Alice Kempski, National Football Development Manager at Association of Colleges

The increased presence of technology within college sport is proving beneficial for colleges, teachers and students alike. Programmes are being bolstered with numerous technology solutions which offer the ability to record, monitor and analyse sporting activity, which ultimately maximises development. Colleges are using the same solutions to drive internal reporting and coaching standards; strengthen their relationships with professional clubs and academies; and help learners build a portfolio they can take with them into higher education or employment.

Sport an integral part of college offer

Sport in further education is a competitive field. More than ever before, students are selecting their place of study based on its sporting offer. Looking at the college sector now, there is an abundance of football education programmes. Students are becoming increasingly selective around colleges’ sports performance environments and what they offer in terms of supporting talent and transition into clubs. 

At the more advanced end, colleges are sculpting a clear brand around their sports offering. Traditionally a university model, we are now seeing this creep into further education. For example, some leading colleges have developed a clear identity for their sports programme, which encompass both further education and higher education offers and the option for students to live on site, making them a viable option for international prospects and those outside of their catchment zone. These institutions boast high quality coaching and support services wrapped around their programme, such as strength and conditioning, physiotherapy, psychology, and nutrition.

An alternative model is seeing colleges partner with a professional club. While aforementioned leading college teams play under their own brand, some colleges have formed relationships with established professional and semi-professional clubs meaning that the college team competes under the club brand, club kit will be worn on and off the pitch, and student players will feed into club’s development and senior squads. These arrangements often pose attractive opportunities for students, with the club coaches giving their time to the college teams, in addition to use of club facilities and support services.

Both systems show an applied effort from colleges to provide learners with high quality experiences aligned to top-flight academy football programmes. These tangible routes to professionalism are key to attracting prospective students.

AI cameras allow students to evidence sporting performance

Technology solutions are facilitating this development and underpinning the improvement of offers. We have a partnership with a company called Veo, who provide AI cameras which record activity on the pitch by tracking the ball, and then a simple platform allows players and coaches to cut the footage afterwards, to produce highlights packages or footage for analysis. Their cameras are already used in over 200 schools in the UK, and we are working to make them more accessible to colleges.

Veo’s cameras enable colleges to film matches and evaluate performance with students, creating an elevated standard of analysis. It also provides them with footage that helps their career progression – players that have been selected for England Colleges have used the tool to compile a bank of footage of them playing for their country. These highlights reels can be used when they move on to university, or even to send to U.S. scouts. 

While the tool is fantastic for a college’s academy team, it can also be useful from a curriculum standpoint. It provides learners on sports qualifications with the opportunity to analyse their own footage and capture evidence which contributes to their overall practical assessment for PE A level or vocational and technical qualifications for sport. Veo cameras provide curriculum staff with a simple and effective way to do this, adding value to the learning experience they can offer their students.

GPS tracking provides objective data

Another partner of ours is Catapult, who provide a GPS tracking solution which is currently proving effective in the college sector. In this case, students play sport wearing vests with a GPS tracker attached. After their session, their coaches can analyse how far they ran, at what speed and in what areas of the pitch. This presents learners with a sophisticated level of feedback that can be used for their development before they have even set foot in a professional club environment.

As with Veo, the Catapult solution is a lifeline to colleges and students wishing to provide proof to coaches, scouts and higher education representatives. A learner can now identify an area in need of improvement, for example repeated sprinting. Using the Catapult GPS data, they can show that they have worked on their sprint timings or distances, and then evidence their progress in hard stats. This shows both physical development and the strength of their character, demonstrating that they have the professional attributes to identify and improve a specific element of their game or fitness.

UK college sports mimicking success of the U.S.

The U.S. model of professional sports standards in colleges has been long-established. They have elaborate draft systems and scholarships creating pathways into elite careers. This system is very different to the UK model, and it is unlikely we’ll ever see the draft system here. But the scholarship model is something we are seeing in the UK, and it is feeding successfully into further education. With different cultures and values, we are taking the elements we like from the U.S. model and implementing them as appropriate.

It is not an easy thing to create a self-sustainable sports performance programme. There are always challenges with funding, and it is crucial to have a senior leader who is invested in making college sport a priority. If an institution can execute a solid model, it may well contribute to a college’s Ofsted rating. In the most recent framework enrichment activities is listed as an example of how personal development and character can be built, contributing to the development of healthy and positive student population. 

Colleges which have taken steps to build a layer of professionalism within their sports offering reap these rewards, and technology is proving a real elevator of standards.

Alice Kempski is National Football Development Manager at Association of Colleges, who are partnered with Veo, a global leader in AI-powered sports recording and analysis


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