Developing the Beacon Hill Youth Academy
Take a trip up to Beacon Hill on any Saturday morning in the season and you'll find seventy to eighty young players and their coaches training in preparation for their matches the following day. This thriving enterprise has put player development right at the heart of the club's ethos, and brought many benefits to boot. As the first instalment of youth players are now firmly establishing themselves in the senior sides, with another influx soon to follow, the 'Class of 2008' manager and Community Coach Peter Mickelsen takes a look at the development of the Beacon Hill Youth Academy.
Beacon Hill has a long tradition of youth football, we had teams in the “minors” leagues in the thirties through to the fifties under the guidance of Joe Cousins. However, the enthusiasm waned and it wasn’t until the early nineties that youth football started again in earnest at the club.
The first attempt survived a few seasons before it folded at the age group of Under 12s mainly due to lack of facilities and pitches at the club's old home at Snows Corner. Two of that squad, Charlie Montrose and Lewis Whiting rejoined the club as fifteen year olds. They went on to play for the adult teams and both become recipients of the Rovers’ Young Player of the Year Awards. At the same time Gary Cutting ran a Beacon Hill Youth team for two seasons at Under 17s and Under 18s level leading to a number of players coming through into the adult teams - one of whom, Blake Crouch, is still playing.
The club saw the benefits of running youth teams, both as a source of new players and to increase Beacon Hill’s community involvement. With this in mind a more concerted plan for youth development was implemented in 1998. The new youth team entered the traditional Village Fete competition and as Under 7s won, defeating local rivals Tiptree Minors in the final. This time the project was successful as the team was sustained and went through all the age groups to Under 16.
From that starting point youth football has firmly established itself as a vital part of Beacon Hill’s plans for the future. We now run many teams, with the twin purposes of sustaining youth football for boys and girls from age six who want to play, and as a route into senior men’s and women’s football.
The club made a decision in 2007 that it would run youth teams up to and including the under 16 age group and no older. Once a player reaches their sixteenth birthday they are eligible to play “open age” football, that is, they can play for the senior sides. A high number of senior players coupled with the emerging youth players led to the club creating a third men’s senior team.
The first tranche of youth players have now progressed to senior football. Back in 2007 the first “graduate” was Will Sargeant who, at the age of sixteen and a matter of days, made his début for the Thirds and competed at both youth and senior level for the club in 2007/08. He was followed in that first season by Grady O’Brien, Zach Morton, Eion King, Jamie Rogers, Ryan Maydon, Alex Mickelsen and Tom Stimson. In 2008/09 and 2009/10 a further nine of our young players came through. Youth players have now represented Beacon Hill at all senior levels, with the exception of the vets - that milestone will be reached in 2026! Players have appeared with the first team in the Mid Essex Premier Division, the reserves in the Mid Essex 4th Division, the Thirds (or A team) in the Mid Essex 5th Division and the Ladies in the Essex County Ladies Alliance League.
Season 2010/11 will see the next group become eligible for the senior sides. If the numbers coming through successfully are as good as the previous two teams then the pressure on places in the senior sides will increase. We are hopeful this will lead to improving the standard of play still further throughout Beacon Hill. Our experience locally to date shows that the conversion rate from youth to senior football looks to be about fifty percent. Not all our youth players will make it through to the senior sides, many choose not to continue with football, and of course further education presents challenges of continuity. Players will move away from the area, sometimes temporarily and some may chose to play for colleges / universities or firms.
Moving up from youth football to senior level also challenges young players to adapt. It is a different environment. Players need to demonstrate their independence and maturity, and understand the expectations placed upon them. In a fully competitive environment there can be no allowances made for age. Despite this Beacon Hill will continue to pay close attention to the progress of youth players when they make the leap to the senior teams and support them to ensure that every opportunity is open for them to continue their development within the club.
Operating a youth development plan is not without its challenges. The club puts in a significant amount of resources and effort. We have twenty active qualified coaches at level 1 and 2, led by a level 3 Coach Development Officer. We work closely with the FA on a local, regional and national level, for which we have received due recognition. Our player focussed approach has been developed in partnership with the FA and Beacon Hill Rovers FC are proud to feature in a reference DVD used by all aspiring football coaches.
What of the future? There are four youth teams competing now and we will form a further girl’s team to take over where the last one left off. This will provide a pool of approaching one hundred players over the coming years. Youth football development is alive and well at Beacon Hill.