater improvement in their governance of the sport. However, frustration grew due to the stubborn stance taken by the FA in respect of this matter which in turn saw further pressure applied by a string of Ministers of Sport. In 2004 the FA Council authorised Lord Burns to conduct a review on the sport, which after the final report saw the FA commit to new governance procedures, welcome democratic representation and encourage football participation, whatever form it takes to all.
However, this was no easy task as despite the tremendous popularity the sport commands, it does not have a great standing in its history in relation to social inclusion. The sport has always had a 'club' based nature about it, especially when it comes to the male, white, aged, middle class predominance of the governing body, that has restricted access to football for many communities/groups and peoples over the past 100+ years. Discrimination in its many forms has been rampant within the sport and this is argued that despite the advancements made within the sport over the last 20 years or so, the stigma of these historic attitudes has left its mark
Changing attitudes within the FA have led to several initiatives and campaigns being launched which are aimed at setting new standards within the game as a whole. The 'Kick It Out' campaign, (initially established in 1993 and re-launched in 2009) focuses on equality and inclusion within the game. It was initially designed as a guide for professional clubs for developing and achieving standards and policies within their organisation, but has since cascaded down to the amateur game as well as community based projects and educational institutes to challenge discrimination, encourage inclusive practices and work for positive change. Premier League Chief Executive, Richard Scudamore welcomed the introduction of the Equality Standard stating that:
"Clubs can have an extremely positive influence on their fans as well as in the communities around them so it's important that they show how they embrace diversity and are open and accessible to everyone."
Although there has been a positive swing in the inclusion of ethnic groups in respect of their access to football and progression within it, there still remains a major on going task for the FA to ensure that they break down all the barriers, and not just in respect of attracting players to the game. The door needs to be opened to attracting potential referees, administrators, coaches, volunteers and spectators to the game.
Another area of growth within the sport has been within the disabled communities. Prior to 1999 there was very limited support by the FA concerning the development of disability football, as they found it almost impossible to create an inclusive strategy for disabled football. However, in 1999 the first national disability football programme 'Ability Counts' was launched.
This was seen by many as the first steps in identifying and developing talented players through experienced coaching and led the way to increasing participation in the disability game. In response to several Government policy documents in 2001 the FA produced a strategic framework for football development in England. One of the key points within this document was entitled 'Opportunities for all' which charged the FA with the responsibility to ensure everybody had the opportunity to play, coach, manage, referee and be spectators regardless of their race, culture, religion, gender, ability, sexual orientation, ethnicity or social status. In addition to this the FA also introduced its first Disability Football Strategy (2004-2006) and this gave way to integrating disability football into the 'mainstream'.
Disability football now has a plethora of leagues, not just across the country but nationally as well. Nearly all of the 92 football league clubs as well as non league clubs have some form of disability development. Disability football' representation at International levels is fast developing, with teams now competing in European and World Championships. The England National Squad boasts 7 different impairment teams covering Amputee, Blind, Cerebral Palsy, Deaf, Learning Disability, Partially Sighted and Women's Deaf team. Many opportunities have opened up for those interested in working with disabled footballers either at club level or in the community. The FA's course on 'Coaching Disabled Footballers' is designed to give already qualified football coaches and teacher's alike a range of ideas and practices to enable the inclusion of disabled players in football sessions within mainstream or impairment specific sessions.
A key element of the FA's strategy of inclusivity has been the introduction of mini soccer, which is played with smaller teams such as 5, 6 and 7-a-side The sole purpose of the introduction of mini soccer back in the 1990s was to enable children under the age of 11 to enjoy the game on a smaller scale. This allowed the child to have more touches of the ball, developing their creativity and set the stage for them to develop their skills. However, due to its popularity mini soccer spread across the country like wildfire and within 18 months clubs countrywide had recruited teams of all ages under the age of 10. As you might expect, these matches are often watched by the parents, guardians, friends and relatives, which often creates an unwelcome pressurised environment for the child. Concerns on what impact this may have on the child's welfare has been covered within the work of Brackenridge et al's (2007), and furthermore the effects of some of the adult input at these games has been highlighted as a problem. This has been addressed by the FA with the introduction of their Respect programme
The biggest success the FA have had to date in respect of their equality and diversity campaign comes with the continuing growth of the Women's and Girls' game, which officially boasts more players competing in affiliated competition than any other female team sport. Numbers have continued to rise since 1993, when the number of female players was said to be around 10,000, compared to today where it is over 180,000. This growth was highlighted in Sport England's Active People survey of 2008 which stated that 260,000 women and 1.1 million girls play some form of football in England. 26 million females where flagged as playing across the world, of which 4.1 million are playing affiliated football, indicating a 54 per cent growth since the year 2000 (FIFA Big Count 2006).
The female involvement in the game does not stop at playing competitive football either, as over 20,000 females have successfully attained FA coaching qualifications, which includes 150 Level 3 - UEFA 'B' coaches, and full-time women's Football Development Officers are now employed across the country. The female game has gained a very respectful audience and is going from strength to strength. The success of the female national coach, Hope Powell, is a testimony of the journey made within the women's game. Player pathways are now more defined and the opening of many Centres of Excellence within local clubs allows for greater player participation and progression. The number of talented players that emerge from these Centres to move into the national side is evidence of their success. 2011 will see the launch of the FA Women's Super League, a semi-professional league for Women's Association Football Clubs that will be seen as the highest level of women's football in England. This without a doubt will raise the profile of the female game even more within local communities.
