Paul Bracewell is channelling his considerable footballing expertise into a pioneering app designed to aid the improvement of players of all ages and abilities.
The idea for Grow Football formed more than two years ago and has become a labour of love for classy former Everton midfielder Bracewell, who has brought the app to life in conjunction with Imperial College London.
Bracewell was a pivotal figure in Howard Kendall’s imperious mid-1980s Everton team – whose story is charmingly told in the film Howard's Way – and played 57 games in the heady 1984/85 season when the Blues claimed major honours at home and abroad.
An elite development coach currently working with Tottenham Hotspur, Bracewell was sounded out over the Grow Football app early in 2018.
The final design landed in the app store last month, with an official launch spearheaded by YouTube stars the F2 Freestylers poised for September.
Bracewell, who is already switching his focus to how the app will evolve, constructed its design around what he calls the “brilliant basics”, which underpin the games of every footballer who reaches the pinnacle of the sport.
“But the beauty of the app,” Bracewell told evertonfc.com, “is it can challenge everybody to get better, from the highest level, through to semi-professional and grass roots players.
“The development process lasted more than two-and-a-half years,” continued Bracewell.
“The main challenge was transferring drills from the training ground to an app which can perform exactly how you want.
“We needed a comprehensive trial-and-error phase, with me making suggestions, then assessing how they performed when applied to the technology.
“The objective for all of us was to create a top-class training tool and we believe we have managed to achieve that.
“It was vital that anybody, regardless of age or ability, could benefit from the app.
“We needed to include a competitive element and allow for progression in every exercise.
“It can be used for a bit of fun, to be competitive with your friends or teammates, or for serious work on improving your individual game.
“We have had some excellent feedback and with the technology at our disposal there is more to come.”
Bracewell describes the meeting of his football brain with the technological proficiency of his business partners as the “perfect blend”.
The concept – which has gained approval from Bracewell’s former Everton and England teammate Gary Lineker and Ryan Mason, the ex-Tottenham midfielder – grew from the germ of a plan for a tennis-focused app.
It was when a change of tack to feeding football’s global appeal was agreed that Bracewell was approached, recognition of a first-rate coaching career with the FA and at clubs including Sunderland and Spurs.
Bracewell, who claimed a league title winner’s medal and won the European Cup Winners’ Cup in five years with Everton after arriving from Sunderland in 1984, concedes training models have changed beyond recognition since he began as an apprentice with Stoke City.
Some practices have survived the intervening 40 years, though, which is where Bracewell zooms in on his ‘brilliant basics’ theory.
“The principles I learned as a young footballer stand the test of time,” said Bracewell, who would have won far more than his three England caps but for a serious ankle injury sustained midway through the player’s second Goodison Park season.
“But you can use technology to advance drills and exercises we were following 35 or 40 years ago.
“You have to be able to pass and control the ball on both sides.
“If you can hone those skills it will make you a better player and, hopefully, improve the team and the coaching you receive.”
The Grow Football app features five separate elements. To record performance the user scans the football and drill area before positioning their phone nearby or asking someone to film them complete the exercise.
Bracewell, who reunited with his former Everton colleagues at the St George's Hall premiere of Howard's Way 10 months ago, ultimately alighted on categories for freestyling, keepie-uppies and inside-out (manipulating the ball with the inside and outside of the boot), with additional speed test and slalom practices.
A personal scorecard is created, providing instant feedback on performance.
All the exercises are intuitive and the app features an audible tool to guide players through drills.
“The reason I know it works is because I have used these drills through my career and, given time and the right practice, anyone can improve,” said Bracewell.
“And you can monitor your improvement, you have evidence it is working.
“Some of the guys working on the technological aspects had never kicked a ball but they’ve been following the routines and got better and better.
“You want a competitive edge but the extent of that competition is entirely up to the individual.
“There is a competitive element in improving personally.
“And if you want to try to beat other people or compete with friends you can do that.”
This video is for Season Ticket Holders, Official Members and 19/20 Hospitality Members
This video is available for free to Digital Members
Free Digital Membership will provide you with the best possible experience when logged into the website, including access to the latest digital content.
Digital members will receive a monthly newsletter and get access to exclusive videos and regular member competitions offering money can’t buy prizes.
Your Digital account will also enable you to buy any tickets on general sale, and if you’re an Official member or Season Ticket Holder, the same login will allow you to access and manage your ticketing account.
To view this content you need to be a Season Ticket Holder, Hospitality Member or Official Member.
'I HAD A RESPONSIBILITY TO GET IT RIGHT'
Grow Football has a soaring 4.9 rating in the app store.
“But,” insists Bracewell, “there is huge scope for development.
“We will listen to every piece of feedback and continually improve the app.
“We are still scratching the surface.
“I am a big believer that if you get the ‘brilliant basics’ right, you can improve individually and as a team.
“You can use the app to train by yourself or in couples or groups or as a team.
“If you don’t have a garden, you can use it inside.
“It was essential that it was accessible for everybody.
“I am hoping a lot of Evertonians will download it and, most of all, enjoy it.
“We are really excited about Grow Football and this is just the beginning.
“It could be massive.”
Everton - Howard's Way tells the full story of Howard Kendall's glorious trophy-winning team in the 1980s and tales from Merseyside during that era.
All proceeds from the documentary will go to fund The People's Place, Everton's purpose-built mental health facility close to Goodison Park.
Click here for details of how to watch Howard's Way.