Youth football in the Lothians has been changed by a social enterprise called Progressive Football Development. The organisation has increased accessibibility to local children and is growing at an incredible rate. The director and head of coaching at Progressive Football Development, Scott Gibson, spoke exclusively to YFS to talk about the growth of the organisation, and to share their aims and ethos.
Progressive Football Development was started in late 2013 when Gibson found that his own children had no access to sport in the local area. He approached a local school to offer a free football programme to give youngsters access to sport, which he was able to offer based on his coaching experience. Gibson was overwhelmed by the popularity of the programme when the first session which was held during an after-school club, was attended by sixty-eight children. Although this was a great start for the programme, it proved hard to manage as this intake of youngsters was beyond what had been anticipated so more local coaches with relevant experience were recruited to assist with managing the sessions.
Gibson said, “From there, we were approached by a local football club to support them at the grassroots level as they didn’t have any children under the age of seven years old. We set up their soccer school for them by recruiting children from the various schools where we offered our free programme, and we fed them into the local club. They then managed to have two or three new age groups that they had never been able to cater for previously so it was a great success!”
Within a six month period, the group were already working with approximately 120 children and that success has continued in the Musselburgh area, where it all began. The growth of the football academies is currently the organisation’s main priority, with approximately 250 children attending the academies across the age groups, from the age of three years old to nine years old. They currently have three academies: Musselburgh Football Academy; Dalkeith Football Academy; and Livingston Football Academy.
Gibson said, “[The Academies] are very important to us because we do strive to have the best coaching and environment for kids while also keeping it affordable for them. It has been key to keep the academies community-focused and, with the support of our volunteers and fantastic parents, it is a fantastic environment to be a part of. The football side of it is key, and we have had so much joy out of it over the last two years, and in the last year in particular. We have been able to push on our organisation and support other communities other than just in Musselburgh. We are now able to do it in four different areas, including Edinburgh, and we are looking into setting another academy later this year.”
However there are other services available as well, and Gibson feels that it is important to try to prioritise each one in order to provide the best possible service to everyone. This applies to every aspect of the organisation including football development centres, football parties and one-to-one training sessions, and Gibson believes it is extremely important to ensure that the right coaches are provided in all of these areas, though he acknowledges that this will become more difficult as the organisation continues to grow. He said, “We are pushing to be one of the best in our field but we’re moving in the right direction.”
Gibson also expressed the importance of football programmes aimed at girls, as he believes this is an area that has not been supported as well as it could have been in the past. He said, “We are offering a lot of free activities for girls at the moment. We have approximately thirty-five girls between five and nine years old at our West Lothian Academy, who attend every Sunday. The idea is that if they wish to continue then they can join the Academy team, which allows them to play games, or they can go to another club who may be more local. It’s all about engaging with children and getting them involved in sport at an earlier stage, where they wouldn’t normally have that sort of access.”
However the main focus of Progressive Football Development has been to give as many children as possible access to professional football coaching while keeping it affordable. Gibson said, “Our model and our ethos has really been taken in by the local community and the local clubs, and we strive to be the best in regards to our level of coaching. All children should have access to football, regardless of their ability.”
The Academies have not only allowed for the development of the players but also in the development of the coaches through a mentoring service, and in the provision of various other coaching tools as well. Gibson said, “We want the right people on board, ex-professional footballers, other individuals who have experience. We’re good at allowing individuals to come in and get experience as well as recruiting experienced, professional coaches who have worked at the highest level because they want to give back to children and that is happening.”
Gibson has not been surprised at the growth of the organisation but has been at the speed with which it has grown. He said, “For the short time that we’ve been running, we’re very proud of our programmes and we’ve put 100% of focus into individual sessions and programmes. People have been hearing about our programmes and wanted to be a part of it. The appeal seems to be that we are not for profit and not for commercial gain but still offer a professional service. That seems to resonate with people because we are there for the local community.”
He added, “We expected to take five to ten years to get where we are now, which we have achieved in three and a half years. We currently have three academies and there are other locations throughout Scotland where there are people who want to be a part of our programme. There are individuals who have the same mind set as us with regards to how they want to develop kids, and support clubs and players. We are adapting and getting the right people involved in order to help us grow.”
There have also been demands from the North, and more recently from the South, of England for opportunities down there but Gibson feels that it is important to expand the programme in Scotland first by establishing academies in every region in Scotland. However he insists that it is important for the people involved to have the correct ethos and be interested for the right reasons, as opposed to any desire for monetary gain.
The growth of the organisation itself has been a huge achievement, with the number of children taking part and already having fourteen staff members throughout the organisation. However they have also been recognised with a prestigious award. Gibson said, “In late 2014, we won Social Enterprise of the Year Award. It was amazing because we were recognised by our peers for how far we have come in such a short time as one of the newer guys on the block. It acknowledged our programmes and the social impact in regards to the communities and how many people we were engaging with in that time.”
Yet Gibson believes that the greatest achievement is that the programme has grown from the support of his own two young sons, who gave him the inspiration to start the programme through their own lack of access to football. From there the programme has gone on to support local clubs and establish their academies in different locations with different programmes.
However there are aims for further expansion long-term, with a strategy in place which could see a development programme or academy in every Scottish district within the next few years, and Gibson reflected on the aims of Progressive Football Development in the future. He said, “We want to set ourselves as one of the main football development programmes for children and clubs, particularly in the South-East region where we started and where we’re continuing to grow. In the long-term we want the same for Scotland. It is stepping stones and we have the structure in place- it’s about getting it out to the masses. We have our own unique football curriculum that the children in our academies work by, and that is allowing them to develop.”
Gibson emphasised that the success of the organisation stems from their ethos as a social enterprise, and their lack of commercial drive has been key as 100% of the profit is redistributed back into the local community. He said, “We’ve had a lot of success within schools, with local councils and local clubs because we are there for them and to support them, but also because we are there for the kids. We are good at developing kids and that goes beyond the football. It involves community engagement programmes to work with other individuals. We mentor individuals who have had difficulties in their lives and offer them support to develop as coaches as well.”
The expansion of the organisation has already allowed the enterprise to incorporate multi-sports as well as offering training in areas such as first aid. They are also able to help local clubs with their club governances, allowing them to look at health and safety and child protection.
With their strong emphasis on access to football for all children, it is no surprise that Progressive Football Development have had the success and growth that they have achieved thus far. It seems inevitable that, with the enthusiastic individuals involved, the enterprise will continue to expand throughout Scotland and promote their positive development in youth football over the next few years.
Click here to view PFD's brand new website.