Ray Hall - Importance of Education
The Everton Academy is not just about developing a player’s football ability. The odds of having a successful career as a football player are slim, and so much of the work done by Ray Hall and the rest of the Academy staff is focused on matters away from the pitch.
Boys joining Everton at under 9 level could be with the club for 10 years and not reach the first team. There is no guarantee of finding another club after their release either. Therefore, Ray and the Academy staff take it upon themselves to ensure their young players are given all the tools they need for a life away from football.
“If you take James Vaughan, he runs out at 16 years and so many days, fresh as a daisy, but he’s been with us since he was 6 years of age. When he made his debut, only Leon Osman and Tony Hibbert had been here longer than him – if you’re here 10 years, you used to get a testimonial!
“It can’t just be about football development. From the early days, we actually had to teach Vaughany how to tie his shoelaces. We took him on tours and tournaments to get him socially aware. We looked after his education, his diet and nutrition, his physical development, his mental development, his social development, technical development, you name it.”
But it’s not just the boys who need coaching. The pressure of having a son in what Ray believes is the top 10 per cent of young players in the country can weigh heavily on the parents.
The club recognises this and makes sure they work nearly as closely with the parents as they do the children.
“These boys are some of the best young players in the country, but as a parent, how do you deal with that?
“Some of them are too aggressive and make their feelings known, which is difficult, so you have to calm that away. But at the end of it, everybody has to appreciate that we need the support of the family.”
Everton work hard not to place too much pressure on the shoulders of the boys at the Academy. But there is a danger of pressure coming from outside the club. As Ray explained, when a child first joins the set-up, the pressure is negligible. However, as the player progresses through the system, the pressure increases as the first team gets nearer.
‘A question we ask the parents is, ‘What do you want for your son?’ When they start out at under 9 level, the answers are usually for him to enjoy himself, to get better, to experience a fantastic program and so on. The closer they get in terms of remaining with us year and year, it becomes more difficult and the pressure does go on the parents.”
When the youngsters leave school, a lucky few will be offered professional contracts. But, says Ray, it is then that the pressure becomes even more intense as the goal of a first team debut is in sight for the players who are now amongst the best in the country in their age group.
Hall continued: “Boys who are now under 16, leaving school and coming to us will see the pyramid that was so wide at the bottom is coming to the sharp end and that’s when it gets difficult for everybody.
“Part of our education process is to work with parents on an understanding of what its like to have a son who is an elite performer, because that’s what they are.”
By Andrew Tuft