As the season comes to a close, many teams would look forward to a break and the opportunity to unwind after a strenuous league campaign. This was not the case for Central Girls Football Academy, however, after they decided to take a team to the States in search of fresh footballing opposition to challenge themselves against.
Inviting players from three different age groups to take part in the trip, Central Girls submitted a team in the under-16s category of the Mid Atlantic Cup, which took place in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Central Girls FA coach Ian Dibdin reinforced the decision to take a team across the world by stating his belief in the value of tournament football. "At Central I’m a great believer in tournaments. We want our teams to go to tournaments and experience events elsewhere rather than close down during the summer," he told Youth Football Scotland.
Dibdin also saw the value of a post-season trip in maintaining team morale and widening the team’s experience.
"We want to keep playing football. It’s crucial for player retention. If you’re having a good time, then you don't want to leave. More than half of the team hadn’t been to America before. Inevitably it widens people’s horizons," he said.
Beginning the trip in Philadelphia, Central Girls also took the opportunity to meet up with old friends. Maryland Rush were the opponents for Central Girls Football Academy in the Puma Cup Final in Liverpool in 2014 and the teams have since maintained a connection. Following a friendly with the American side, Central Girls competed in the Mid Atlantic Cup before visiting Annapolis in Maryland, Washington DC and finally New York.
Playing six games throughout the whole of their American tour, the girls won two and lost four with some positive performances and results in the Mid Atlantic cup such as a 3-2 victory over New York based team Merrick Rush. Ian felt this was a chance for the girls to test themselves in a different environment.
"At the end of the day, they're the strongest country in the world as far as football goes. We knew we were going to a strong area," Dibdin said. "We were going to a ranked tournament. We went in at the highest level which is Championship level. We wanted to see what it was about.
"I wanted our players to realise that football goes beyond Scotland. We’ve got teams in the world that would easily compete with Glasgow City and Arsenal. We have to be there. We hope to eventually reach that level but until you see it, you don’t know what you're trying to achieve. That’s the reason for the tournaments."
The players are also actively encouraged to reflect on where they want to go with their football career. With university and college coaches attending tournaments such as the Mid Atlantic Cup, it is important for the players the opportunity to consider that avenue.
"It’s something that I actively encourage all of our players. We have some super players that were over there and without a doubt, they attracted the attention of the coaches. I’m not one of these coaches that is protective of their players. It’s a case of, if they want the opportunity to go to America then I will do everything I can possibly do to make that happen. If they’ve got an opportunity it’s not about the club all the time, it’s about the individuals as well," Dibdin said.
Acknowledging that American youth football is probably home to a greater depth of technically gifted and athletic footballers because of the size of the country, Dibdin also recognised that the Scottish game can compete. He stated: "If you hide from the best then how are you meant to know? From my experience girls want to learn football, not by watching but by playing."
Central Girls FA certainly cannot be accused of hiding from strong opposition, competing against the number one, five and six ranked teams in Pennsylvania state.
Dibdin also praised his team for the way they responded to game situations, saying:"“I would tend to think that we were more creative and that we were adjusting to games tactically better than they were.” However, he was more than aware of the strengths of the opposition, “They were very well set-up and shaped. When our attack broke down, all of the opposition players were prepared for that."
During the trip, there was also time for the girls to relax, bond and explore new surroundings. Visiting iconic areas, such as the Rocky Steps and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, they even managed to squeeze in some shopping. The girls’ coach tried his best to avoid the malls but events had their own say.
"When we traveled we lost all of our bags on the first day so that was a bit of a challenge. Eventually I had to go shopping!" Dibdin remarked.
A day in Annapolis, Maryland, meant that the team got the chance to enjoy some water sports before going on to Washington, DC, to visit the Whitehouse and then New York to experience sights such as the Statue of Liberty, Times Square and Central Park. One of the players unfortunately dropped their phone into the Hudson River but their coach saw the bright side, "Luckily she never dropped in!"
Joking aside, the trip was important in fulfilling the vision of Central Girls Football Academy.
"During these kind of trips where you are together for just short of two weeks, you see people in a different light than you would at training and that helps with team bonding. At the club, we start at nursery school and go through to adult teams. Of course we lose some who go off to pastures new but our ethos is to give these players a life experience, as well as a footballing one," Dibdin said.