Football and academics - they don't always go hand in hand. However, a research study at Stirling University has resulted in an exciting new opportunity for grassroots clubs, players and coaches. Jacob Gordon, co-founder of SoccerPDP, told us: "the idea came to me to merge football and academic research – they don’t always go together. However, a research study at Stirling University has resulted in an exciting new opportunity for grassroots clubs, players and coaches.
Jacob Gordon, co-founder of SoccerPDP, told us: “It came about from a discussion between an ex-player and an IT consultant who both saw a documentary about young players who had been dropped from club academies. These players were heart-broken, with their dreams of making it as a pro left in tatters. Often with no real feedback as to where they had gone wrong and no support network around them to get them through this setback. Consequently, many of them turned their backs on football altogether. We wanted to address this issue, for the sake of players involved and also for the benefit of the game as a whole. We’ve partnered with the University of Stirling and funded a major research project in this area over the last 3 years, which forms the back-bone of our product and service.”
It started with a vision, but it wasn’t long before the project started taking shape. Gordon continued: “Originally we wanted to help find kids, released from pro academies, appropriate new clubs so they could continue their footballing journey. But it became clear early on that we could do much more than this. So our service has now evolved to partner with players, clubs, coaches and parents to provide the type of developmental support previously only available to those playing within the top pro academies.”
Gordon added: “We feel strongly that by offering all players and their clubs (particularly grassroots teams) access to the same support networks of associated professionals that those operating at the elite levels of the game currently have, then the playing field is levelled, and all players have an equal opportunity to maximise whatever potential they have. It’s not necessarily about becoming the best player, it’s about becoming the best player they can be. It’s clear to see that the current youth football model is not serving us well in terms of national team quality and progress compared to other countries across the world. We believe that it’s going to take more than the governing bodies of Scottish Football to solve the problem and that’s where we think we fit into the market nicely.”
Whilst the organisation is still in its infancy, the benefits have already started to show within grassroots clubs. Kenny Brown, head coach of Braehead FC, said: “SoccerPDP has been a game changer for us as a club and really helped to improve a wide variety of aspects of our team’s game. The guys work with all age groups at Braehead FC and the boys love the testing sessions as well as the competitive nature that brews during these sessions as the boys compete against one and other to get better results. It is also great that we can compare our boys scores to players of a higher ability. As a manager it makes me feel like I can actually show the boys what it takes to progress to the top as well as give them training programs with video tutorials on hand which only increases their motivation making my job that little bit easier.”
Dr James Dugdale is Soccer PDP’s senior researcher and played a major part in shaping the organisation’s offerings to grassroots clubs. He commented: “Football ability is reliant on mastering multiple attributes, from various development activities. Technical skills, physical conditioning, psychology and nutritional guidance is monitored at elite academies. These components are commonly implemented within professional training and development programmes. However, amateur and grassroots level players, are traditionally unable to access this level of support. The aim of Soccer PDP is to make these services and opportunities available to all, through our research-driven programme. It is our goal to provide aspiring young players with every opportunity to be the best player they can be, and level the playing field.
“Recent developments in professional level football sees players compete in more games per season that ever before. Similarly, the demands of training and competition has also increased, meaning that players not only have to be physically fitter, nutritionally prepared, and mentally strong enough to cope with these demands on a frequent basis. As a result, the emphasis on additional training and support (eg. physical fitness, psychology, nutrition) has increased in parallel. The services provided by Soccer PDP are based upon a combination of in-house independent research, and information gathered from scientific literation – meaning that selected measures and development tools are specifically selected to improve and develop football performance.”