"...this is the most articulate and accurate piece written about the club for years!" - Tales from the Front, http://www.otib.co.uk/

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Bristol City Academy: Interview with Trevor Challis

The Bristol City Youth academy has often promised much and delivered, arguably, disappointingly.  That was certainly the impression given by the club this summer with a revamp ordered by Derek McInnes, frustrated at the lack of options available to him.

In the first of a couple of articles on the youth set-up at City, guest writer Lee Molland got in touch with ex Bristol Roversfullback Trevor Challis and got a fascinating insight into some of the workings of City's Academy and what happens behind the scenes.

Hi Trevor, thank you for agreeing to chat to us today, can we start by asking you about your professional background and how you’ve ended up at Bristol City?
I played football from very young age and trained at Arsenal and Queens Park Rangers as a child and signed professional forms for Q.P.R. at 18.  I made my first team debut at 20, playing 14 times in the Premier League 1995-96 season. I played for England at under-16, under-18 and under-21’s.  I spent seven years at Q.P.R.,  then moved to Bristol Rovers with Ian Holloway.  After my time there I then played for Telford United, Shrewsbury, Weymouth and Eastleigh.
I ended up coaching at City because I had an interest in coaching as my career was ending.  I wanted to coach children at the highest level and in the South West that team is Bristol City.  I coached the under-13 age group, then the under-14 ‘s.  The then Head of Recruitment Kevin Scott left for Stoke City and I applied for the vacant position and got the role.

What is your role within the Academy set up?
I am the Head of Academy Recruitment which means I lead a team of recruitment officers in the South West to watch and monitor the best young footballers and try to ensure they sign for City ahead of our rivals.  I also oversee the running of our development centres in Monmouth, Gloucester, Wiltshire and Bristol.

Talk us through the restructure of the Academy and what the Elite Player Performance Plan means? How will this benefit young want to be footballers?
There have been huge changes in the academies in England with more investment from the Premier League (around £300 million) being invested in youth football.  With this investment the Premier League wants to see more accountability in academies with four different level of academy.
Level 1 academies can now recruit into their academies nationwide and have to have the best elite facilities for the boys to train at.  This includes outdoor and indoor astroturf, classrooms for day release training, hydrotherapy pools etc.
Level 2 academies (the level Bristol City are in) can only recruit boys within a 1½ hour drive which is regionalised, but also have to provide facilities for schooling.
The variance is shown by the fact that Level 4 academies can now only recruit boys at under-16 age level for youth team football.
The benefits for the boys will be an investment in better facilities, and more coaching contact time with the implementation of the day release programme at all age groups.

What are the facilities like at the Failand Training ground?
The facilities are good at Failand with the best grass pitches in the South West for academy football.  The club own four pitches which the first team train on daily, and a pitch for the under-18’s and under-16’s.
The schoolboy pitches are leased from QEH school, as are the changing rooms which isn’t ideal as there is no gym or any indoor coaching areas.

How often do the boys train and to what standard of coaching?
The hours the boys train increase as the boys get older.  The under-9 age group train for 1½ hours, three times a week, and play competitive games on a Sunday. The same hours apply for the under-10 and under-11’s.
The under-12 to under-16’s train three times per week for two hours and play competitive football on a Saturday and Sunday. The coaching the boys receive is excellent with all coaches having a UEFA B licence as a minimum.

What are your thoughts on the standard of children playing in youth football?
The standard varies across the board, with the better being in the younger age groups (under-8 to under-11).  We generally find the standards drop the older the boys become, and it is a lot harder to pick an academy standard boy in the under-12 to under-16 age groups.  This is because the standard of coaching the boys receive at junior football is not as elite as that received by the boys at the academy and bad habits generally creep into the boys games.

What age do the boys first come into the academy?
We start recruiting the boys at 6 years old, this is called the pre academy group (6-8). The importance of recruiting the best boys at 8 means the foundation coaches can implement their syllabus with the most co-ordinated and elite boys, whilst the academy now goes up to 21 for the first time this season.

How far does your scouting network reach out?
I personally have contacts based in London and the Midlands who recommend boys to Bristol City, especially at under-16 level and above.  In our region we have teams of scouts who work in South Wales, Gloucester, Wiltshire, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire and, of course, Bristol.

What hope can you give the local boys of being spotted?
The scout will look at technical ability, but will first and foremost look at the boys character and desire to work, listen and learn, we call this dogmatic.  Without this willingness to work hard in a game we will see a boy who will be probably a poor trainer without the ability to learn (fixed mindset), so we look for the boy with the open mindset.

What are your hopes for the future of the Academy?
With our new facilities at Filton College, the increase of staffing and the increase in coaching contact time as well as finance it is a very exciting time to be involved at the Bristol city Academy.  We hope to have more boys being promoted into the 1st team and we believe over the next 2-4 years it could potentially be a very exciting time for youth development.

Many thanks to both Lee and Trevor for this interview, and let's hope the anticipation Trevor has for the next few years bears fruit and can start to bring youngsters - ideally locally born and bred - into City's first team.

Follow me on Twitter: @TheExiledRobin



  1. I enjoyed your article on Trevor Challis and the details relating to the BCFC academy, I have had past experience with the academy in that I have worked closely with them and Pete Coleman in the past whilst running a Backwell Youth in the Somerset Floodlight league, assisted by Gerry Sweeny and Pete we had 6 players turn professional one became and
    One comment I would like to make strongly is that its great to have boys looked at when 6 or 7yrs. However these things should be considered, 1. What are the boys skill levels at this age, 2. what part of his current age year is he at. 3. should other boys be listed for future viewing, 3. Once the boys have been taken from there clubs, where do they carry on being coached correctly.
    In my experience boys develope to the necessary standard at different periods and this why the likes of Southampton and other clubs come in and pick up what may have been a local player of the standard required.
    Whilst young the important thing is teaching attitude and skill, strength and application can come later, this is a modern coaching theory adopted by foreign clubs. There is I believe a gap to be filled at this young age.

  2. Thanks for your comments - some interesting thoughts! I think we're still way behind much of Europe in our approach, apart from the occasional, forward-thinking club. Let's hope Carlos Anton and Tinnion can help that change with us!


Most Popular Posts