Lockdown has brought challenges that have affected many children, but with some innovative online ideas, Soccer Hub has helped with the physical and mental well-being of their 150 players across the north of England
Lockdown has come at a price across all elements of society, but often children get overlooked. Freedom to play was curbed almost overnight, and as the months have passed it has, without doubt, taken a toll on health and wellbeing. For those young footballers used to a routine of training through the week and playing at weekends, club and soccer schools have moved gallantly to shift their training online. This has, at least, provided some solace, and an element of normality, certainly through the long, hard winter of short days and long, dark nights.
There are feel-good stories to be found up and down the country, and one of the most proactive coaches during this difficult period has been coach Jordan Armstrong, who has worked tirelessly to bring innovative online sessions to his highly-regarded soccer hub in the north of England.
‘While we were able to host three covid-secure soccer camps last year – plus attending a Christmas cup tournament in Bradford, in which each of our four age groups got to the final and our eights and nines won – our progress has, of course, been punctuated by the second and third lockdowns,’ says Jordan. ‘It’s been frustrating for us as a soccer hub, but always at the forefront of our minds has been the children.
‘We know they’ve been going through a particularly tough time, so it was vital that we kept our players physically active and mentally stimulated.’ While the November lockdown only lasted 30 days and children remained at school, Jordan and fellow hub coach James McGown were still able to go into primary schools to deliver their programmes – however, online delivery took centre stage.
‘We had a challenge where the children had to complete 50,000 kick-ups,’ Jordan adds. ‘Incredibly, they ended up completing 123,296 kick-ups as a group and in the process raised £1,200 to the Anxious Minds mental health charity that supports children.
‘We know they’ve been going through a particularly tough time, so it was vital that we kept our players physically active and mentally stimulated’
‘Our players were absolutely brilliant, and it was fantastic to see them get out with a ball. One child did over 50,000 on his own, while one of our under-9s, Jack, raised £500 off his own back – phenomenal.”
What has set Soccer Hub apart during the winter lockdowns has been the number of online workshops set up to help counter those long, dark evenings.
‘The hardest thing in these two lockdowns, compared to the first one, has been the time of year,’ adds James.’ It got dark earlier and the weather wasn’t great, so we thought it was imperative that we delivered some really good workshops.
‘In the second lockdown we did Zoom classes for our groups, looking at different areas around the game; for example the breakdown to playing out from the back. We also put on big workshops for the players where they answered questions relating it to their age group.
‘It was really beneficial as their learning hadn’t really stopped in a sense. They were still developing their tactical knowledge, which they could implement when they returned to the grass. Parents also sent through their kids’ work which we had set; some had written lots, others had drawn spider diagrams and mind maps – there was a real variety of work that demonstrated to us that they understood the concept of what we’re trying to develop.”
Given the time of year, lockdown three has been the hardest for everyone, so to maintain contact with all 150 players within the hub’s academy and development centres, Jordan and James have given up their free time further to provide each player with a 15-minute one-to-one Zoom call with parents or guardians.
‘We care about our kids and their development so these calls were like a parents’ evening of sorts,’ Jordan reveals. ‘We spoke about how the child is coping with lockdown, how they’re getting on with homeschooling, how’s mum and dad; and football-wise, what their strengths are, where improvements can be made, and then we set a target to work on for when they come back into training.”
‘We care about our kids and their development so these calls were like a parents’ evening of sorts,’
‘This is helped by creating an individual learning plan, which has the player’s face on it, and a role model like Ronaldo, somebody to aspire to,’ adds James. ‘On there is a breakdown of the four corners for development and they will get a general coach’s comment based on how they’ve been training and performing every two months. They’ll also get a ‘super strength’, which will tell them what we think their best attribute is, and they’ll get an area for development, where we think they can be even more effective.”
Jordan has also run a live after-school club on Instagram and Facebook, which has included sessions with Austin McIntosh, the ex-Mansfield full-back, whose career ended at 20 due to an eye injury; Andy Renshaw, the ex-Liverpool first-team physio, who spoke to parents about child growth and injuries; and the former Stoke defender Carl Dickinson, who shared his journey to the top.
‘Football, sport and exercise is massively important for children’s mental health and wellbeing, so I’ve felt really sorry for them,’ Jordan concludes. ‘These kids have spent over a year observing rules, everyone wearing masks, people on edge, social distancing for training and school, the list goes on… so for me, they are heroes in all this.
‘Some of the ways they have dealt with the pandemic has been an inspiration – and I just hope in some small way we’ve helped them get through such a difficult time. When everything hopefully opens up entirely this summer, it’s going to be a time for celebration. We’ll be doing so much to get out there and get them playing again.’
To discover more about Soccer Hub, visit soccerhub.org.uk Soccer Hub Foundation, which is a free session once a week for children and families affected by the pandemic, has also been launched. Visit @soccerhubcoaching on instagram.