Tag: Football

Succeeding in life after deselection from football

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Andreas Robinson scoring for Weymouth FC 2021

Andreas Robinson is a product of the much-heralded Southampton Football Club Academy. Having joined as an 8-year-old boy his entire adolescence was immersed in the Southampton Academy environment before deselection at 21. We know adolescence is a critical period of growth and development in which we acquire the skills, attitudes, and behaviours that provide the foundation for thriving in adulthood. At 28 Andreas is thriving!

Currently helping Weymouth FC in their return to the National League the midfielder is days away from graduating from Winchester University with a degree in Physiotherapy. A football career spent in the upper echelons of non-league, he has overcome footballing hardships post deselection to enter the world of physiotherapy and not exit the game. Promotion to the National League with both Havant & Waterlooville and Weymouth FC, he is set to enjoy a 3rd season in English football’s 5th tier. While his name might escape even the most ardent of Southampton supporters, his success in life, and football, is as important to champion and celebrate as that of club skipper James Ward Prowse. Why? Because Andreas represents the ‘many’ in academy football and not the ‘few’.

Robinson makes the Vanarama National League Team of the Week

Over 12,000 boys are involved in any one year at a PL or EFL academy system, with less than 1% of these making the transition to the respected first team, hence the term the ‘few’. Andreas bucked that trend, albeit his one appearance came as an 81st minute substitute in a 2-0 League Cup win over Sheffield Wednesday in 2012. A spate of lengthy and untimely injuries robbed him of much required game time during his 3-year professional contract. His 13-year journey is often judged, as is the case with most academies, on its ‘production line’. Pictures of Lallana, Bale, Walcott, and the like hang proudly on the wall space at the Saints Staplewood training complex, vindication in the football world of a successful academy. My argument is he too should take his place proudly on the production line.

Andreas Robinson in action for Southampton FC

He displays personal qualities of resilience, determination, self-awareness, humility and accountability, which quite possibly stem from his successful journey in academy football. Culture and philosophy are two prominent characteristics synonymous with elite sporting environments, and as such staff take great pride in cementing a set of values and expectations on their players. The very same training field that cultivated his contemporaries; James Ward-Prowse, Callum Chambers, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Harrison Reed, Luke Shaw and Sam McQueen for example, also sowed the seed of success in players not representing Premier League Clubs. The much heralded ‘Southampton Way’ having a positive influence on the characters of those within their system perhaps? I would like to think so!

Upon deselection football scholars are jam packed with transferable skills to enter the workplace. Here is where Andreas represents the ‘many’!

Young talented footballers can offer so much to industry through their exposure to continued personal development that elite sport settings can provide. Through intense competition you gain an awareness of self, accountability for your actions, the ability to lead and represent yourself in everyday tasks, an understanding of team work and ownership of your role in collective achievement. Who wouldn’t want an employee to show such qualities? Many are combining playing with a new career and can look back on their academy days with enormous pride and satisfaction.

At what point can we determine the influence of a football academy in shaping such human qualities and skillsets that allow former players to shine outside of the game? Well this requires greater focus I would say. However, good academies do, and will continue to, be experts in children and coaching and as such can help to nurture successful people.

An overview of discussion points raised;

  1. Advice to young players
  2. Resilience in overcoming injury and set backs
  3. The work of sport psychology
  4. Taking ownership of your football and career choices
  5. Thankful for his Southampton experience & the people he met
  6. Former players joining Player Care staff.

If you’re a parent of child in an academy, or a current player, or perhaps you work in academy football then please listen to Andreas. He’s passionate about helping the academy landscape of today and any aspiring footballer.

Watch the interview here;

https://solent.cloud.panopto.eu/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=5f0355c8-36cc-4550-a771-ad180121b949

So, Hugo what’s Player Care?

There is a new ‘player’ in the support and development of the modern footballer, welcome to the team ‘Player Care’. Among the now ingrained and accepted players like technical coaches, sport scientists, analysts, nutritionists, conditioning coaches, physiotherapists, and educational & welfare officers, we find player care staff building its reputation, and their relevance

I interviewed Hugo Scheckter, former Head of Player Care at West Ham United and posed three generic questions; what is player care? what does it look like in practice? and what player care might look like in the future?  

