Barrow AFC expand youth set-up to include younger kids from wider area
AS any long-time supporter of the game will tell you, footballers seem to get younger and younger every year.
At Barrow AFC, they have taken steps to ensure that is the literal truth this season.
The Bluebirds have expanded their performance centre to include under-eights, under-nines and under-10s levels for the first time – with more than 200 youngsters now operating under the club's banner.
New Talent Development Centre (TDC) and Emerging Talent Centre (ETC) squads have been established at all three age levels, responding to the demand to expand their existing programme.
The three age groups – for children in Years 3, 4 and 5 at school – have been structured in a different way to those already in place at under-11s up to under-16s.
Rather than a single squad made up of the best talent from the Barrow and District Junior Football League – although recent developments mean the geographical span across all age-groups has also increased, more of which later – the TDC and ETC will operate in tandem.
While the TDC is seen as the natural progression of the existing structure, featuring the cream of the crop, and the ETC for those just below them, there is the potential to move between them, reflecting the constant state of flux and development among such young players.
One coach will oversee each age-group, allowing them to asses the youngsters in tri-weekly training sessions, while a scouting group made of up centre staff and Barrow JFL coaches will keep an eye on them when they play for their club sides.
The regular Mini Bluebirds and Junior Bluebirds open coaching sessions for youngsters aged between three and seven will continue to be operated as well, along with the successful Only Girls Allowed programme.
Development centre assistant head Liam Reid is thrilled to see the expansion of the club's youth set-up through the new scheme.
“Including the under-eights, nines and 10s, we will have in excess of 215 players this year, boys and girls, in the centre,” said Reid, who will oversee the new under-eights, under-nines and under-10s set-ups.
“The aim of the ETC and the TDC is just to provide that higher level of coaching, to get us working with the kids at younger ages. It's what parents, coaches and players in the area have been asking for – 'do you do anything at a younger age?'.
“We want to give them the opportunities. The TDC will play one game every six or seven weeks – we've already had Liverpool and Everton expressing interest in us bringing them down. That has built on the work the performance centre has done over the past year.
“If they are spotted by one of these clubs, then brilliant, we have helped them on their way. If not, they got some quality games.”
He added: “The ETC will get the same style of coaching, and their aim is to try to get into this TDC, albeit when they reach the under-11s level, they will also be in the under-11s trials.
“Just because you're in the TDC, it's not a guaranteed pathway – some might go up, some might not.
“We're trying to provide what people have been asking for. We've listened hard to what people have said and made changes.
“It's going to be fun, it's going to be challenging, it's going to be competitive. It's high level coaching, but there will be lots of fun, lots of basic skills. It will be preparing them for the under-11s level.
“It's flexible. Kids from the Talent Development Centre can go into the Emerging Talent Centre, and vice-versa.”
The new age-groups will not be wholly made up of players from the Barrow JFL catchment area.
The performance centre have been working hard to develop a scouting network to cover areas such as Kendal, Lancaster, Morecambe and further afield.
This will allow them to tap into a greater pool of talent to come through the age groups at Barrow – with the potential now to be involved all the way from under-eights up to the under-18s side which last season provided players who featured for the first-team in the Lancashire Senior Cup.
“We've increased our scouting network for the performance centre now, and we have people now from Lancaster, Morecambe and Kendal,” said Reid.
“With the scouting network we have got, we will be monitoring players closely at all age groups – not just us as coaches, but grass-roots coaches who are now going to be working for us monitoring players. That goes for Kendal, Morecambe, Lancaster and the surrounding areas as well now. We're covering a large area in terms of recruitment.
“In the under-11s boys trials we had recently, we had two players from North Preston who travelled to us, and we had kids from Penrith – it shows how big the centre is getting.”
For more information on the new TDC and ETC at under-eights through under-10s level, email Liam Reid at email@example.com