Life education- the Southampton way

SFC U18 in action at Staplewood.

“Southampton Football Club, over a period of time became a lot more than just a football club to me, they allowed me to do things I didn’t believe possible, meet incredible people and live my dream. But more importantly I made friendships with people for life, felt cared about and welcomed which as a 14-year old moving away from home is something that overwhelmed me and made my experience better than I could imagine!”

Former Southampton Scholar

In an unusually candid interview Ian Herding speaks with an authority and passion on his duties as Life Education and Performance Officer at Southampton FC. Ian helps to shed light on typical and non typical ways football clubs tackle the ‘unspoken’ issues of player welfare. We are undoubtedly living in times of change when it comes to sharpening the focus on a structured and proactive duty of care for our footballing hopefuls. The sharing of good practice is one major leap forward in what must be a connected and purposeful attack on how we value preventive measures.   

Ian displays an impressive schedule of events for the current playing season. In total facilitating and coordinating 144 targeted ‘life education’ sessions for registered players between 9-23 years. These include crucial guidance in off-field learning outcomes such as; social media awareness, financial planning, car and insurance dealings and other topical ‘house keeping’ administration. This to many would resonate as typical channels of support and expected currency at most Academies, not necessarily out of the ordinary.

So, lets look at the atypical, and the extraordinary

If you asked yourself how many academy footballers have travelled to a foreign country and addressed its Chancellor and visiting Presidents’, your reply I’m guessing would match my own, zero? Except of course those fortunate group of 14 and 15-year old schoolboy players from Southampton FC whom travelled to Germany. Their reason? To take an active role in a World War Commemoration Service. Angela Merkel (German Chancellor) and Emmanuel Macron (French President) among the 1500 strong parliamentary audience, heard the wonderful tribute of World War 1 hero, and talented footballer, Walter Tull, as told by a 15-year old Southampton FC player.

Emmanuel Macron (President of France) and Angela Merkel (Federal Chancellor of Germany)

The service was broadcast live on German TV with figures of 3.5 million viewers. Was it luck that this U15 group happened to include a teenager with the courage and confidence to articulate such a moving tribute to a captive, somewhat daunting, audience? Or can we trace the character building work of Ian and his team to suggest ‘luck’ isn’t responsible.

The players learn about the tragedy of War and the heroics of allied and enemy service men and women. It’s a fascinating insight into the history and politics that clearly galvanise and promote a far wider appreciation of individual courage, leadership and sacrifice for the greater good.

Walter Tull far left pictured in 1914 with British Army comrades.

When I think back on my time as a young player and reminisce about the good old days, stories of those trips together as a team are never far from conversation. I can’t always recall the most basic of information, or retain the most important of facts, but along with my friends we can, and do get lost, in the happy chat of footballing vacations. The club and Ian are firm advocates of the benefits a residential footballing trip can bring.

The conscious effort to ensure at least one foreign excursion per season for all the age groups testifies that resolve. Supported by his colleagues, trips to Italy for example are coupled with Italian lessons and the cooking and eating of the local cuisines. Cue geographic and cultural insights preceding the trip promoting an awareness and understanding of its people and landscape.  And maybe you have a few additional lovers of all things Italian.

Careers day was another ‘life experience’ session that caught the eye. In conjunction with an external partner and part of an annual dedicated series, the U15’s visit Sky Studios. Working in small teams the players are briefed with real world contemporary issues such as teenage obesity. They then research around the subject and prepare to conduct a ‘live broadcast’ of their newly acquired knowledge.

Identifying their own strengths and interests the players decide on what role they would like to occupy; presenter, camera man, sound engineer, director and so on. After some teaching and tutorials from the respective experts the players put together a news reel the like you would see on Sky News. Cutting from the studio to an outside broadcast and back again. This is all filmed and made available to each player recording their achievements. Could this lived exposure to alternative careers maybe spark an interest for the future should professional football not materialise? I believe so.

Captains Corner with First Team skipper Pierre.

Shared experiences and open dialogue seem a constant with Ian. ‘Captains corner’ is a scheduled meeting with the respected captains and vice captains of all age groups from U13’s upwards. A chance for the players to talk informally with the first team captain. A simple but effective opportunity to bring your age group leaders together to gain insight from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, and Steven Davis before him. This I really like, it provides a team within a team, and draws on experience from respected players throughout the club. Another of the positive learning environments that get ‘buy in’ from all corners of the football club.

Together with the alumni database, and the approach to the released footballer as detailed in the first part of this interview, we are beginning to see the Southampton Way.

Ian, on behalf of the club, sits on the Premier League Player Care committee as one of six invited members. Their remit; to research, discuss, design and implement new initiatives in supporting players’ mental heath and wellbeing. There remains a battle to invest in worthy initiatives, and an unwillingness to discuss the negative affects of the industry.

But the voice of the released footballer is becoming louder. I can’t think of a better person, or football club, to contribute and lead this growing area of responsibility to football and its footballers.

Please hit the link for the first part of the interview https://thefootballfamily.co.uk/the-released-footballer-gone-but-not-forgotten/

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