Liz Verrall reflects on the previous season and looks ahead to 2023/24
As we enter a new season, we take a breath and look back at the 2022-23 season, the successes, and the challenges.
We have seen significant growth in players across the 2022-23 season, now exceeding our starting point of the strategy, in the male game by 11.2% and in the female game by 7.7%. At the end of June 2023, we had over 66,000 players registered with a club across Berks & Bucks FA. If you add the number of coaches, volunteers, referees, and league officials to that number, we are working for and influencing approximately 80,000 people on an annual basis.
When you step back, you see the responsibility and impact that Berks & Bucks FA has on the beautiful game, but more importantly, you also see the scale of the impact of the thousands of volunteers and coaches that have the responsibility for creating a positive football experience week in, week out.
Behaviour is a hot topic; I saw a quote this morning that popped into my inbox. It was from Simon Sinek (author), and it said “Excuses don’t help make things better. They only offer a rationale to avoid trying.” Football generally seems to blame the high-profile behaviour of the players in the top levels of the game as reason why it happens on our grassroots football pitches… but is that our excuse and our rationale?
While most games go without incident, one incident is one too many. We must collectively tackle behaviour in the game to not only encourage those in the game to stay but also to attract those that see this behaviour as a reason not to be involved. This season we will be seeing several initiatives rolled out including a league conference for behaviour, work with individual clubs that are meeting a threshold of unacceptable behaviour and increased resource and attention into discrimination in the game.
You will also see an increased emphasis put on inclusion in the game. We have appointed a Community & Inclusion Manager to lead some of the work in this area, we know we have an opportunity and a responsibility to open football to communities that have traditionally not been represented. We did receive a comment towards the end of last season via our social media channels which asked us to, ‘stop ramming ‘rainbow laces’ and inclusion in our faces.'
Let me be clear, we will not stop promoting the game, for all.
Our role is to encourage people to play football, to provide safe environments and to make the game accessible to all. The very nature of this tweet gives us an insight into some of the challenges we face and motivates us to do more in this area. Over the season we will be launching a new strategy for Community & Inclusion, several activities within new communities to us and the re-launch of the Inclusion Advisory Group to check and challenge our actions.
More players also mean an increased reliance on our volunteers. We ask for qualifications, DBS checks and general administration to ensure that we have oversight on the suitability of those that are looking after the football experience. We understand that the burden on volunteers is increasing but we hope that the rationale behind what we are asking for is clear. We have a responsibility to protect the integrity of the game and to ensure we know who is operating within our football clubs. We have one motivation here- to keep people safe. We will be visiting clubs across the season to offer advice and support on safeguarding and to ensure that the data we hold on who is running sessions is validated.
Referees is an area of focus for us over the 2023-24 season. 2022-23 was the first season, post-COVID, where we have been able to run courses, we have run many courses and with additional investment going in to running of courses for 2023-24 we will run an even larger number of courses. We will always fill the initial training course, the challenge is to keep the candidates in the game, to provide additional attention to those who have completed courses but are not actively refereeing to encourage them to step over the white line and to referee week in, week out.
The more players that we have, the more the strain on our existing facility stock. It is important that we continue to work with partners ensure we are using existing sites to their full potential while working with applicants to create more facilities for football. Over the next season we will be encouraging schools to open their sites to football clubs, working on new facility applications with the Football Foundation and other funding providers and working closely with clubs and local authorities to improve the quality of our pitches through grant aid and the assessment of pitches.
These are just some initial thoughts as we enter the new season; the areas where we have prioritised resource, and where we see some of the biggest challenges.
We look forward to the season ahead, working with our members and developing increased opportunities for people to enjoy our game. Enjoy the remainder of the summer break.
CEO, Berks & Bucks FA