FEATURE – ACADEMY DIRECTOR
GARETH ‘GAZ’ PRENDERGAST
Gareth was a trainee at Crewe Alexandra FC between the ages of 8 – 16 and started his coaching experiences working with younger players here and in the Academy at Manchester City FC. He passed nine GCSE’s at A-C grades and A Levels in History, Law and PE. He qualified with a BSc (hons) in History and Law for the University of Keele in June 2006 and completed his teaching qualification gaining his PGCE History in June 2008 (QTS Status)
Gaz joined RSC Academy in August 2008, and was its first employee. The company was initially set up to deliver coaching sessions at key stage 1 and key stage 2 into primary schools as well as providing evening and weekend sports sessions for the local community in the Cheshire East region. “The first year was tough, but it gave me a real grounding in working with mixed age and ability groups. In the primary schools we delivered a broad range of sports to large mixed ability classes aged 5 to 10 years old, which meant you had to be able to learn and adapt your sessions in real time. The community programme was interesting and a real challenge as we delivered football in areas where the council and the Police had identified anti social behavior problems. Our job was to engage with the youth through football. It meant spending Thursday and Friday evenings as well as weekend days on housing estates in Holmes Chapel, Knutsford, Disley, Macclesfield and Congleton “
Gaz volunteered as a coach and manager for the Macclesfield and District Schools FA U14s and U15s sides, and also worked as an age group coach at the Stockport County Academy working with their U13s. This meant working at the football excellence and elite levels, and influenced the change in direction RSC then made. "This was my first step into working with my own squad of players in the 11v11 game, and was a tremendous learning curve for me."
In 2009 RSC won a contract with North West Counties side New Mills AFC, to help them set up an Academy for 16 – 18 year olds. Gaz was instrumental in the design of this program and its integration into the club at New Mills. “We recruited a group of about twenty five boys who were predominantly from grass roots junior football and entered a team into the North West Youth Alliance League. The group were full time and as well as training we delivered the NVQ Level 2 in Activity leadership and The FA Level 2 coaching badge.”
New Mills AFC won promotion to the EvoStik League at the end of our first season with them and a few of the Academy boys featured in the team. “This was a real lift for the Academy and with a raised profile we had lots of applications to join for 2010-2011. I completed my UEFA ‘B’ License in the early part of 2010 and wrote a coaching syllabus for the Academy that identified the areas we needed to work on. I based it on my experience as a trainee within the professional Academy at Crewe, which was and still is recognised as one of the best in England. This influenced my philosophy and guided me in creating the model for our Academy. We also improved our education offer and I spent the summer writing the lesson plans for this”
In the spring of 2012, Hyde United FC approached RSC to move the Academy to their club. They had won promotion to the National League Conference Premier and were keen to have an Academy. At the same time the Academy was in the process of moving from New Mills to a new training and teaching facility in Knutsford, which would see the offering change to Btec Level 2 & Level 3 qualifications for students in partnership with Knutsford Academy School. “The move to Hyde was an amazing opportunity as it was only one step below professional football, and we would be in a league with teams like Luton Town, Grimsby Town, Altrincham and Macclesfield. The new training facility was also as good as most professional league one and two clubs, which meant we could attract better players to our academy. The relationship with Knutsford also meant our students could gain qualifications which would allow them to apply to University on completion of the program.”
Gaz enrolled onto his UEFA ‘A’ License and RSC recruited staff for a new intake of students in 2012-2013, which more than doubled the roll from 27 to 60, meaning we could run two teams and allow progression. In the first season with Hyde we had one player break into the first team and play in the Conference Premier with another couple of boys who got to represent the club in cup competitions.
In 2012-2013 RSC added a reserve team at U21s as well as a full time medical department and a head coach. We also started to work with Abbey Hey FC, setting up an Academy with direct links into their first team, and they signed four boys. In this first season they won promotion into the North West Counties Premier League. Their manager, Luke Gibson, is a lecturer in sports at The University of Derby.
At the end of the 2012-2013 season we could see that lots of semi pro clubs were setting up Academy sides as a way of generating revenue for their club and competition for students was getting much tougher. Gaz remembers dealing with this challenge. “It was important to get our message out, to let people know why we were different. RSC runs as a not for profit organisation and doesn’t pay its partner clubs. All of the staff are paid in line with the DFE teacher pay scales, and all of our EFA funding is spent on the scholars and on delivery of the program. This means we can invest in the Academy. We wanted to offer a more robust programme, with real industry partners and real progression. In 2013 I worked closely with the owner to deliver a partnership with Prozone Sports Analysis which allows us to deliver industry standard qualifications to our students. We also worked with the University of Derby to develop a unique pathway for our students and these two partnerships are now delivering real benefits.”
In 2015 Gaz passed his UEFA ‘A’ license and the Academy had new education partners. “Passing my ‘A’ license was a major achievement and a validation of my ability and commitment to football. We had recruited our first intake of Degree students for September 2015, in partnership with The University of Derby and I spent the summer writing the Practical delivery program for the course. We also moved our education to Warrington Collegiate. Knutsford had a change of principle following the departure of Kevin Hollins who had been instrumental in RSC being at Knutsford, and this gave me the the opportunity to move the Academy to Warrington Collegiate who have a much larger sports department and a broader offer for our students.”
RSC also added a new partnership with a professional football club, Rochdale AFC, which completed the circle and made the Academy unique in the region. “We now have a complete offer for our students which will see them progress from U14s right through to U21s with a real opportunity to achieve a career in football. This hasn’t happened over night, and we have faced some tough times and tough decisions over the past eight years, but we have learned and grown through the experience. I turned 30 this year, and I like to think I’m more mature and focused than I was when I first came on board. I love what we have to offer and being part of its development makes it more special. We have a great team at RSC and our partners are truly inspirational. Students are now able to start training and playing with us in year 9, complete their Btec Level 3 extended diploma in years 12 & 13, the Prozone level 1 analysis qualification and to progress on to a degree program which will allow them to continue to train and play like a professional footballer until they are in their early 20s. This gives them the best opportunity outside of having a professional football contract to gain a career as a professional footballer, with a mindset and education that drives them to continue learning and developing, and I expect that we will soon see one of our students achieving that dream”
Prozone is the pioneer of performance analysis in professional sport and the world number one. RSC are currently their only Academy partner delivering the Level 1 & Level 2 qualification, and we are working with them to develop a unique degree pathway for students in partnership with the University of Derby
UEFA data shows that England has 1,395 coaches holding the UEFA ‘A’ and Pro qualification badges compared to Germany’s 6,934, Italy’s 2,281, France’s 3,308 and Spain’s whopping 15,423.
Updated 19:29 - 21 Jan 2016 by Mark Worthington