Getting started as Head of Academy

Blogs by Harm Zeinstra

In executing the Quality & Performance Program, we get to talk to many people who fulfil the role of Head of Academy for different clubs. In the spirit of developing youth football in the Netherlands and elsewhere we would like to share these insights and experiences.

A starting Head of Academy is faced with many different challenges and decisions. What am I going to spend time on? What should my priority be? How are the different tasks and responsibilities divided over the people within the club? Who should I turn to when I need something?

The four roles and three pitfalls of a Head of Academy have been described in a previous article. This article revolves around presenting recommendations that should send you off to a good start in your new role as Head of Academy.

What are your tasks?

First and foremost, it is essential to determine and understand what your tasks and responsibilities are as Head of Academy at your (new) club. For example, some clubs make a distinction between lower, middle and upper (age) categories, competitive vs. recreational football and up to which age category they train players. Normally, youth academies run up until the U19, but it could very well be that there is a U21 or U23 that falls under the responsibility of the Head of Academy. Therefore, the first step of successfully starting your job as Head of Academy is to come to an agreement with regards to your tasks and responsibilities. This agreement will provide direction for executing your role as Head of Academy on a daily basis.

How is the club organised?

To help smoothen the above process it is useful to gain an insight into how the club is organised. What functions and which persons are responsible for the different facets within the youth academy? It can be very helpful to draw out the organizational structure along with the different functions and names. This provides you with a clear overview of the club’s structure, the functions and who bears its responsibility.

Getting started

Once started, you will have to shift focus towards developing and maintaining football technical policy, such as creating the club’s vision on football and style of play and guarding its application throughout the entire youth academy. In doing so, you can further develop the club’s vision on training and vision on coaching in which the club’s core values are embedded. The creation of football technical policy, or a club’s ‘vision on football’, and the translation of this policy ‘from paper to practice’ is often considered to be the Head of Academy’s most challenging task. In upcoming articles, we will talk more about this subject.

Keep the conversation going with your coaches

Provide structure and regularity to setting ‘coach meetings’ during which you discuss the club’s vision on football together. It helps to create a fixed room or area within the accommodation where coaches are invited to participate, discuss with other coaches and talk about football in general.

Purpose of these meetings is to constantly review and sharpen the club’s vision on football. As coaches participate and discuss about football, an added benefit of organizing these meetings is that it simulates coach development. A fun way to provide structure to this desire for continuous improvement can be realised by visualizing this process. This method will be further explained in future articles.

To gain a better insight into your coaches’ training methods it can be useful to follow them during the start-up phase in your new position. Observing training sessions and games provide you with a better understanding of your coaches’ training methods and style of coaching.

Naturally, the tips & tricks within this article do not guarantee your success as a Head of Academy. They can, however, be considered the most essential steps in starting your new position as Head of Academy for a (new) club. In case you have any questions or want to share your experiences, please let me know and do not hesitate to get in touch!