Earlier this week BAFA shared their next step in the redevelopment of the Great British Under 19s National Team, with the announcement of a new series of combine-type events.
— British Am. Football (@BAFAOfficial) February 9, 2018
While the announcements on social media may not have gone into any details, the announcement on BritishAmericanFootball.org detailed what could be an exciting step forwards in the development of both the U19 AND U17 GB teams.
Under the guidance of Head Coach Jason Henry, the new Team GB will boast the largest coaching line up in the country as they look to establish TWO teams within the national structure.
Moving forward, Team GB will offer both a chance for players aged from 16-19 in the U19 GB Team, and importantly, those 13-16 to join the programme and form part of the all new U17 GB Team, which will also be competing as an 11 man contact football squad. The aim of this new squad is to not only support player development on the field as these younger players gain exposure to 11 man football but off the field as well in developing the skills and knowledge to compete at an international level and higher from a younger age.
With the goal to have international double headers and running two teams under one leadership structure, the aim is to develop younger footballers within the programme for several years.
The GB combines will be open to all players who meet the following criteria. Combines will be run in partnership with the Dynamic Sports Academy (DSA) and give coaches the opportunity to assess and develop player skills, in addition to having key measurements which players will be able to look to improve year on year.
The Combine format would see hopeful national team players complete combine activities, similar to that of the NFL Combine or a College Pro day, followed by positional work with GB Coaching staff.
Attendance of one of the four Combines was outlined as an eligibility requirement for selection to attend GB training camps later in the year.
However, reaction to the Under 19’s combine has been far from universally positive.
Innovation and Regional Focus
There was praise for the programme taking its first significant step forwards since the appointment of Coach Jason Henry in March last year. Alongside this, there was appreciation of the effort put in by Coach Henry and U19’s GM Verity Brawn to announce an innovative new method of squad selection.
Similarly, the sentiment of the community supported the regional approach the Combine scheme has chosen – aiming at four regional combine sessions and thus reducing travel costs and hopefully increasing participation.
However, there were also some significant concerns raised that have seen the announcement face growing, vocal, backlash – particularly in relation to a couple of key components of the scheme.
Cost restricting participation?
The immediate primary concern of many was the proposed £55 fee to attend the combines, seen as particularly high when considering the age range of the participants involved. A number of very well-respected Coaches within the community immediately spoke out against the cost, noting it would price a lot of very talented players out of even the first round of involvement.
Many vocal members of the British American Football community have queried where the fees will go, noting a typical GB Lions senior event charges only £5-£10 a head.
In response to the announcement, a petition requesting a removal of the £55 fee has been garnering a fair amount of attention, with over 700 signatures so far.
Dynamic Sports Academy involvement raising eyebrows
A second area of backlash was the announcement that Dynamic Sports Academy (DSA) would be running the Combine elements of the events in partnership with BAFA.
Many have queried the necessity of involving a third party organisation in a National Team trials process, and Head Coach Jason Henry‘s strong links with DSA through his role as London Blitz U19s Head Coach have raised concerns that an appropriate tender process may not have been followed.
While DSA have experience running combine events, and have had some notable recent successes in players they have worked with finding exciting opportunities to further their football careers in the United States, many question the need to involve a third party in the process at such as early stage in the redevelopment of the programme and query whether this is a contributing factor to the high costs of running the scheme.
GB U19s Respond
In response to the feedback, Coach Jason Henry released the following statement, via General Manager, Verity Brawn:
Dear BAFCA Community,
I thought it important to elaborate on the opening press release for the launch of the new GB U19 Programme.
To begin I would like to focus on our mission.
Why we do it
We are here to inspire, nurture and grow the talent we have in the UK. We are inspirational and leaders, helping make real the dreams and aspirations of those who are driven to join us on this path.
How we do it
We do not look for pure talent, we look for ‘potential’! We structure out the delivery of the U19 GB Programme around ‘potential and development’. We offer combines as it gives us the tools to spot potential and offer feedback across both athletic and football development.
We focus on younger age groups and hold a long term outlook to grow the player and the game.
