PFA Youth Advisor George Bowyer caught up with the Academy Dad
When my own child was beginning their academy journey I did, at times, feel slightly out of my depth due to not fully understanding the system and its processes. As a result I began to conduct my own research and what I discovered is that there is a distinct lack of information surrounding this unique world of a professional academy football. Through many subsequent conversations with other parents it was evident that many had felt the same way, which is ultimately why this blog was created.
One of the sites I located during my research was that of the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) and more importantly its Youth Advisory Service division. I was fortunate enough to recently get some time to discuss the organisation's purpose with George Bowyer who heads up this particular area at the PFA.
Should your child either be entering or is an existing academy player I highly recommend reading George's comments below as the organisation is a great place to obtain independent advice should it be required.
What is your own experience of playing within the academy?
I joined the academy system in the u15’s age group with Rochdale Football Club. When considering that players can now officially register with academies from as young as u9’s and many operate pre-development centres, my introduction to the academy system came late. However, like a lot of players I experienced many ups and down’s during my time and although I didn’t have the 10–15-year professional career I hoped for, being part of the academy system with a professional club shaped me as a person.
Your role is now with the PFA Youth Advisory Service. Can you advise how this opportunity came to fruition and explain the purpose of the organisation?
I completed the scholarship programme with Rochdale Football Club however was not made an offer of a professional contract. Throughout my time on the programme, I was professional and tried to apply myself both on and off the pitch as diligently as possible. This paid off in the end as my League Football Education Regional Officer (Craig Skinner) recommended myself for a role that had become available at the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA).
The PFA is the trade union for all current and former footballers and scholars in the Premier League, the FA Women's Super League and the English Football Leagues. Since the formation of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) in (2012), the PFA formed and developed the PFA Youth Advisory Service (2013) to provide a service which offered free confidential advice and guidance to academy players, trialists and their parents and guardians. I assisted with the service development at the initial stage and have been heading the service ever since.
Player welfare and mental wellbeing is such an important area. Does the service offer any assistance for players that may be reluctant to address this subject with the club itself?
Understanding the obstacles and challenges that players can be faced with during their development. The PFA has an online support platform called the PFA Safety Net, this online resource enables access to an exclusive online confidential support platform, providing tailored information on mental and emotional well-being and other key factors that supports the player and person. This online resource is accessible to academy players, trialists, parents, guardians and club staff as a means of resource.
Are there any recommendations or advice you would give parents who either have a child already within the professional academy system or are in the process of joining one?
For parents, guardians and relatives I would advise they consider the commitment that is being made and fully understand what is being entered in to at the time of registering. Support and assist their child or relative with the challenges that they may be faced with in this competitive environment and should they have any questions or queries throughout then the PFA Youth Advisory Service is available to assist them.
For registered academy players, its about enjoying their football in the academy system for as long as it last. Being part of the system is an achievement in itself and treat each training session and game as a fresh opportunity to learn, develop and improve.