Review of Chiltern Academy Project 1st season 2014-15
Author: Paul Main
Date: 25th June 2015
The academy has been a broad success in the view of the parents, players, coaches and administrators. Issues have occurred which need to be addressed, however, I think all involved can be fairly pleased with their efforts. It’s now up to us to review the structure and decide how to proceed. As administrator I have set out the issues, lessons learned and come up with a series of recommendations for the forthcoming season should we wish to continue.
Following a meeting of coaches and administrators on 24th June the following decisions were made
- The Academy will continue but with a reduction in sessions to 4 for the forthcoming season
- There will be no trials and selections will be done by Academy coaches Adam Fuller and Steve Davies and suitable notifications will be made via me. Any coaches who wish players who have not participated before to be considered for the Academy can contact Adam or Steve to discuss inclusion at any time
- Adam and Steve to design sessions with consideration to feedback
- Individual sides where possible, joint where not.
- Managers to inform me of players selected
Herts Junior League:
- Structure of leagues to remain, however, all matches will be played over 4 designated days
- A volunteer is sought, a participant wishing to enhance their CV may find the role attractive
The Chiltern Academy was created to provide a training environment for the best and most promising juniors in Herts and Beds following discussions between Paul Main, Adam Fuller and Steve Davies and a subsequent meeting of interested parties.
The programme was structured so that there were trials for all interested youngsters where the coaches assessed not just ability but also a range of other attributes. Subsequent to that 5 sessions were planned to rotate around various centres in Herts and Beds to reflect the inclusive nature of it.
Now as the season has ended it’s appropriate to review the situation and make a decision as to whether to carry or not and if it is then what changes, if any need to be made to the programme.
At the final session and by e-mail a short survey was circulated and of the 41 participants there were 10 formal responses from players, 12 from parents and a further 4 informal responses.
Above are the formal results (note 2 and 3 don’t add up for parents and that is because the parents didn’t feel qualified to comment as they simply dropped off and picked up) for the objective questions.
In summary, it’s a pretty convincing endorsement of what we are doing.
Comments and informal feedback
There were 3 common themes on the feedback from both players and parents and one common one from players only.
· More matches and competitions
· Improve communication
· Create a website/social media presence
· And from the players – more technical coaching
In addition the only comment which fell outside these broad categories related to very elite players and I will address that too.
Addressing the Issues
More Matches and Competitions
Having discussed this with the main coaches there is agreement that this is an issue. Our proposal regarding the Herts league is somewhat radical in as much as we feel there is much to be gained by adopting a more holistic approach to the junior programme.
Currently there are differing levels of engagement by parents and players regarding the tournament circuit. Some understanding it better than me to others with little understanding of the system etc. to such an extent that many are unaware that there are tournaments taking place at all far less the relative values. In Appendix A I have set out the pyramids for both training and competition.
It should be pointed out that in terms of training and teams, the selection process is bottom to top and will be a reflection of where the player is currently training and also their sanctioned tournament results (club Championships and below are not sanctioned by ES&R). It’s also important to highlight that ALL types of tournaments have a vital role to play in junior development and many Counties have no entry level ones.
A significant objective of the squads was to support the juniors to maximise their potential both for the County and as individuals. The coaches unanimously agree they will achieve this by entering more Open events. In this season’s handbook it was explicitly stated that participants in the Chiltern Academy would be expected to compete in the Beds Junior Open, not all did.
In the forthcoming season it is hoped that there will be a local Silver Event and there will definitely be another Beds Junior Open. In addition the schedule for the squads will take into account the popular Mega Series Events (one leg of which will be in Luton) which is a series of one day Open competitions which take place across East Region when the junior calendar is finalised. It was striking that some of the newer players/parents involved in the squad were surprised, if not shocked by the step up in quality that they faced when playing in the Beds Open.
In addition to entries into individual competitions there are also Inter County matches and of course the Herts Junior League.
The first proposal is that we continue as we did this season for Inter County matches i.e. where possible each County will field its own side, where not we will field a joint side. Touching on communication, it would be helpful if team managers could let a central person know who has been selected as it would help non-selected players know that the matches are actually taking place and they simply haven’t been selected.