The advancements made through the promotion of the game over the years has opened way to a multitude of courses that individuals can now take to get formal qualifications that enable greater participant in the world of football. Gone are the days where paid involvement in the game meant being solely involved with the professional side of football. Through the FA alone you can enrol on a variety of courses depending on your area of interest. These courses are designed to meet the needs of individuals depending on their previous knowledge, experience or interest in football. There are varied levels of expertise that can be achieved through the courses that cater for Coaches, Referees, Sports Scientists and Medics, Psychologists, those involved with Child Protection and Safeguarding and FA Tutors who are involved with coaching the coaches.
The FA has also given its support to the huge leaps and bounds made within the sport through the work Universities, Colleges and Schools. All three concentrate on developing the game at the grassroots level, from the observations of Football Development Officers, made up from a workforce of graduates whose purpose is to support all areas of male and female football development throughout the county, to the many courses put on by schools and colleges that range from NVQ Levels 1, 2 and 3 in Coaching Teaching & Instructing Association Football to BTEC Awards in Sport. These courses can be further pursued to Levels 4+ through University. However, due to the FA's constant regulation of the sport to ensure that all participants are being educated in the correct manner, it has become essential that all 'educational centres' whatever their guise, adhere to the professional values set out by the organisation. The NVQ courses for example have a very stringent assessment procedure to ensure that all areas of education are being met. As the learner begins their journey on the course they are assessed continually by theory and practical activities designed to test how far they have travelled. These assessments are primarily conducted by the subject teacher however, over the course year internal verifiers from the institute and external verifiers from the awarding body as well as the FA perform their own assessments. On top of this there are inspections from OFSTED who will report on the quality of the course.
All those involved with teaching within the education and training sectors have to play a critical role to ensure that professional development needs are continually met. This begins from the design and delivery of the courses, whether its Football Coaching or Child Protection, working with the feedback gathered from such assessments, observations and inspections is essential to the academic and skills development agenda.
Having worked as a football coach before entering teaching I can fully appreciate the need for professionalism within the learning sector, having upheld the standards set out by the FA for many years. Both coaches and teachers alike need to show a high level of commitment to supporting student learning, and within that commitment the values and attitudes that underpin the work of teachers should always be incorporated. Each teacher should by aiming to achieve this by having high expectations of all students, aiding and supporting achievements and raising the bar for them to push even higher; treating all students with the same respect no matter what their cultural, religion or ethnic background; and always promoting positive values, attitudes and behaviour. It is also essential that all teachers and coaches take responsibility for their own continued professional development, as well as improving their own teaching through self-motivation and reflection of their own practice. I personally use a mentor who has aided my learning and development immensely. Through the use of my mentor I have been able to reach and achieve destinations that have been laid out for me. This has been possible due to the partnership I have built with my mentor over the years. Being a trusted colleague, working along side them has helped me to critically evaluate my own teaching in respect of analysing my strengths and weaknesses, which in turn has developed my teaching skills and professional qualities within the role. Taking a professional stance when meeting obligations, being responsive to advice, and taking a positive approach to the role are all essential for this partnership to work.
Between the two of us we have brought many different skills, ideas and solutions to the course we both teach, which has helped develop the current structure of the course. This has also been made achievable through the work we both do with the County FA. As previously mentioned, the FA conduct assessments and evaluations of their own, throughout the duration of the course. These look at content, quality, coaching methods, evaluations and assessments. Regular meetings are held with FA Tutors and Coach Educators to discuss and ensure that all courses being put on meet the standards set out by the FA and fall into line with the expectations of current curricula and student development. Kolb's Experiential Learning Cycle (1984) is an ever on going process for both the FA awarding bodies, teachers, coaches and students alike, allowing for development needs of educator and student to be met at all times.
To improve my own development I have embarked on furthering my knowledge of coaching on two fronts. Firstly, I have undertaken my 3rd coaching qualification, the FA Level 3/UEFA B Licence, which in coaching terms is the start of the serious end of the business. This will give me more insight into the game and will definitely enhance the learning experience of the students. Secondly, The FA has recently introduced a new string of coaching qualifications designed at coaching children. The FA Youth Award has been designed to cater purely for the needs of students from the ages of 5-15. The initial modules of the course looks at how to create the right environment for the child to learn and how to develop practice sessions which can be tailored according to the age, ability and experience of different young players. This will be my next venture when I have successfully passed my the FA Level 3/UEFA B Licence as I believe this knowledge would be invaluable asset to my continuing growing arsenal of teaching knowledge and resources.
The journey football has made over the last 20 years has been somewhat of a bumpy one, However, the message the FA are sending out is that football is for everyone and this evidence can now be seen within towns and communities and even further afield in many countries across the world. The continued progress made by the FA by introducing new and improved courses, as well as providing an online resource called FA Learning, is encouraging to say the least. Football has become an education in itself whereby those involved gain knowledge and development through the technical, physical, psychological and social aspects of the game. Whether there is a growing future within educational institutes for the education of coaches' remains to be seen, in light of the recent financial cuts implemented by the government that has affected many sports courses nation wide within schools and colleges. However, the FA will continue to strive to produce quality courses, coaches and educators in its mission to bring football to all.