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People profile: Darren Cox, Sentinel Leisure Trust

Director of education, Sentinel Leisure Trust

Published in Sports Management Nov Dec 2017 issue 134
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Darren Cox is director of education at Sentinel Leisure Trust, which owns the Football Academy
Darren Cox is director of education at Sentinel Leisure Trust, which owns the Football Academy

What is the Football Academy?
The Football Academy is a government-funded course, owned by Sentinel Leisure Trust (SLT) and associated with Barnsley College and East Coast College. It’s targeted at learners aged 16-plus who want to continue their education through applied learning, and who aim to progress to higher education or employment, possibly in the football or sport and exercise science sector. They attend our programme full time instead of college, sixth form or another provider.

How many sites do you have?
We have five sites – three in Sheffield at centres operated by Leisure United, one in Wednesbury at Pulse Soccer and Fitness and one in Lowestoft at an SLT-operated centre. At all sites, the programme is run by SLT in partnership with the operators.

The programme will be rolled out at a further two Sheffield-based sites starting in September 2018.

Is the Academy for footballers only?
No, many simply want to use football as a catalyst to help them learn. Young people have to remain in education or training until the age of 18, but by 16, after completing their GCSE, many have become uninspired by traditional school and college settings.

Some may choose to do the course because they want to create a career in football and sport. A few may come with aspirations of becoming a professional football player and will want to train every day. Others will come simply because they enjoy football and can see the benefits of attaching their education to it.

Each learner’s week is split between education and practical. Education units are taught using football-related content, and students will select units based on their desired career pathway.

When was the Academy launched?
It was launched in September 2016 at our SLT site in Lowestoft under the name Road 2 Pro. The concept was developed further and in 2017 we partnered with operators Leisure United at St George’s Park in Sheffield and Pulse Soccer in Wednesbury.

The first Level 2 education programmes started in September 2017.

Who have you partnered with?
The programme is lucky to have an extensive network of support that includes current and ex-professional players, industry practitioners and organisations including Suffolk Football Association, Sheffield & Hallam Football Association, Sheffield Careers Advice Service and Job Centre Plus.

We also have an arrangement with the sporting university UCFB, providing a natural route for students who wish to progress into university to specialise in areas of the football industry such as finance, media, psychology and management.

What is the practical enrichment programme?
It’s an essential element of the courses. Students need to be inspired by the people they meet, the places they go and the opportunities they’re given in order to have the best chance to succeed within employment or higher education. Education is broader than what’s learned in a classroom – we feel that too often students finish their traditional education having not gained some of the relevant skills, knowledge and experiences they’ll need to succeed in working life.
Our enrichment programme includes: competing in British College Leagues; completing coaching, first aid and safeguarding awards; football workshops; personal development programmes; work experience; visits to elite academies and universities; industry talks from professionals; and trips abroad.

Is the programme for boys and girls?
The Football Academy is open to both boys and girls, learning together in mixed classes. We’re currently working on an idea for a girls-only football education programme with St George’s Park Sheffield staff, which would support the FA’s key objective of increasing football participation for women. The idea is that we would create a specific women’s academy hub within each location moving forward.

Are there any plans to use this model for other professional sports?
Yes. We’ve already completed a case study on rugby and believe that the concept can work just as well with this sport. We’re also looking into developing swimming academies that would link with Sentinel Leisure Trust’s swimming schools and local swimming clubs.

Are students well placed to be selected into professional teams?
Yes, if that’s their desired pathway. We have a team of qualified coaches, ex-professional players and technical staff who bring a wealth of knowledge, experience and contacts. We give players opportunities to progress into professional clubs via individual trials, showcase games and scouting.

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