FC Halifax Town: “It’s becoming a more comprehensive programme” - Shaymen’s youth set-up takes another step forward

The evolution of FC Halifax Town’s youth programme has taken another step forward after plans were announced to launch more age group teams.

By Tom Scargill
Thursday, 24th June 2021, 2:54 pm
Steve Nichol, head of youth junior and community football development, FC Halifax Town football academy, at Calderdale College, Halifax
Steve Nichol, head of youth junior and community football development, FC Halifax Town football academy, at Calderdale College, Halifax

Each week, the Shaymen currently coach around 100 players aged five-16 in its community and academy programme, which is headed up by Steve Nichol, but they expect that number to rise to around 200 with these additional teams. This doesn’t include sessions operating in schools or holiday courses.

The additional teams also mean there will be more coaches employed by the programme.

“We’ve spent a lot of time building the youth team programme,” said Nichol, “and over recent years, however Nick Walker, our team of coaches and myself, have been developing the community and academy programme, below youth team level.

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“The idea is for there to be a pathway from the youngest grassroots players right the way through to those wanting to progress to the higher levels of the game.

“We’ve had a small number of Academy age groups in place for a while, which, as of this year, has been under 11s, under 12s and under 13s, but growth and progress has been slowed due to the pandemic. The players train twice a week and we organise a programme of friendly fixtures.

“So now hopefully things are getting back up and running, we’re trying to rebuild and make up for some of that lost time.

“One of the things we’ve maybe lacked in the programme is a true competitive outlet, it’s difficult as we as a club sit between grassroots and EFL academy football, but this year we’re putting a new group of under 16s and an existing group of under 14s into the Junior Premier League, which will provide a steady stream of fixtures, which we can tailor to complement the local schools and representative football, as well as allowing the boys to play for their grassroots team on a Sunday.

“It’ll be for those players who are excelling in junior football, or have had recent experience in an academy.

“It’s there to provide a pathway through the club, offer progression into the youth team programme, and hopefully beyond.

“It gives us more time working with the players to develop the foundations of a potential FC Halifax Town player and offers better transition into the youth team.”

Town’s longer term aim is to have under 9s through to under 16s, with under 16s, under 14s, under 13s, under 12s and under 11s for the upcoming season.

“The ideal situation is filling all the groups with the most talented players, hopefully local players and provide a platform from which they can develop their talents,” Nichol said.

“So that means working with clubs, schools and representative teams in Calderdale, we want to alongside clubs, but we also have links into professional clubs and we hope we’ll offer a really attractive programme for players coming out of those clubs as well.

“We are realistic in where we stand in comparison to EFL Academies but by creating a great programme, that focuses on individual development, puts the player first, creates an environment where players feel they can develop, where they can enjoy it and also reduce the travelling time for parents then it may encourage more players to be part of what we’re building.

“Our youth team programme is governed by a list of criteria, which we have to meet to be a National League Academy.

“But if the club were to be promoted, there would be an emphasis on the club moving to an Elite Player Performance Plan and an EFL Academy category four or above.  As with the youth team we’re trying to put the building blocks in place so there wouldn’t be a huge amount of work to do in that transition period.”

Nichol also wants to see uniformity across the board to help make the transition smoother through the age groups.

“To help structure our model of player development we’re working on a coaching programme that filters down from the first-team, through the youth team and into the younger age groups,” he said.

“Whether that’s looking at the whole team’s style of play or individual attributes, trying to break that down into a structured programme to create an organised approach across our coaching team.

“It’s also important to recognise that, while the aspiration with our youth team and academy programme is to provide an environment that allows players to progress, it’s more important that we use football as a medium to help develop well rounded individuals, support the social and psychological development of young players as well as bringing the club to life in the local community, ensuring children and parents recognise FC Halifax Town, children being proud to wear our kit, wanting to come to games and be part of the club. This is as important as developing players.”

Nichol has been in charge of the club’s youth programme since 2013, and is pleased with the progress being made.

“It’s becoming a more comprehensive programme, not just the face-to-face delivery, but there’s a lot of work that goes on behind-the-scenes in terms of organisation and planning,” he said.

“We only have a small but growing team of excellent staff who are fully committed and work incredibly hard, whilst time and resources can slow our progress we’re excited by the programme that is taking shape.

“We are aware this first year or two as we enter a new competition will be be tough in terms of getting new players and squads together, and playing regular games, but hopefully over the next few years, the programme will evolve and settle, and the quality and reputation we have at youth team level will be evident in the younger age groups too.”