A revamp of the current Herts league has been agreed after much discussion. Rather than the current “traditional” fixtures, the proposal is that we allocate 4 days during the season where one club hosts several fixtures to complete all the fixtures on those days..
The benefits in this proposal is ease of management for hosts, dovetail squads, more matches on an individual day, similar to Inter County, thus preparing players for that level of intensity.
It’s probably worth pointing out that LDSC actually entered a side into the Bucks league which meant that they had matches pretty much every fortnight and the players really enjoyed, and benefitted from that. That may not be suitable for all clubs and players, but it would be remiss not to mention it.
In addition it is known that some academy players are based at clubs which do not enter teams into any junior leagues. There ought to be no objections to those players pseudo joining another club to allow them to take part in these proposed four competition days.
As I have been doing the admin this issue is probably down to me. Clearly I don’t have time (despite suggestions to the contrary!) to phone individuals about squads, however, I will endeavour to make things clearer and more succinct. As proposed above, if County team managers could let me know dates, teams and opposition when they know I am happy to forward BY E-MAIL to all squad participants so everyone knows what is going on. Having said that, I cannot, in all honesty, think I can do much more that I currently do which is e-mail diary at the start of the season then reminders before each session. If someone wishes to do more, please step forward.
Website/Social Media presence
I wholeheartedly support the idea of having some dedicated web space referenced from a wider Herts and Beds site. Similarly in this day and age some social media presence is required. Having said both of that, I know that Beds has a barely functioning website administered by a retiree in Spain and Herts is run currently by Derek Thorpe and to be brutally honest I have neither the expertise, nor the time to do either. Derek is happy to continue running the Herts website, it simply needs a volunteer to supply content and administer the social media side. It is believed that Stefan Faulkner runs a Facebook page and I will liaise with him about how best to proceed.
Coaches simply need to bear that in mind going forward.
Coaches and admin feedback
In line with everyone else I think it’s been a positive journey. It hasn’t been perfect by any stretch of the imagination, however, given it’s the first time we have done this we have got more right than wrong. The only substantial error was on the penultimate squad where miscommunication, that area again, meant that a coach ended up in the wrong place and hadn’t booked courts – we were lucky to get away with that.
Having said that there are some things we have learned.
There is a majority view that the initial process should have been more selective rather than as inclusive as it became. The reason for making it inclusive was honourable in that as a team it was felt the structure could be made to work to accommodate everyone who was interested. However by doing so it became clear that some players didn’t feel the need to commit as much as they might otherwise have done had some juniors not made it. At the top end too, when some declined it may have been wise to alert the very elite who had accepted that they may not gain as much as expected from training. (I would like to point out the converse of that was that they were seen very much as role models for the younger ones, so consideration ought to be given as to how to incorporate that into future squads)
If we are to accept that the squads are aimed at the best prospects, then as Counties we need to look at the processes for encouraging those who don’t qualify to be given an environment to improve, similarly selected players need to understand they need to do more than simply turn up to improve, but need to work outside the 4 squad days on their improvement.
The proposal is that the coaching team make the selection for who is invited to participate and club coaches are alerted to the fact that they can nominate players for inclusion at any time during the season.
Cost and content
As the stats show there was widespread positivity regarding the cost and content although there are a few specific observations such as more technical coaching, but also the incredibly positive feedback from the fitness based session in St Albans. Consideration could be given to doing a fitness test at the start of the season followed up with exercises to be done at home, with an end of season test done to track progress. ES&R are developing individual player development software to track this kind of thing and that will be closely monitored to see how Chiltern can use that.
In terms of cost, the recommendation would be not to make a material change in the fees and dependent on decisions on other items a budget will be drafted aiming to produce a small surplus to make up for the loss in the season just gone.
Odds and ends
At the time of writing, England Squash and Racketball had yet to finalise all of their junior calendar and until they do we are unable to issue the squad dates, however, within a week or so I expect that a full calendar will be issued with squad, Inter County and other key competition dates.
Over the coming days the coaches will decide on base numbers for the squads along with their duration before notifications are circulated.
See Appendix document below.
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