Major changes as Gibraltar FA looks towards future of youth and learns from past mistakes
The Gibraltar FA has embarked upon a new structure in its management of youth football announcing what is probably the biggest overhaul of its youth structure in recent years.
Already underway with some changes already taking place the association is building upon what is already part of its present structure and introducing new policies, development programmes and administrative changes as it learns from mistakes in the past.
The changes come after close to a season long review of its youth structure as it responded to a series of concerns raised last season after the youth leagues started late, and after a series of criticisms from across the youth football community, parents and clubs, the association has been developing new plans for its youth football which this Thursday saw the day of light for the first time.
Under the heading “New Season, New Structure, New team” the association has announced that it is revamping youth football “ahead of the 2022/23 season with competitions, development programmes, recreational football and the traditional school holiday camps all forming a major part of the Associations new youth development structure.”
Its mission it states is to “ensure every child has the opportunity to enjoy playing football in a safe and fun environment. To allow each child to be the best possible version of themselves whilst playing football and to support each child’s football development alongside their educational pathway.”
The association has also opened the doors to further develop coaching in Gibraltar now aiming to provide the necessary pathway for all coaches to be able to seek to reach pro-level coaching standards if they wish to aspire to such levels.
Among one of the key requirements now set down will be the need for all coaches involved in youth football to have has a minimum requirement a Football Leaders award (FLA) or to have begun their FLA Coaching Course. Coaches will also need to be vetted by the Royal Gibraltar Police as well as having to undergo basic First Aid and meet safeguarding certification.
Clubs will also be required to have their own Welfare and mental welfare health officers which will be supported through training and support via the Gibraltar FA. This as the association focuses greater attention on mental welfare and underlines the enforcement of issues such as code of conducts. The Code of conduct to be enforced across a wide sector including players, coaches, officials and parents. As it seeks to ensure children feel comfortable and free of any undue pressure whilst playing football.
The new structure, which this newspaper will be looking at in detail during the coming days, has already seen the Gibraltar FA starting to address issues of concern which emerged following last season’s late start to the season, along with many ongoing issues which have been raised in recent years, including registration and welfare of players.
A new system of registration now allows for parents to register their children also through the association, instead of going directly through clubs providing for a pool of players to be created and through which clubs can find players, and importantly players can find clubs.
Other changes which have already started to take place include the delivery of information which saw concerns raised that not all the information being send out was reaching the required people, such as coaches and parents. The Parents forum, which was initiated last season, will be further expanded to ensure there are direct regular lines of communication between the association and parents.
With more information now being put out through coaches and parents forums the flow of information has been more fluid in its delivery.
Importantly, in order to detract from problems faced in past seasons, the association has set key dates which outline the dates by which players and clubs are required to have players and teams registered with a league start date already announced for the 30th September 2022.
Gibraltar’s youth leagues have been split into two, in what the association says reflects the specific needs of younger and older age groups ahead of the new season. With earlier than usual registration dates now set down.
Parents who cannot find a club or programme for their child will now also receive help from the association reducing the need to have to go to individual clubs. This a response to concerns that players, and some clubs, where missing out as parents found it difficult to find the right club, or in some cases to contact clubs who still had available space to recruit players.
The early recruitment drive has seen players joining clubs earlier this summer. In some cases players rolled over into the forthcoming season immediately after the end of last season by some clubs that started their recruitment drive in the lead up to the final weeks of the season.
This, as has been seen in recent weeks with some teams training at Victoria Stadium, has already led to some teams already starting their preseason training sessions and providing greater security for players, weeks ahead of the traditional return to training which usually starts later in the month for many.
Whilst the Gibraltar FA Technical Director’s post continues vacant as the association reviews the need for such a role, the association has extended its youth development team which now includes a Director of Operations, Elite Youth Programme Development Manager, Youth Football Programmme co-Ordinator, Schools and EYPD Officer and Women’s Football Development Officer. Also supported by an Operations Officer, Coaching Officer, Physiotherapist and Sports scientist and Referee Co-ordinator. Importantly, the latest launch of the new structure has seen the contact details for each officer now given greater exposure opening the doors for greater access to the public.
A schools programme, which was launched last season, is also to be extended with new initiatives now planned. Among the areas the association hope will be further developed is the extension of the number of Gibraltar international attending school sessions, extending the number of schools participating and the creation of plans for possible school leagues and tournaments in the future. This hoped to open the doors to football within schools and offering a new perspective away from club football which has in recent years dictated the scene.
The creation of new recreational programmes following the success of the fun Fridays sessions and UEFA Playmakers, will also see initiatives such as the Sunday Fundays. This latter initiative will open the doors to non-registered youth players to enjoy the game by participating in supervised sessions at Pitch 2 on Sundays.
Gibraltar FA General Secretary Ivan Robba on launching the new youth programme stated:
“Today’s announcement and publication of our Youth Football Strategy for the upcoming 2022/23 season is a credit to the great deal of hard work that has been put in by our Youth Football Development Team, together with our Member Clubs via the Club Youth Committee, and input from all Youth Football Stakeholders. We have listened to the concerns from all involved and have jointly developed a plan on the way forward, bringing exciting times ahead.
“We have evolved our Academy project into a Development School and FUNdamentals programme as well as reset the approach to youth football leagues with the introduction of timely digital registrations, club welfare officers, safeguarding requirements and codes of conduct for players, coaches and spectators. We are actively engaged with Schools and have also begun the process of setting up a Parents Forum as well as other stakeholder workshops, which we will use to exchange regular feedback and to constructively work together for the betterment of the entirety of youth football in Gibraltar.
“I take this opportunity to thank everyone who has contributed to our new Youth Football Strategy and look forward to a successful and enjoyable season ahead for all our young footballers.”
During the coming days we will be bringing a detailed view of the new youth structure tabled by the Gibraltar FA.