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The undercover truth of release for a parent.

23.07.2021 Saul Cuttell


I have recently been running trials for released players and I have now encountered parents who have a wide variety of backgrounds and ultimately are there to help support their child. Commendable. I have been fascinated with what parents see, their perspective on their child being released, and so I wanted to get a few viewpoints. So, I thought I needed to speak to someone with a wealth of experience, who can help me understand what a parent goes through when their child is released from an academy and ultimately what to expect. So, I reached out to Matt Clarke, the Head of Education at Leicester City FC to ask what his experience was of this hot topic. As a result, I asked the following questions to Matt. Needless to say, I was very impressed with his knowledge, empathy and genuine mission to help the boys who are at Leicester City Football club.

What was your route into football?

So, I always like to set the scene with ‘where did you come from’ type of question to better understand the person. Matt was actually an apprentice at Northampton as a young lad until he got released through injury. So, Matt has really lived this experience and knows what it feels like, which I think is a very important distinction to raise about him. Matt answered this question with:

‘’I had been released as an apprentice due to injury, but after attending University, began working as a PE teacher, which eventually landed me the position of Head of PE. After 10 years of this, I was asked to go to Coventry City Football Club as Head of Education & Welfare, where I spent 2 years. Then I moved onto Ipswich Town as Head of Education and Welfare for 5 years, and finally onto Leicester City Football Club as Head of Education for the last 4 years.’’

It was clear from Matt’s experience that he had a lot to draw upon, but he also had so many other skills, such as his coaching badges. But the thing that came through to me was his empathy and sincerity to help the young lads at the football club. Just through talking to him and learning more about what young players get at Leicester City Academy as an educational package, I was genuinely impressed. I would urge you to find out more about the great work they do!

What’s the most difficult part of your job?

I thought it would be interesting to find out more about the problems and issues he faces in his role. That’s the reason for the question above. He answered with the following:

‘’Educationally there are issues with getting the players from point A to B. For instance, some come to the club with a variety of outcomes from GCSEs and then we need to teach these young boys and differentiate their learning in order to get the best possible results for them’’. We do have a variety of courses and levels which help us address this challenge.

To be fair to Matt, this is a problem in educational holistically. I can state with some certainty that this is an issue with education even at degree level. Some students come on to do a degree and do not always have the academic ability to strive. This is not to say they cannot do it, it just means at that moment in time they are not ready. Maybe they need to go out and experience the world a bit first before they are ready, maybe they want to travel, get a job, whatever it is, it doesn’t really matter. The point is they don’t always do well, and this is something we as teachers need to help them with as much as possible. Matt went on:

‘’The other main issue or problem with my job is dealing with exit from the club and player disappointment. The player and the parent sometimes take this very hard, and you can understand if the player has been at the club for 8 years and committed to weekends, training nights and more. But we strive at Leicester to offer as much support as we can, for instance we offer a number of bolt on qualifications and external partner events. Loughborough University and the Premier League offer different transition camps helping the young lads to find different options for themselves such as a degree. Others include; coaching badges, apprenticeships or even scholarships in the USA and other countries.’’ “ We also work hard with our recruitment team to find our released players scholarships at Cat2 or Cat 3 Clubs where possible”.

I thought these opportunities sounded amazing, so it got me wondering about how parents deal with the transition of players as it seems to me from all the experience I have heard from different clubs is that they try to do so much for players.  

How do parents deal with release / transition?

So, the next question was an interesting one for me, as the parents are rarely discussed in mass publications like TV, social media etc. When players are released, there are a few posts and blog articles, like this one maybe. Matt answered this with the following:

‘’It varies how a parent responds to this transition phase in a player’s life. Some take it hard and others thank us all for the experience. But it’s important to understand that sometimes these parents have been committing to travelling back and forth from different parts of the country for up to 6-8 years sometimes. That’s a big commitment, not to mention the weekends and evenings along with other commitments the players have at the club. It’s difficult to tell the player and the parent that they will no longer be with the club, but we really do delve into the psychology, the science, the technical and tactical details in our meetings to make sure we select the players with the likelihood of succeeding! Also, we really try to give the best after care and help the players to develop into other avenues too’’.

This again got me thinking what a parent should do in these moments, so I went with the next question based on my ponderings.

What would you say is the best thing a parent can do when their child is released?

So, getting straight to the point Matt started off with the following:

‘’The best thing a parent can do is be the shoulder, try not to give technical advice to the player that is counter-productive to their development, especially if the player’s coach has told them to do something specific. Always give emotional support, encouragement for other avenues and try to remember there are only 2% who make it. It’s a fiercely competitive landscape.’’

This truly got me thinking again, what area in life when you get to the top 2% is not competitive! Education – no! Business – emphatically no! So why would we expect anything less from a sporting organisation? I think this is worth considering, as failure is actually a vitally important aspect of learning to win.