“For me, player care is prevention, it is a blanket of human interaction and ideas to stem the negative affects of a ‘result’ driven business”. 

This is probably the best description I’ve come across. I’m often asked what player care is and what it involves. I have done it a disservice in truth, but I’ve maintained its purpose is to reduce the stressors of normal life and promote mental wellbeing. In any year, one in four people across the UK will be affected by mental illness. Common mental disorders being depression and anxiety which can have a debilitating impact on the sufferer. Player-specific factors may precipitate or exacerbate anxiety disorders, including pressures to perform and public scrutiny, career uncertainty or dissatisfaction, and injury. 

The human interaction Hugo refers to is the gateway to identifying potential stressors and reducing their significance. This is something that in a high-performance environment that can often go unnoticed. On any given day at the club, its staff, and the playing squad follow a detailed itinerary of start and finish times. Frankly, ‘organised chaos’ would better suit as a description of most training grounds. As a coach you can become consumed by the clock, and your session detail for a group of up to 25 players and miss the subtle signs an individual player may exhibit when in trouble.

It takes a trained eye and an understanding of your players character and ‘normal’ disposition to pick up on behavioural changes. Can you read their body language? Do you know your athlete well enough? 

“We had a player whose mother moved with him and she didn’t speak English. He would be constantly coming in frustrated to training. Observing a change in mood prompted a discussion. We found out he was having to drive her around, translate for her and when he arrived home after a game or training, she would ask him to do things with her that she was unable to do alone. This had gone on for about a month, so we found a local taxi driver from the same area of their home country who could drive her around and translate and help her out. We put him on a monthly contract and the player was suddenly happier and his performances on the pitch improved too”. 

For me, it’s not the scale of the problem that matters, but the ability to recognise there may be an issue, present a resolution and map the outcome. A mother gained her independence and support in a new country and culture, and the players mental wellbeing improved. Great result. Mental wellbeing can be defined as when an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to contribute to his or her community. I think that happened here. 

“I’d like to see some regulation or code of conduct in place to try and make sure the provisions given to all players are as equal as possible”. 

This now makes sense. Hugo has left his role at WHUFC to head up a consultancy-based company on Player Care, player well-being and team operations. As far as I’m aware, this is the first of its kind, and as such The Player Care Group represents innovation. The step away from club attachment might be to realise the very vision of equality among footballers in the level of service and approach each club provide in their player care strategy. When you’re employed by a club your priority is of course to that group of players and staff, the very essence of competition does not lend itself well to cooperation.  As an independent he can offer examples of good practice and effective procedure to promote fairness, equality, and ‘prevention’. 

Voices of the games greats https://www.playercaregroup.co.uk/

“I think clubs are coming around to player care being a differential maker, where the difference in the happiness and player retention from clubs with good player care to those without is clearly shown. It’s a cheap way of clubs making a difference as the clubs don’t pay for the expenses – the only real cost is the employment costs of the people involved”. 

What we do know anecdotally and through the voices of players is this; when they are HAPPY, they play their BEST football. Evidence enough?!

Football is a results’ driven business with a vast array of metrics used to benchmark performance. Subsequently, we know what is below and above benchmark for technical, tactical, and physical behaviours. Thus, the impact of technical coaches can be found in deviations in passing stats and attacking actions. Conditioning coaches can point to an increased number of match day sprints, an impressive standing jump height or a reduced body fat percentage as a means of validating their input and knowledge. When a penalty kick is saved Analysts will replay their video collections on penalty takers and with justification celebrate in the success of the goalkeepers save.  

Player care is the new kid on the block. It needs time to develop, to find its feet and establish empirical evidence as to its impact on player performance. But it will! Today’s Footballers are a constant ‘live’ experiment. Advances in technology and specialist staff can gather the most detailed activity profile of the player and translate their state of readiness both physically and mentally. In a sport awash with finances at the top end, and staff determined to present meaningful recommendations in the support of player development and the football environment, our ability to link player care provision to increased performance levels will arrive. Look out for, and look after the human.

