Rob Rooksby, of BAFA's Touchdown Football programme, recently got in touch with us championing the work the programme has done in spreading the game. Intrigued, he offered to write a piece detailing the successes they've had in the programme's early stages. Looking out of the windows at DC Towers the other day, I noticed that the green shoot of hope in youth football development in schools had got a little bigger. The sun was shining and I was curious to see if there were any leaves or flowers on it, so I decided to take a closer look. I'm sure there are those in the Britball community that would love to see kitted pee-wee football introduced in to primary schools, but this is simply not going to happen - ever. Apart from the absence of specialised coaches that also happen to be teachers, the cost of equipment, the threat of "corporate manslaughter" hanging over governor's heads, the misguided belief that football is as safe as inflatable sumo wrestling, we simply do not have the cultural understanding, finances or skill set to support such a development on such a large scale. That said, there's always more than one route to the top of the mountain, and if that route is pretty or colourful some of the way, is that a bad thing? Easter 2015. Major changes in all aspects of my life led to me sitting in a one-bed flat, having taken early retirement from a twenty seven year teaching career, with a logo and a responsibility of getting football into schools on a nationwide, mass-participation scale. Not much of a challenge then... Eighteen months later, we start the new academic year with two school programmes, the first being the direct cause of the second! The Touchdown Programme came first. In November 2015, as I slowly built up the programme and started to engage schools and volunteers from the football community, a chance exchange on a conference call led me to Loughborough for a meeting at the HQ of the Youth Sport Trust, a charity in place for twenty years, charged by Sport England to deliver the "School Games", a school competition based programme funded to the tune of £280m pounds, involving 450+ paid organisers to arrange competitions ranging from inter-school to national in forty-one different sports. With many of the Rio games medallists coming through the system, it was not an insignificant party to be invited to! In January 2016, American football got its invite to the party and this September potentially one of the most important steps forward for youth football took place. American football was now being offered to more than 21,500 schools in England. The intervening months were 24/7 to ensure all requirements were in place. The trust has built its reputation within the education sector as a market leader in delivering sport and physical activity to young people. It bench marks the competition formats and challenge activities that NGBs have to offer against existing educational and PE criteria. It also ensures that those bodies offer the same inclusive quality. Not an easy process to negotiate. A number of pre-launch trials were conducted with students across the country, from Derbyshire to London. A meeting at the NFL offices in London secured official support, and permission to put "the Shield" onto the Youth Sport Trust materials. After waiting for a publicity blackout put in place by Sport England to end, we could let the football community hear the news. Nine frustrating months of secret conversations with select individuals around the country finally came to an end, and we were up and running! Early signs are very pleasing, but the first hard count of numbers won't be released until January. Will it be a superb first term or a "must try harder"? We'll have to just wait and see, but the future of American football at school level suddenly seems a whole lot brighter! Thanks to Rob Rooksby for getting in touch with Double Coverage and writing this piece. To learn more about Rob and his team's work, check out the "Teaching Football" page on the BAFA site.
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