Former Academy Striker Helping Young Players to Find US Scholarships
Wednesday, 28th Jan 2015 16:35
Former Town academy striker Liam Barrett has set up a company which helps young footballers find scholarships at US colleges.
Barrett, 25, was with the academy from the age of nine until he was 18, playing alongside the likes of Tommy Smith, Jordan Rhodes and Ed Upson, but having had four knee operations was unable to follow them into the professional game.
Instead, Barrett, a former pupil of Orwell High School in Felixstowe, took up a scholarship at the Illinois Institute of Technology and it was through his experiences that the idea for his business, US Soccer Scholarships, developed.
“Myself and my colleague who started the company went through a service provider ourselves and the service we got was minimal to nothing,” he told TWTD.
“When we both came back we thought there was no reason we couldn’t do it ourselves because we’d been through the process, which they hadn’t, and by utilising my connections in the game there was no reason we couldn’t do it and just try and improve on the service that we’d got ourselves.”
He says players released from professional clubs’ youth set-ups are in good positions to win scholarships in the States: “We try and specifically target academy players because we know they’re of a good enough standard.
“As part of the academy scholarship you do a BTec National Diploma in sport which means they’ve still been in education.
“While their ability is going to be good enough to play college soccer, the other question is whether their grades are good enough. They need at least to be averaging a C at GCSE.
“Academies have all their own video footage of games against higher quality opposition, which gives them an advantage.”
But he says players don’t have to have been with professional clubs’ academies: “We’ve been at Town and at Norwich, Colchester, Southend and West Ham, so we’ve got connections there.
“But we’ve also signed a player from Needham Market so it isn’t necessary to have been through an academy as long as you’ve got the ability.
“Another big thing for us is also pushing women’s soccer. We’ve signed a player called Ellie Rossiter, she plays for Ipswich Ladies. We’re also frequently over in Ireland with Shane Supple, he’s got players over there.”
Having been through the academy system himself, Barrett is aware of how few end up forging careers in the professional game: “There’s such a small minority that make it. I think I read the other day that beyond 24 only two per cent of players that have been scholars are pros at that point.
“For me it just seems a no-brainer to effectively get a free education and have something to fall back on.
“You do find with so many players that they’ve always had their hearts set on it and whether it’s through injury or just not getting that bit of luck they’re left in a really tough position. There really is value there.”
Clubs are keen to see exiting players win scholarships and he says developing close relationships both with academies here and colleges in the US is fundamental to the company’s approach.
“It will be the academy's education officer that will be interested in getting involved and being able to help them,” he adds.
“It helps having the connections because he wants someone he can trust so he knows they’re going to place them somewhere.
“We’re trying to be a niche just taking the top players and having a personal relationship with them.
“We do a personality profile for the coaches over there. We’ve got contacts at every school in the US. We put together a highlights video for them and we circulate that and that starts the conversation.
“We’re at the point now where all these coaches trust us based on the footage. There’s a log-in section of our website where the coaches can search via position or whether they’re looking for male or female players.”
He says that while some players will be looking for another route into the professional game, others will be focusing more on the education aspect: “Every player’s different. For example, you might have a player who is very pushed with the academics.
“I knew I wanted to go to university because of my injuries, my focus was to get as good an education as I could get, whereas you get some players who have just missed out on getting a pro deal at a club and they see us as an opportunity not only to get a degree but look to get back into the MLS.
“There’s a player in the MLS called Dom Dwyer who got released by Norwich as a youth and has come through the system and this year he finished the second top scorer in the MLS [with Sporting Kansas City].
“I got invited to the MLS draft in my fourth year but by that time I was like Ledley King, I was just playing games and not training and having steroid injections in my knee to get through games.
“So that’s feasible but it’s also a very tough competitive league. I think people downplay how tough it would be to break through, but obviously 95 per cent of the players who play in the MLS have gone through the college system because it does effectively act as an academy does to a pro club in England.”
There’s also the possibility of a return to the professional game in the UK, although for many scholars gaining coaching qualifications is a more likely path back into football.
“If they really were pushing for it we’ve got scouts at Premiership clubs, so if they were that good they could get a trial but obviously it can be difficult to get in at a professional club,” Barrett continued.
“But there are so many opportunities. I did my coaching B Licence at Ipswich, I coached the U13s for a while, and you can do your Masters and be an assistant coach, so that’s another opportunity to get even more education essentially for free.”
You can read more about US Soccer Scholarships on their website here.
Photo: Action Images
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