Football Development Project: Swifts Talent Centre at Waterside Karori
As part of an ongoing series examining football development in New Zealand, Liam Hyslop has visited some of the prominent football academies in Wellington. This part looks at a relative newcomer in the Swifts Talent Centre.
Swifts Talent Centre at Waterside Karori AFC
Who's in charge: Ryan Edwards (Academy Director) Lincoln Matthews (Business Manager)
Club (highest level): Waterside Karori AFC (Capital Premier League and under-17 Capital league)
Based: Uses parks and artificial surfaces across the Western suburbs but about to get its own as the new Terawhiti Turf opens at Karori Park
Players: 180, under-9 to under-17
Cost: Prices start at $325 for the full year and vary on the age group and the amount the players decide to do. The high end $650 for the full season or $1000 for a full year
What do you get for that: 2-4 sessions per week, educational seminars and team building, and one-on-one coaching (depending on the age group)
Scholarships: Coming soon
How many coaches: Six, a mixture of fulltime and part-time
Can the kids play for school: Yes, although they recommend players player in one environment to maximise development and manage workloads
Girls programme: Yes. Partnered with Samuel Marsden Collegiate.
Recruitment: Not actively. They don't turn people away, but the primary focus is on developing Karori players.
The Swifts philosophy
Having worked with some of the academies in the region in the past, Waterside Karori decided, given their 1000-strong numbers, it would be better to create a development programme that was managed from within the club.
From that Swifts was created, with the aim to produce a one-programme approach to football development, similar to that of the private providers, but applied in a club setting.
It is also more affordable than the other operations in the region, with the top-end, full programme sitting at $1000 for the year, a price which keeps it accessible for most players.
And even for those who can't afford the full programme there is choice. Players can choose the number of training sessions they wish to attend per week and if they want to play for school. What Swifts have found is the longer the kids stay in the programme the more sessions they want to attend, and the more sessions they attend, the less inclined they are to play elsewhere. The training also caters for wide range of skill levels as part of the club's "something for everyone" approach, with other initiatives outside of the elite training environment available for kids who just want to give football a go or get a bit of extra training in.
Increasing player numbers combined with the lack of a true training base has provided the Swifts with a few challenges over the last year, but the new artificial turf at Karori Park is almost finished. Once the turf is in and training is in one fixed location, look for the programme to really take off.
How Swifts sees the New Zealand football development landscape
Edwards spent six years coaching in the FTC setup before starting the Swifts, so knows two of the sides of the complex development landscape.
He wants New Zealand to "catch up with the rest of the world" in terms of the high-end programmes offered to our young players, with improvements needed in both on-field performance and off-field administration.
However, Edwards said the situation had vastly improved in the last five years, in part due to the collaborative approach of coaches.
"New Zealand Football and Capital Football are increasing their learning from overseas and the programmes available through academies, and clubs like Karori, mean that Wellington is leading the way.
"What's great about New Zealand is that people are friendly and tend to have open door policies. Andy [Hedge] and Paul [Temple] at the Phoenix have been very helpful through offering me a role as a coach for their National Youth League team and have provided ongoing support. Similarly, Declan and Ben at Ole, reflect this collaborative approach that can help mature football in New Zealand so one day we can compete with the rest of the world."
There had to be a shift away from players being pulled from school trainings to FTC trainings to club or academy trainings, Edwards said.
"The world now recognises that talent development occurs best in a single environment, delivered by qualified, professional coaches. The days of players playing in multiple environments, training excessively and playing multiple games for school and club on the weekend will hopefully soon be a thing of the past. We're working hard to play our part in this evolution.
"However, we can be different and not overly professionalise youth development. The needs of the child should be ahead of the needs of the player. It is important that we deliver programmes capable of producing players to reach the pinnacle of the game, but we also want that to be fun, supporting and engaging. When programmes become too much about the money and focused on only the top one per cent of players, there is a risk we lose sight of the true needs of the child and the 99 per cent of other players in our care.
"Football is a great sport for helping our young people develop the tools to succeed in life. If a child is going to reach the pinnacle of either their sport or in anything else they chose to pursue in life then, hard work, discipline, dedication and enjoyment will be at the heart of their success."