Check out Hugo’s website https://www.playercaregroup.co.uk/

Keywords; Player Care, Mental Health, Wellbeing, Football, Performance

Career transition for the young footballer; words of encouragement

George Branford- Former footballer turned business owner & fitness expert

A career change for any footballer is inevitable. The time will come when you are unable to earn a living playing the game you love. For the younger professional or the scholar failing to earn their first contract, transition is often sudden and involuntary. Deselection at this stage of the footballing journey often leaves only one option, a change in occupation.

So when you find a success story such as George Branford, a now thriving business owner and fitness expert, we are duty bound to share it, celebrate it, and learn from it. George opens with;

“Imagine if you only apply half the effort and discipline it takes to make it in football, and to get as far as you did in the most competitive industry, and put that into a career or business. You’ll not only stand out from the rest, but you will succeed”.

George’s background story is unfortunately not unusual in football. A promising midfield player whose undoubted talent rewarded with a decade on the books of first Chelsea, and latterly, Portsmouth Football Club. Nathaniel Chalobah, Adam Webster and John Swift a few household names to grace the pitch with George during their formative years. The future looked bright as he juggled adolescence with secondary education and focused training sessions, all in pursuit of the dream. Finally, that day came as Portsmouth FC presented George his first professional contract.

From right to left- Nathaniel Chalobah, Adam Webster & John Swift

But almost as soon as it came, it went. At the end of the season George was informed that his contract would not be renewed. He now faces the unknown. Ten years he’d identified as a footballer, so what now? It may be that you are a young player reading this, or chances are you may know someone in this place right now. So please read on. George is determined to show YOU that there is a new passion ready to replace your love of football. YOU can thrive in a new career and YOU can harness those experiences gained from your football education to assist in this major transition.

“My advice for young players going through a career change would be that there is so much more to life than football. Outside the bubble of football you can achieve things you never knew, you can create your own pathway and you no longer need to rely on others opinions to decide on how successful you will be”.

This mindset might seem a long way off for some. When the news of your release arrives there will be TRAUMA. We know the extent of the trauma is often linked to both the ‘timing’, and the lack of ‘control’ in the decision process. Someone has decided your time is up. The more sudden the news, the heavier the potential effect on your mental health and wellbeing. Stress can elevate, confidence drain, and thoughts of failure often manifest. There is no one blue print however, reactions and experiences are individual, so too a persons coping mechanism.

George recalls;

“I actually felt relieved in some respects, I had felt like I wasn’t progressing at all over the last year and knew that I was never going to get an opportunity to play first team football. So I was excited to try a new challenge else where, as it worked out I never managed to find a new club”. 

George (3rd from Right) with fellow Portsmouth FC first year professional players

Straight away you realise George is very self aware. Most probably down to a mixture of his education and the voices of his Portsmouth coaching staff at the time. The idea of a new challenge in football can also present an exciting opportunity. But the realism here is the football industry is tough, unforgiving and ruthless. Chances are limited. What is needed here, is that YOU be proactive. Don’t expect others to search for clubs on your behalf. The best people to help are those that have spent the last few years educating you. It’s your coaches that have the network to open an often closed door. 

YOU will need support, and for George that came through friends and family stating;

“I had little or no support from the club really”. Adding, “I feel clubs could touch base more after being released, but I also recognise now that there was nothing stopping me from calling. So please, pick up the phone and call your coach. Reach out to your sport scientist, psychologist or whoever for advice or a chat”. Great advice!

Thankfully Clubs have revised and improved their after care provisions for players in recent times, often having dedicated personnel responsible for just this. But George is bang on, be proactive, make the call! Trust me the staff will be happy to hear from you. It’s just the nature of the beast that sometimes we forget those that are not in front of us. A gentle reminder and reconnect is often all it takes for support to arrive in abundance.  

George flanked by former Portsmouth Team mates Conor Chaplin & Adam Webster. Friends who’ve become clients of GB Training.

