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Staff interviews - (CPFC Work Experience)

Updated: Aug 4, 2023

Hi everyone,

Hope you are all well!

In this post I will be sharing the interviews I conducted with the academy staff during my work experience. I found them all very interesting as I got a real insight to how each role helps build the player throughout their journey. I didn't include it in her section but the nutritionist Kate Shilland highlighted how beneficial it is for the players to have a large team around them focusing on all elements to ultimately give them the best chance of succeeding.

My first meeting of the day began with Head scout Colin Barnes Under 7s – First Team, and Acquisition scout Derek Bradley Under 9s – Under 23s asking them about their experiences and job roles at the academy. Question and answers are listed below.

What do you look for in the youngest players?

We look for their abilities to run, their mobility, if they are able to sprint with the ball and most importantly their attitudes towards football and their spirit in general. We will look for certain types of characteristics, how they receive information given to them about the game and finally what kind of learner they are. Derek shared he was a coach himself for multiple years so has a true understanding of what the current coaches would be looking for.

Is there a certain area you have to stick to when scouting new players?

· U9s – U13s must be within an hour of the academy.

· U14s must be within 1 hour 30 minutes of the academy

· 15 plus, no set distance

To help decide if they are going to bring the player into the academy they often hold “showcase fixtures” (on a Saturday or Sunday) where they would invite a group and then have 2-3 weeks to write reports and have discussions on each potential player. They would often use a performance criteria for all ages where they would be able to compare the players to the ones already in the academy.

Colin and Derek were very passionate about the work the academy does to support the players that don’t progress through the ages, as they have a Duty of Care. He highlighted only 5% of the boys will make it into the Crystal Palace first team, currently there are 178 players in the academy. Due to Colin’s high level of experience, he has many contacts within the industry so will often work with the players he believes deserve a chance to help them get into another team. As a fan of Crystal Palace this is great to hear that the staff are not restricting the opportunities and instead helping them grow even if they don’t make it with Palace. At the moment it is the time of year where they players are released they both expressed this wasn’t easy to do as they have built relationships and are now potentially shattering their dreams. Recently Palace have introduced an exit strategy where they will support all players released from the club for three years, but after that conversation it seemed like they have been doing this anyway. They both go above and beyond to support the boys in every way.

Within the academy money is only necessary when a player is being signed from another team they have a contract with, if they were to be picked up straight from a Sunday league there would not be a fee.

They explained that when out scouting they would wear their own clothes with no obvious links to Palace, so they do not get swarmed by parents. They shared with me that sometimes the parents can have a negative impact on their children as they apply to much pressure, whereas the quiet parents often have the best footballing children as they do not need to “shout” to get their child seen. There is a code of conduct which must be followed when approaching a player, they can never speak to the child/ parent directly they must go through the manager/school.

The final question I asked was if education was a factor to whether a child was signed to the academy, in short their response was a “no”, but they do recognise that the better learners are more likely to succeed in their footballing journey. It was nice to hear everyone gets an equal opportunity.

Kate Shilland – Academy Nutritionist in her 5th season at the club.

Sports science degree and masters in sports nutrition’.

Kate’s role within the team is to create a link between food and football, she explained that “eating is a key part of health, performance and mood and is vital in ensuring the body Is fuelled right for training and matches and for recovery afterwards”. After being at the club for so many years she has a good strong understanding but did acknowledge that she is only human and can’t be responsible for knowing all of the answers but will always work towards finding them. Different players require different diets as they are all different shapes and sizes, it is Kate’s job to educate each player on the correct eating regime for themselves whilst also teaching them the basics of nutrition. As we are in the 21st century the players are exposed to social media and to people giving unscientific advice about food and diets. Kate tries to encourage the players to make good decisions to ultimately help themselves but appreciates that the final decision and actions come down to the players themselves. Nutrition has multiple impacts on the body and it is extremely important the footballers have access to nutritional food whilst at the academy, this will differ between match days, recovery days and training days. This was reiterated when Kate explained how footballers must have regular snacks when training or in matches as the benefits begin to wear off after an hour therefore they need to refuel. Kate works closely with the chefs to make meal plans for the players whilst onsite. She explained that “variety is good so the boys don’t get bored”. Kate also runs regular sessions with the players of all ages to highlight the importance of a good diet, she shared one of her presentations which contained a particular quote that stood out to me “every meal has the power to positively or negatively contribute towards you reaching your goals”. This emphasises how important it is that the players are educated from a young age and will hopefully prevent them from falling into bad eating habits. Kate also runs nutrition training for the coaches within the academy so they can also set a good example. She will sometimes use the older groups to give talks and advice to the younger players as they are who they will be looking up to. During lockdown Crystal Palace captain Luka Milovojevic filmed himself sharing the diet plan he was following, Kate found this useful to share with the youth to show them their food can play a big part in dictating their futures.

