Fundamentals — Football Academy — How to make it brilliant?
What makes the best academy?
It cannot be disputed that the future belongs to the youth. This rings true with football also. Nurturing talent from a young age has always been key to the success of any football club. However, there is no golden rule on how to develop young players into the football stars of tomorrow. This is not a bad thing, on the contrary, this allows for flexibility: what works for one, doesn’t always work for another. So too is it important to engage with new ventures which come to market and to explore the unexplored, allowing for the application of their own models, culminating in a synthesis of the new and the old.
Competition among clubs is great and under some of the recent changes made by FIFA, relating to ‘Financial Fair Play’ and ‘Squad-size limit’, the focus on youth development is even greater. Effective and productive football academies are becoming more of a necessity and clubs are having to pay even more attention to the correct development of their youth on their books.
In light of this, the questions we have to ask ourselves at this juncture are: what makes an academy ‘great’? What are the key factors to consider when setting up for a new project and creating future financial and physical potential?
Let’s analyse a few factors that can contribute to making an academy truly great:
A football academy is a place where junior footballers learn the skills to become professionals. For young players, one goal is shared above all, to learn the foundations and master the technique in order to become world class football stars. This should also be the approach of the academy itself. Every business is created with passion and passion should be the driving force behind the business. Sounds like a cliché but the right approach, aside from money, is the only way to gain and then maintain long-term success.
So what should be the vision like? Simply put, to have quality players that will make it into the first XI of a well-known club and to create an environment, in which home-grown players fully identify themselves with the academy. This will create a positive atmosphere of competition among the players and also an emotional bond by having to create fond memories of all the young players and coaches together. In a similar vein, Bitcademy’s vision is also very simple. It is to help. To help young players achieve what they dream of — a better life, success and glory, so they can tell their story to their kids and say to them that impossible is nothing.
Education & Scouting:
Statistics show that the best academies in Europe run schools with these criteria:
- 60% of schools have around 220 players
- There is normally 3–4 age groups
- 75% of players come from the region within 50 km radius
- 75% academies have relations with schools or universities
- 66% have clearly defined recruitment policy
- 75% allow parents at practice sessions
Bitcademy is no different. We want to keep European standards but move them to underdeveloped countries. Our academy is open for parents and our supporters. We run 3 age groups, however, we believe that 120 player size schools are a better fit for our model. Our players will come from the regions nearest to academies and the educational aspect will be fulfilled on-site, as we intend to build school adjacent to the main unit.
Our scouting approach will not only follow the best standards but also will introduce scanning mechanisms powered by AI components. We’re building a comparison database where our AI mechanisms will be able to reference and learn the best parameters and recognize talent among kids. During the admission and screening process, we will run these comparison tests and models to compare young players with each other and with the best fit models. This -it is hoped — will give our scouts and sports scientists the extra edge for talent assessment.
The ability to provide the right tools to players is the key starting point. From the pitch and quality of turf that allows maximizing development of individual technical skills, the location of the facility — all aspects are important to gain maximum results. The preferred location is a remote area which is peaceful, giving both coaches and players the chance to do the right job. Sometimes it comes to simple tools that are more effective. For effective training sessions, you need to have goal nets, whistles, posts, footballs, bibs, hurdles, cones and much more. For effective training session analysis, you should also have the right tools: coach eye and computer support. Bitcademy believes that tracking devices, a combination of GPS and field heat maps, can give an excellent overview about players’ behaviour and can also measure a few key skill components, that can be tracked and used over time for to help teach the player the right positioning, gap analysis and technical improvement.
In general, an academy should take care of their infrastructure and players exactly the same way as a top-tier club. Giving a player enough exposure and engendering a feeling of inclusion emanating from contact with first-team players might be a positive addition to overall improvement and will focus young players on the aim to become professionals in few years.
Scouting development begins as early as possible. There is pressure to start as early as 8–9 old where first-team games can be played and player-team mentality can be structured. This is also the right age where some talent measurement can be assessed. In addition, starting early means that we can also avoid the situations where other schools steal the talent from under our noses. The focus should always be on quality and not quantity. That is why our model takes on board fewer pupils but screens them properly during our assessment days. Our focus is for 13–18 years old as we plan to form a relationship with African grassroots academies to support us with their graduates. We also believe that younger kids are better assessed purely by coaches, the tech can kick in for extra analysis when they reach a certain age.
This part is the one that differentiates the truly great academies. Getting the right coaches is of paramount importance. First of all, there should be a golden rule for the coach per child ratio. One coach will not be able to train a full group of players. The more eyes watching and analyzing the training during and after, the better. Bitcademy provides support to the eye using state-of-the-art tech that monitors the game, registers players’ movement and behaviour and compares them between young players. That doesn’t necessarily mean we want to reduce the ratio. We believe that extra support will give us the advantage and combination of analysis done by the coaches and sports scientists can result in better results and player improvement. Moreover to tech, we want to implement natural selection methods during training such as bio-banding where one group athletes based on their maturation rather than age.
What are the best practices from other top academies?
- Majority of academies play with 4–3–3
- 66% focus on individual expansion rather than team development
- Team sessions depend on the player age
- Session length depends on the player age
- There is a growing trend that European academies start the video and computer analysis
The talent is there but the money isn’t. The opportunity for unearthing the next world cup winners is there, it just requires action. However, it can’t be done without support. That is why we created Bitcademy, to connect the most promising and undiscovered pool of players with football fans and investors. Where people can support young players, sometimes saving lives, and create the future football stars.
Furthermore, the statistics are not bad — on average in Europe 8.6% of academy players signed a 1st professional contract at the club in the last 3 years and 80% of clubs state that academy is a source of income rather than cost. Investment in an academy offers a good return and allows to build the best memories in young players’ minds. Academies prove to be a sustainable investment and bring sustainable and long term return to all interested parties.