What is important to understand is that through YOUR journey as an apprentice footballer, YOU have experienced and mastered many ‘life skills’.  Defined as ranges of transferable skills needed for everyday life, by everybody, that help people thrive. Sometimes not clearly apparent. But let’s look at the typical player development pathway. 

YOU would have successfully transitioned from foundation phase to elite youth development phase, along the way hitting physical and technical targets. No doubt experienced deselection, spent time on the bench, played up or down a year, suffered and overcome an injury, said hello and farewell to many team mates, and come first or last in countless bleep tests. Think about how many dedicated hours you spent in the video analysis suite critically analysing your performance against the club’s philosophy and your positional role and responsibility within the team structure. Now throw in the countless video clips viewed on upcoming opponents as you unpick their strengths and weaknesses before game day. 

Let’s rephrase the above paragraph in ‘Life Skills’ language. YOU have mastered a range of interpersonal skills including social skills, respect, leadership, communication. YOU have developed personal skills including organization, discipline, self-reliance, goal setting, managing performance outcomes, and motivation. All social skills identified as the most important life skills, YOU are ready for YOUR next challenge. 

George offered this insight in to what is the start point.

“Training was always something I was passionate about throughout my career and doing everything I can in the gym to get better was a priority… once I left playing football professionally, it only felt right to give a role in a gym environment a try. In football you’re educated every day on how to improve your heath and fitness levels, so for me I wanted to take advantage of that, and I absolutely love it”.


George with his happy & healthy clients

George merged his passion for training with the idea of helping and educating others in maximizing their health goals. Noteworthy, is George lent on his education through being, and training, as a footballer to further his chances of becoming a fitness expert. Ask yourself now, what else are you interested in? What parts of your football education can you take with you to a new career? And what do you need to do to start that process?

YOU will see that you’ve acquired some serious transferable skills that employers and entrepreneurs alike desire. YOU have a winning advantage. 

Let’s finish where we started and leave the final words to George; 

“Imagine if you only apply half the effort and discipline it takes to make it in football, and to get as far as you did in the most competitive industry, and put that into a career or business. You’ll not only stand out from the rest, but you will succeed”.

Finally, my thanks to George for the catch up. Check out just how great he is doing by visiting https://georgebranford.co.uk or give him a follow on Instagram @georgebranford 

The released footballer – gone but not forgotten.

Ian Herding is arguably the most important person at Southampton Football Club you’ve probably never heard of. But to all released academy players he is the go to man.

Lost in a mass of dedicated Academy staff befitting the now world renowned Category 1 Academy at their magnificent Staplewood base, the Performance Education and Life Care Officer conducts his pioneering work in typically understated fashion.

Southampton are an innovative football club. It’s a word that most organisations want to be associated with, and all too readily pronounce, but few ratify their claims with substance or evidence. This two-part interview provides insight into good practice with the hope it may spark the imagination of our footballing community. Separated into two themes titled; ‘The released footballer- gone but not forgotten’, and; ‘Life education-the Southampton way’.

How do you define innovation? For me, it’s simple;

“Innovation is anything new, useful, and surprising. Great innovation often leaves you thinking, wow that’s a good idea, why didn’t I think of that”.

None more so evident than their approach to the ‘released player’. While the world wakes to ever increasing stories documenting the struggle of mental health issues of footballers, it’s reassuring to hear that preventative actions have, and are, well under way when it comes to the 99.5% that don’t make it to first team level. Recent cases of bullying, depression, anxiety and unhappiness within Academy football settings are as alarming as they are distressing. Let’s try and redress the balance with some innovation.

With pleasant ‘surprise’ Ian opens his laptop to display the clubs ‘alumni database’. Eight years of data tracking 165 released players at the end of their scholarship (U18). A permanent evolving record of their current playing status, career pathway, and specific educational and vocational support offered by his team/ the club. A database that grows organically through the concerted efforts of its creator, as is customary with a practiced auditor. The crucial part is most notably the human interaction. Ian details their last communication logging the conversations. So much so that with an air of certainty he’s able to update me on some unfamiliar names to the average Southampton fan among this talented crop of 2010/11.

