Crewe Alexandra apprentices have connected with the community alongside studying for their Apprenticeship in Sporting Excellence by running introductory skills sessions for pupils at local primary schools.
Arranged through Reaseheath College, the Academy players hosted 26 pupils from Millfields Primary School. They also ran a similar tournament-based event at Highfields Academy for Year 3 students.
Lauren Goff, Lecturer in Sports Performance, told LFE: “We run some practical units, such as coaching, rules and regulations and health and safety. Rather than just addressing these topics in the classroom, we like to give the apprentices some practical and social experiences.
“We’ve been working with a local primary school in Nantwich for the past couple of years. The Headmaster, Phil Whelan, is an ex-footballer. We approached him and he was more than happy to bring some of his primary school children in and be part of various sessions.
“The apprentices have also been involved in the planning of these events, so we encouraged them to develop the whole session, assessing risks, planning the different drills and also putting a tournament together.”
In addition to achieving the qualification and integrating with the local community, the initiative also provides the apprentices with the opportunity to develop themselves as people away from their football and classroom environments.
Goff said: “They’ve really adapted to these challenges with enthusiasm and professionalism. They have developed their communication skills from working with individuals they have not worked with before. It’s a great experience and situation to develop their interpersonal skills and moreover life skills.
“Some of them will go on and have good football careers but they all need to consider alternatives. Some may want to stay within the game where there are career opportunities in coaching, sport science, etc. Others may wish to pursue completely different careers which need a different type of skill. This wider experience of the ‘outside world’ may help in that preparation.”
Eighteen-year-old striker Malachi Linton said: “The schoolchildren really enjoyed it. Coming to our club and our environment was a great experience for them and you could tell they were really grateful for the opportunity.
“Coaching is something that a lot of footballers think about after their playing career is over, so having an early experience of it is fantastic. We were able to work on leadership, communication and there was also a psychological aspect to it.
“There was also some preparation involved, in addition to the practical element. We had to analyse health and safety procedures related to bringing the children in. This included checking the surfaces, checking the goal posts and the netting, making sure all the equipment is in good condition, just to assess the risks and ensure the children were in a safe environment.”
First-year apprentice Andrew Walklate added: “I remember when I was six or seven and you look at an Academy player and you want to be in that position, so hopefully now I can inspire the kids and show it is possible to get to this level.
“I think I thrived in that environment because I’m quite good at talking to people, so when we did the officiating I was always vocal and helping the kids.
“There are a lot of things that you don’t really consider to be a problem, but then you realise that certain things can be a hazard. You also learn a lot about the importance of communication and leadership that can then relate to being out on the pitch.”
Collaboration with the primary schools has also incorporated former England Under-21 international Phil Whelan, now a headmaster attending these events and inspiring the apprentices to recognise the importance of education, as well as the need to be able to contemplate a career that may not involve top level football.
Effusive with his praise, Whelan said: “Our pupils loved the experience of visiting Reaseheath and sampling the atmosphere of a professional football club. The apprentices were excellent throughout the session.
“The coaching was delivered in a fun way, with a variety of drills and practices used to develop the children’s skills. It was fantastic to see the level of maturity the Crewe apprentices displayed throughout our visit and Millfields would love a return visit at some point in the future.”
Walklate continued: “You might not think that there could be that sort of pathway from being a footballer, but when you see people that have taken that journey and you talk to them about how they managed to do it, then it’s really helpful because it shows that it is possible and encourages you to keep pushing during the tough times when it may seem like a dead-end.”
This feature is included in Issue 38 of LFE’s Touchline magazine.