Setting up a succesful youth academy: The basics.

    For any football or soccer club to survive, there are only a few roads to go down.

    Why? Because it is very expensive, maintaining a football club, on every level.

    A lower tier club does not have the big sponsor deals to help them pay the player wages. And yes, even in the lowest tiers of football clubs pay their players wages.

    How do clubs manage those financial obligations? Possibly by having a chairman that keeps the club afloat, which is something that can be seen from the lowest tier to the highest. Or by becoming a club that aims to develop and sell prospects.

    Lower tier clubs though do not have the potential income from player transfers to rely on, as is seen at clubs aiming to produce quality players through their youth academies. Those players can then go on to star in the first team for a few seasons after which they can be sold for a premium. A system perfected by Ajax Amsterdam, which has also been put to good use by Portuguese powerhouses Benfica and FC Porto.

    So, if lower tier clubs cannot profit from such player sales – what is the use of investing in a youth academy?

    Well, thanks to a system put in place by FIFA in 2001 (in the aftermath of the Bosman-ruling) even the smallest of clubs can benefit from having been part of the football education of a former youth player now turned pro.

    There is the system of “training compensation” and also the “Solidarity Mechanism”.

    Training compensation occurs when a player signs his first professional contract, plus each time he is transferred internationally up until and including the season he turns 23. What happens exactly, is that each club that trained the player between the age of 12-21 gets compensated for it. The formula used is based upon the level of the training club, the age of the player, and how long he trained there.

    As for the solidarity mechanism: each time a professional player makes an international transfer and a transfer fee is paid, 5% is divided between the clubs that trained the player between the age of 12 to 23. For transfers before the age of 23, 0.5% is deducted from the original 5% per year under 23. Clubs that trained the player between the age 12 to 16 are valued at 50% compared to the subsequent years.

    Fifa’s clearing house makes sure that each club gets what they are owed, which is a huge step up from before, when clubs had to contact (and sometimes beg) the new clubs of their former player themselves to have any hope of getting some compensation. Now, the clearing house can check the so-called player passport, where all the player’s previous clubs are listed. That way, they know which club should be compensated when an international transfer with a transfer fee occurs.

    The clearing house then invoices the new club, and after they get the payment can distribute the solidarity compensation to the training clubs.

    So, this is already a good reason to invest in a youth academy as a football club.

    But what makes an academy stand out, or what are even the basic necessities for a decent academy?

    Let’s start with the basic necessities.

    Any youth training program is only as good as the trainers that are present.

    Trainers that have the right qualifications for each age group are absolutely key assets.

    Let’s not forget about accomodation either. Decent training pitches, and ample equipment to use in training are also key factors in developing quality academy prospects.

    Last but not least, is a solid organizational structure, with capable people on the right spots.

    How should a youth academy be organized?

    Well it all depends on how big the club is, how many youth teams there are, and what the budget allows for of course.

    The basic structure of any youth academy however looks like this:

    Club Management => Youth Academy Management => Academy Coaching Staff

    Which is a basic view on what can become extremely detailed.

    The detailed structure of a world class youth academy would look something like this for example:

    Club Management => Academy Director => Head of Coaching => Coaches for: B-team, U19, U18, U16, U15, U14, U13, U12, U11, U10, U9. Assistant coaches. Goalkeeping coaches. Video & Data Analysts. Individual coaches.

    In total about 30 full-time employees. And even more staff can be counted in supporting departments.

    How do you judge a youth academy?

    Each youth academy should be looked at by asking one question: is it currently in line with the vision/mission of the club? Is it helping the club to get where it wants to be?

    If so, great. If not, then it is time to analyse the situation and see where the necessary upgrades or additions are required.

    Setting up or grading up a Youth Academy.

    A crucial role in each youth academy is that of the academy’s director. Not only is he/she the link between the club and the academy, they also need to maintain proper communications between all stakeholders of the academy. Players and their parents, coaches, and all other staff. It is vital to set up regular meetings to discuss player development and the general wellbeing of all involved. This way whenever some issue arises, the director will be able to respond to it quickly so that things can’t escalate further.

    The academy’s Head of Coaching has the task to oversee the academy coaching staff, and to ensure that the vision of the club is reflected in the education and coaching of its youth players.

    To be fair, each role at a youth academy is a crucial part of the whole. An academy where every staff member is skilled and happy in doing their job, will always excell.

    How does one keep staff happy? By paying them enough, of course. Something that needs to be kept in mind whenever the club receives a training compensation or solidarity contribution. It is all too easy to take the money and use it towards player acquisitions and a quick boost to the club’s playing level. First and foremost, it should be used to reward those working day in day out to provide the club with those quality prospects. Whatever remains after that, should by all means go towards the club’s further development.

    It cannot be underestimated how much a club can benefit financially from a quality youth academy.

    When your club reaches such a level where it can sign its own youth players to a professional contract, it should become the club’s ambition to keep those players at the club intil they are at least 21 and they have played some seasons for the club’s first team. This way, not only will the training compensation and solidarity contribution on future transfers increase but the club itself will also be able to receive a more substantial transfer fee when bigger clubs come knocking.

    Also, for each youth player that gets the opportunity to play in the first team, it means that the club did not have to acquire an external player. Which is indeed very cost effective.

    Any other benefits besides the financial ones?

    Why yes of course. There is the benefit of social engagement, strengthening the ties between the club and the local community due to local players achieving success at the club.

    I am the chairman of a football club without a youth academy worthy of the name. How do I go about setting things right?

    Feel free to contact us for any advice or assistance. We can make an analysis of your club and academy, and provide you with a detailed view on what can be done to improve things. Not only on the matter of a youth academy even. Through our analysis we can assess in what areas your club can improve overall.

    Also the case for schools, colleges, and universities in the US. Want to improve your soccer program but aren’t entirely sure how? Contact us to find out what we can do to assist you!

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