Southampton FC Youth Team 2010/11

The avid Saints fan with just a cursory glance at this youth team photo will probably be able to recognise the fresh faced footballing success stories of Ward-Prowse, Reed, Shaw, Chambers, Isgrove, Turnbull and Hoskins to name a few. But to a former employee pictured with this crop some eight-years past, it was the familiar names of Nicholas, Foot, Curtis, and Young etc. that grabbed my attention. Lee Nicholas was ‘let go’ after his scholarship, and Ian was able to update me on his timeline since. Entering full-time education and gaining qualifications from Loughborough and Solent University, the degree graduate then went on to improve his coaching qualifications with the support of the clubs academy staff acting as mentors. He is now employed as the Coaching and Development Officer in the foundation arm of the club. An FA affiliate tutor he’s also one of the academies foundation phase coaches, completing a full cycle in impressive fashion.    

Southampton Graduates right to left; Chambers, Sinclair, Shaw, Reed, Turnbull, Ward-Prowse.

Perhaps offering the most powerful testament or indictment of the work Ian and his team undertake are these honest opinions of the released player. Personal reflections from the player and their parents on how they perceive Southampton FC’s after care provision seem to vindicate the need and validate the process. What a rich collection of data! The academic in me is itching to investigate the qualitative data and examine player differences and perception (on hold for now). Within the remarks Ian highlights one or two negative statements in which he refers to as “important to appreciate so we can reflect, evaluate and improve our practice”. But on the whole, the feedback is heart warming.

“The club and the people involved with the club did more than enough to prepare myself and the other members of the team for life after football, and I couldn’t be more grateful! The help they supplied us with has led me to the next chapter of my life which is at a University in North Carolina, without the help I was given I would neither be prepared and able to do this without the club and the people within it”.

Player who spent 4 years at Southampton before release at 18.
SFC Youth team in action at Staplewood 2019.

“I will forever be grateful for the time people at the club have spent making sure my time there was the best it could be, but also the time they spent making sure we grew into be good all round people and live good lives whether it was with football or without”


A released Scholar.

In a data driven world why don’t we introduce some numbers. Southampton released 11 players from the U16 group from the 2017/18 season. All 11 players went on to sign a Scholarship at a professional football club, a 100% success rate. The following season 10 players were released of which 7 have signed with professional clubs, 2 have entered higher education, and 1 is unaccounted for at the time of writing. Is this tremendous statistic by chance? No chance.

The club operate an exit strategy for all released players. It is of course the nature of the beast in this occupation, and considered by many academy football practitioners as the toughest part of the job. Ian, aware of the decisions and which player’s will need his support, prior to parent and child meetings begins his work immediately. Acting almost as an agent or intermediary on behalf of the player. Contacting clubs through an extensive network built over time he is able to forward a comprehensive dossier showcasing their talents to any prospective new employer.

The detail is exhaustive. A combination of written documents and video files offer a true reflection of the players’ performance metrics. It’s true that since the inception of the The Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) in 2012, accountability at club and staff level has increased tenfold. Every staff member associated with that player’s development contribute to a mix of objective and subjective information. Technical coaches offer summary of their skills, highlighting strengths and weaknesses supported by game statistics and periodic performance reviews; analysts capture game and training footage; conditioning coaches map the physical load, training data, and current maintenance or production programming, with a mix of performance measurements that chronologically define the player’s output. Some CV!

It is not always an easy process for both Ian and the player. The administrative duties are far-reaching , player incomings and outgoings within an academy take considerable expertise and knowhow. Notwithstanding the logistics of transport, accommodation and kit, there is always the overriding governance of the Premier League, the Football League, the Football Association, and the club’s internal policy and procedures to comply and satisfy. On behalf of one individual Ian contacted 54 clubs, with the player unsuccessfully trialing at 9.

Today, the player remains unattached and Ian remains determined.

Please hit the link for the second part of the interview; https://thefootballfamily.co.uk/life-education-the-southampton-way/