We seek innovative and new ways to inspire and change the culture in the UK.
What we do (BAFA)
The promotion of the game to people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities and the provision of opportunities for their engagement and development.
The coaching staff
Since the initial announcement of the new programme last year, the submissions from coaches to join us have been phenomenal. Through this I am pleased to say I have been able to put together a fantastic staff of 21 coaches across both the U17 and U19 aspects of the programme.
This staff is made up of coaches from every age range in the UK and also brings in expertise from the high school, collegiate and professional levels of the US and Europe. In putting together this staff we have built a team of coaches that will allow this programme to thrive for years to come.
I cannot wait to start announcing the staff over the coming weeks – and I know they are all as excited as I am to get to work.
To ensure the ongoing development of young athletes in the UK, we will be partnering with the Dynamic Sports Academy (DSA) to offer numerous combines across the country each year. Every combine event will include the athletic testing and football coaching by the GB staff, including positional work, install and skelly.
The focus of the combines is on athlete development through creating a fair and inclusive environment that allows for baseline testing for all participants. Through the expertise of the DSA coaches, athletes will gain insight on how best to train for each of these drills and we will be able to ensure they are run properly and recorded correctly for use in potential recruitment opportunities.
By running the combine testing, this also means coaches will be able to actively track athlete development over the years and identify athletic potential and development areas in players. The combine setup also ensures a competitive football environment that allows coaches to assess an athletes mental abilities, such as how focused they are, how they interact with others, how they react to performance and expectations, etc.
Importantly, those that have attended a combine but are not invited to that year’s GB Camp, will still have access to the coaching staff, their measurables, and will be encouraged to attend again next year following improvement related to their development points.
If I could, I would offer all things related to football for free, but this is sadly not possible for us. While the cost may seem high, we want to ensure you understand that the focus should remain on the significant value to the athlete at these events along with the ongoing support they will receive.
On top of that, I would like to clarify that any returning combine attendee would not have to pay the full fee to attend further combines (whether in the same year of subsequent years) and would come in at discounted rate.
This programme is not about making money. It is about a commitment from the staff to help young athletes gain knowledge, experience and opportunity in this sport. These athletes will be given the opportunity to work with some of the best coaches in the UK, and I would like to emphasize that this is not about a scout watching a game and calling a player up to the squad. It is about our staff taking in as many players as we can and improving their abilities year on year.
As for underlying costs, please consider the venue hire (we are targeting high quality 3G pitches, sometimes multiple pitches), offsetting transport costs for both equipment and coaches travelling long distances, GB training kit for attendees, registration costs, and importantly, onsite medical cover.
Please note that we weighed up the benefits of cost savings through reducing the number of combines to just one location, and the potential increased travel costs and regional bias this could create, against having these four events spread across the country to reach as many players as possible and reducing their travel time and costs. I strongly believe this even spread across the country is the best option for us to reach as many players as possible while limiting their burden for long haul travel.
Now that the staff, mission and initial plans are in place, we will of course look for additional funding and sponsorship and of course hope to see discounted rates by booking venues further in advance. As you can all imagine, the startup costs in year one can often be high and once the programme is in full swing and we begin to find additional support both internally and from outside backers, we hope to be able to continue to reach our goal of reducing costs as much as possible for all young athletes playing this game.
This is about a long term goal and getting the programme started with a solid platform of coaches and players around the country, and also acts as the the tool for us to continue working with all the talent across the country with clear objectives on what they need to do to continue their dreams of playing for the country, or reaching higher levels.
I hope this clarifies some of the points being raised and I look forward to building a programme we are all proud off.
I am happy to answer any questions you may have via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yours in sport,
A quick and extensive response from the U19 Programme, with some useful clarifications and explanations. Notable is the previously unshared information regarding the successful appointment of a 21-person staff for the programme, and outlining the programme’s goals and focus.
However, many have countered that response does little either to accommodate the community feedback about pricing, or clarify the necessity or nature of the relationship with DSA.
BAFA’s Board themselves are also yet to comment on the matter.
What are your thoughts #BritballNation?
Great to see progress? Or concerned about the costs involved?