Despite the huge challenges that Coronavirus is causing, the club's Academy and Education Lead Pete Stephenson has been helping to ensure that players within both the Academy and Football & Education Programme can continue to develop their skills, both on and off the pitch.
“First and foremost, I work as part of the Education department under Jean Limpitlaw, the Head of Education," he said.
“My remit is mainly around the Academy ages between under 9’s to under 18’s and working on the Football and Education Programme, alongside educational partners Innoved Learning and VLUK. I teach the BTEC courses to the 16-18’s, liaise with the schools of the academy players, deliver life skills sessions as well as work alongside Academy Operations Manager, Safeguarding & Welfare Officer Julie Delauney across the player welfare and safeguarding side.”
“It’s been a massive team effort within the academy. There are several things that we’ve done to help as much as we can from a distance. It’s been challenging for the under 18’s because they’ve still had some education modules to complete, so we’ve been supporting them and ensuring that they’re able to complete what’s required whilst also keeping on top of their skills & fitness work.
“Between Julie and I, we’ve been keeping in touch and checking on the welfare of the players to make sure they’re coping with the current situation, and with the academy boys there’s been a lot of little individual challenges sent out for them to complete. Some have been football/fitness based, whilst we’re also sending out life skill challenges for them to have a go at, which has been published on the club’s social media channels to help others, too.
“We also hold a weekly Zoom session to touch base with everyone and deliver more life skills sessions, and we’re planning on hosting a couple of Q&A’s with members of the first-team which will be really good. We’re also setting some educational tasks for the under 16’s to help them with their schoolwork as their GCSE’s aren’t taking place any more.”
Despite schools being closed and the club being out of bounds for FEP students over recent weeks, Pete has been keen to not let standards slip due to the big impact education can have on the players’ lives, both now and in the future.
“Education plays a massive role for every age group. All ages are still going through a lot of development so we’re trying to do as much as we can during this difficult situation to support them and give them plenty of things to do so that they can still develop themselves physically, technically and mentally.
“Everyone has been really receptive to far, which has been brilliant to see. There’s been a really high level of engagement and it’s been a chance for everyone to take stock and see where they’re at and they’ve really bought into our messages.
“From what we’ve seen there’s been plenty of work going in, both from what we’ve set for everyone but also from within their own time. We’re just trying to keep them busy and help them develop both into better players and better people moving forward. We’ve got a group of kids within our academy system and player pathway that are really tuned in to the club and are embracing the situation.
“The parents have been really positive as well, all of the messages we put out for the under 9’s-16 players are through the parents via various WhatsApp groups and emails. The vast majority are on-board with it and we’ve been grateful for the feedback we’ve had. To be fair, most of the parents have taken part in the tasks and the challenges as well so we’re helping to develop some older players, too!”
Over the past few seasons, both the academy and the Football & Education Programme have taken huge strides forward, both in terms of the quality of player produced and the player pathway opportunities, which is something the club are incredibly proud of.
“To see where the FEP has come from over recent years compared to where it is now and where it can go in the future, it’s really great to see. The stand-outs have been Scott Pollock and Ethan Johnston working their way through the system and into the first-team squad, and even to see some of the former students go over to the U.S.A to continue their development there. We’re proud of all the boys and girls on our programme and it continues to go from strength the strength. We’ve had high levels of interest in the programme and it’s fantastic to see the direction we’re moving in.”