Director of Superstars Coaching, Steven Watson, has always been passionate about sport and leadership, as the foundations of his family business would suggest. However, did you also know that almost ten years ago, Steven founded his own grassroots football club in Bolton – Academy Juniors – purely to provide opportunities for girls to have access to high quality coaching and participation opportunities in football in his hometown?
Going into their 10th year, Academy Juniors – or ‘AJs’ as they’re affectionately known – have gained a great reputation in the community.
Academy Juniors have been no strangers to cup wins, tournament titles and top of the league successes over the years, spanning age groups from the tiniest recruits through to open age ladies football, but there’s a danger that clubs in those positions can sometimes lose sight of real victory when working towards the development of children and young people.
Steven and I had a conversation this week with a respected colleague from one of the leagues AJs are registered with. We were discussing the ‘win at all costs’ mentality that can exist in grassroots football, and how it leads to demoralisation and segregation of children, and can ultimately lead to them dropping out of football altogether. We talked about all things participation, which is what children and young people’s football should be about. He told us how one season his young team got “absolutely battered” almost every week (in terms of scoreline, just to clear that up) but that they emerged victorious in one very important league that year…
The Fair Play League.
Many grassroots football leagues operate this competition as a strand of their offer to local teams, and this year, as a club, it’s been decided that this is the accolade that we want each of the teams at AJs to strive towards winning.
What does being the recipient of a Fair Play Award represent?
It represents that our kids are honest, selfless and compassionate.
It represents that our kids are resilient, understanding and focused.
It represents that our kids grasp the true meaning of what it means to be a sportsperson.
Is there any better recognition for a child to receive than that?
Although Superstars have traditionally sponsored a team or event at AJs over the nine seasons since Steven set up the club, this season he has decided to turn his sponsorship towards a new initiative – the ‘Fair Play at AJs’ mission.
What will this involve? Superstars Coaching will be providing bottles of water and small gifts of sweets to each of the opposition AJs play against in league and cup fixtures this season. These will be presented by team captains at the start of each match – following the expected handshake, naturally!
Additionally, when visiting teams come to see us at our home ground, providing we have access to the kitchen at that time, all supporting parents and spectators will be issued with a voucher to redeem for a hot drink courtesy of AJs – which we hope will be well received given how bad the weather already is (and it’s only week one of the season)!
Funded by Superstars Coaching, championed by the Academy Juniors committee, and role modelled by the club’s volunteer coaches and supportive families, we cannot wait to see how our commitment to fair play plays out this season, so that we can all get on with enjoying the game and letting our kids just play football.
Best wishes to all at Academy Juniors and their opposition players, managers and parents this season – we look forward to seeing you all out on the pitch for friendly, fair and forward-thinking participation in sport for the good of all our children!