Sean Van Staden
Columnist
4 minute read
28 Jun 2014
10:00 am

Are youth football academies just a fad?

Sean Van Staden

Youth football in South Africa has seen a rise in the establishment of academies in the hope of luring the best talent to their clubs and their teams.

Sean van Staden

If you ask any coach the question: “Are academies in South Africa any good?” you will probably be met with a long conversation about the poor state of football in South Africa.

I am perplexed at why some clubs call their “elite” teams the “academy structure” when 95% of all academies don’t have the basic requirements they should have.

Does your academy have a resident physiotherapist to deal with injuries you sustained at practice or in a game?

Does your academy have a biokineticist that screens you regularly for alignment issues and muscle imbalance associated with your specific sport?

Do you have a sports scientist who has assessed you to determine your own and your team’s weaknesses?

Is there a sustainable progression programme in place?

How about after an injury? Does your coach know how to get you match-fit, coming out of a severe injury or does he just put you back into the game and act like you were never injured?

Does your team have a resident or contracted sports psychologist who has implemented a mental toughness programme to get the best out of you, and is he available to deal with life’s challenges which you may bring to your game?

Does your academy structure have an outsourced team doctor where all problems are addressed from one reference point?

Does your coach have the right accredited Safa levels or Fifa level accreditation to give you a world- class training session?

Do you have a team manager who manages all of the above players’ information through an online database? Does he communicate all your previous injuries and concerns to the appropriate professionals?

I will be fair and say, if you answered “No” to at least four of these questions, then I am afraid it’s time you asked your academy the right questions. If you so happen to sign a youth contract of between one and five years, my suggestion is you get down on one knee and pray that you have the Lionel Messi football gene because you are not going to reach your potential on your own.

My best advice to parents is, “Be your own academy”. So-called “Academies” can’t afford to pay their coaches well, so what makes you so sure that they are going to invest in necessary professionals which could easily cost them over R2 million a year. They are not going to and you are never going to have a proper academy structure unless the club makes a business out of it.

If you are a young athlete, you need to hunt down the best, most qualified, most passionate and youth-friendly coach available. They are the ones who will impact your career in a positive way.

You also need personal skills development and at this point in time, and only one franchise in South Africa I can think of are doing it, and doing it well. If you are a young athlete in need of developing “personal” skills and confidence, then this is an absolute must. Some of my athletes who have been on this particular programme for over a year just ooze confidence, poise and ball skill.

Next in line is to get assessed with video analysis by a sports science company. Not only can they profile you against other athletes your own age, they can screen you for potential risk of injuries associated with poor running mechanics and then formulate an action plan and show you a road map to perform at a high performance level for your age.

Last, but not least the sports psychologist. Quite easily the most underrated asset missing in your toolbox. The brain is a complicated piece of machinery. A sports psychologist should be seen as someone who has a torch in the darkness, with the tools to get you out of the maze with the least bumps, scratches and bruises. Mental toughness is a skill acquisition, and the right person for that job is a sports psychologist.

At the end of the day, your club are doing their best, considering they don’t have the funds to run a proper academy, so the best is for you to be your own academy.

If you would like any of the contact details of the professionals we use and recommend, Tweet me on SeanVStaden.