Kate realises how important it is to make sessions interesting and engaging to maintain the attention of teenage boys, she therefore incorporates the practical side of a balanced diet by giving them cooking lessons regularly, this will ultimately help to encourage them to continue with their diet plans outside of the academy. This prompted me to ask if the boys did carry on their diets at home to which she replied, “some of them do” and that you can often tell the ones that don’t by their energy, general mood and recovery time periods. Although she did say the ones that want to take football seriously will ask more questions and often take the advice on board more, and this is evident in their performance. If the body isn’t getting enough nutrients it will show externally through regular injuries, behaviour and poor performance. She is constantly looking for ways to try and relate the information to the boys. Nowadays it is an everyday standard that you would charge your phone, but it is just as important to keep your body recharged with the correct nutrients, it is often harder to rebuild from rock bottom so therefore is key to keep on top of healthy eating. Kate uses phrases like these when communicating with the players to make it memorable and relatable.”

Gina Isserow: Chairman of Camps Bay Football Club – Anees Abbas: Head Coach of Camps Bay Football Club.

The academy had some visitors over from Cape Town, South Africa visiting on a daily basis for a week. I spoke to chairman Gina Head coach Anees who had brought three of their players from their academy to train with the U16’s/U18’s for the week. I first asked how they chose the three boys to give this opportunity too, Gina explained “A sponsor of the club has contacts within Crystal Palace and they believed these three players would represent their club in the most positive way, in both their football skills and their attitudes in general”. They explained that this was a trial project and were finding it extremely useful for multiple reasons. One of the main benefits was that the South African players could witness the life of an English academy with fantastic facilities.

As head coach Anees explained how beneficial it has been to watch and experience coached sessions to educate himself on different coaching ideas and strategies to take back home with him. As chairman Gina explained how the club has no financial income and instead relies on sponsors, donations and fundraising events. She highlighted how this makes the club more united and diverse as all players are treated the same regardless of their individual circumstances, Gina used a memorable quote of “once the ball is at their feet, they all become equal” it also shows their love for the sport as a whole. Gina was proud of how the boys “had fitted in and adapted to the high standards” and they both hoped they could get the Palace Academy players over to them in the future to give them a different perspective of how they live.

Unlike the Palace academy where the players have access to everything in one place, in South Africa the players still have to attend education at their normal setting and only attend the academy for training. Anees acknowledged “They do not have the best equipment, but we do the best that we can with what is available”. He also showed me some photos of the facilities they have in Cape Town; I was most jealous of the weather and beautiful mountains in the background!

Gina and Anees both spoke highly of their experience at the academy and how welcoming the staff including owner Steve Parish was and had given them the time of day to have discussions with them. They described it as a “family environment”. It was a pleasure to meet with such lovely and inspiring people who have made it clear to me that football is not just built around money and there is so much more to it globally.

I have since been in touch with Anees where he told me about the "give back session" he's club in South Africa have done multiple times including as soon as they re-entered the country. This is where they feed over 200 kids and give them donations to the unprivileged people of South Africa. This was lovely to hear about and receive pictures of, hopefully Palace are able to stay in contact with them and offer future opportunities. Lastly I would like to wish them best for the future.

My last interview/chat of the week was with Crystal Palace legend Mark Bright (in the chairman’s office), who managed to make my PA very star struck! Within the academy Mark is now head of the under-23’s development and spends a lot of time at the new facilities, whilst also being a key part in the team board working as an advisor. This was a general chat before we left, as Mark has both been a player himself and worked in the media industry he helped by giving me some advice for when interviewing players – with one of his main points being don’t swear on live TV, leading to him telling me a story about Micah Richards! He also expressed how you should “always leave difficult questions until the end of the interview as it may cause them to leave”, this is a small insight to the kind of things that make a great journalist. It was a real honour to speak with Mark and I found it extremely beneficial managing to implement his tips into my interviews afterwards.

Finally, I didn’t interview her, but I did my work experience with Susan Jackson who is a part of the ‘player care’ team. Being around and shadowing her for the week showed me how impactful she is to the players; her role covers a wide range of things with her priority being the players. Over the week I saw Susan complete tasks such as collecting forgotten kit for players, arranging for the boys to be brought in of a morning and collected to be taken home of an evening, be a part of multiple meetings, and ultimately be an available contact for any issues. Everybody knew her and she knew all of them, my PA joked about how she managed to remember everyone’s names, but again I think this emphasised the family feel around the place.

Thank you for reading I hope you found all the information interesting and insightful. I am going to post the players interviews tomorrow, so look out for that!


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