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UEFA Grassroots Week: Irish FA help develop 'next generation' of football workforce

Northern Irish students gaining qualifications and experience through the UEFA-funded Football in Schools programme.

Irish FA

The Irish FA (IFA) is helping to develop the ‘next generation’ of Northern Ireland's football workforce through the UEFA-funded Football in Schools programme.

Over 600 young people aged 16-18 have had the opportunity to gain qualifications and develop their personal and professional skills by delivering primary school coaching sessions or volunteering at after-school clubs.

"These young people are the next generation in the work force and it is our responsibility to ensure they are aware of every opportunity available to them outside of playing," says Gareth Allen, post primary development manager at the IFA Foundation. "It is our role to prepare and upskill them for these opportunities when they arise."

Students at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park
Students at the National Football Stadium at Windsor ParkIrish FA

Qualifications and professional experience

Students enrolled on the programme, which is part of the IFA’s wider Education and Employability programme, gain football, futsal and refereeing qualifications as well as opportunities to attend workshops on performance analysis, football administration and event management. "All qualifications are supported with practical opportunities in professional settings," says Allen.

"The programme aims to provide participants with opportunities to use their qualifications and develop new skills by volunteering and, or, working on IFA programmes such as holiday camps, coaching in after schools, refereeing opportunities and coaching at local primary schools. There are also opportunities to do work experience and get involved at local clubs.

"When we complete our end of year survey and hear students talk about how they are now comfortable speaking in front of a group and leading a session, when previously they wouldn’t have dreamed of doing so, it highlights the benefits and importance of the programme."

Students conduct a mock press conference
Students conduct a mock press conferenceIrish FA

Focus on aftercare and pathways into education and employment

The IFA has recently invested in the number of people delivering the programme with eight staff now working across different regions to ensure each school in the country has access to the initiative.

The additional resource will also help the IFA achieve their aim of providing greater after-care to students with guidance on further education and employment a key part of the process.

"While it is all young footballers dream to become the next superstar within the game, the chances of becoming a professional footballer are becoming ever more difficult," says Allen.

"We wanted to produce a programme that armed those young players with an insight into opportunities and pathways that are alternative to playing whilst staying within the game they love. The programme has evolved and now caters to everyone, whether that is a player, an aspiring coach, or simply just someone with a passion for football.

"The long-term goal is that our programme will help build capacity and leave a legacy in schools, clubs and communities within Northern Ireland Football. We aim to place more emphasis on the after-care of our students so we can continue to engage and support them when they have moved on from our programme."

The Irish FA’s Football in Schools programme is currently the focus of research by UEFA and Leeds Beckett University with best practice findings to be shared with other national associations.