Despite the best efforts of all involved over the past few to ensure that Scotland’s future footballers are trained to the same standard at the same ages in line with the Scottish Football Associations One National Plan program, some of our youngsters are still missing out on access to academy level coaching simply because of their postcode.
It’s because of this that we should all be thankful we have amongst us people like 23 year old Mark McAuley (pictured right, coaching local youngsters), a vibrant, talented young man who recently set up the first ever coaching academy for children living up in Tain in the Scottish Highlands. His organisation, Do Soccer, aims to deliver top quality tutoring to those who would otherwise have gone without and both children and parents have welcomed him with open arms.
I spoke to Mark recently about his background, aims and goals for the future ahead of the trials he will be holding later this month.
“I started coaching when I was 16 and was invited along to help at an under 10’s football team down in Dunfermline and my interest just snowballed to the point where I’m now running my own company. I’ve been able to travel the world thanks to my work with football and consider myself very lucky to have had the experiences I’ve had thanks to the sport.”
“The idea behind this undertaking is simply to give these children the same opportunities that they would get if they lived elsewhere. Running after school programs and lunchtime clubs for kids, parents would ask me how their boys were getting on and what the next step was for them and I had to be honest and tell them that there wasn’t a next step as clubs like Ross County and Inverness Caledonian Thistle are a four hour round trip away and local teams don’t have the necessary set up. So I thought if no one else was going to then I’d try to do it myself.”
Rural areas are often sparsely populated with one school. Mark used to coach at educating the sum total of 18 pupils and as a result there often aren’t many options for children to further themselves. As a result interest in Do Soccer has been intense from the outset as youngsters now have the chance to improve their footballing ability and develop social skills that they otherwise might not.
“It’s great that we have the One National Plan project but it would be logistically impossible to implement up here, there are no local leagues or teams nearby who we can play so I’m relying on I will be relying on ICT and Ross County along with all other professional youth set ups to make it a success."
“This academy is here to give kids a chance and to provide for them something that they aren’t able to get anywhere else and something that’ll make them feel special.”
The squad is completely non-profit and it’s hoped that it can secure sponsorship in order to be self-sufficient and although currently without support from the SFA there is hope that will change once this enterprise is up and running. “My hope is that eventually I can approach the governing bodies and say, 'This is what I have and this is what I’m doing, what can you do to help me give these kids a chance?'”.
“These boys are absolutely buzzing right now and all they and their classmates are talking about are the sessions I’m running, asking question upon question as this is something completely new to them and the area. Currently I’m only recruiting from primaries five to seven but these boys will grow and move into a different age group and new kids will hopefully take their place meaning that the whole endeavour will grow naturally to give everyone their chance in time."
This part of the country has proved a fertile land for producing talent in recent times with both Gary Mackay-Steven and the 'Mintlaw Miracle' Kim Little growing up in the north of Scotland and it’s hoped that Mark’s project will prove to be the springboard that allows many others to tread a path the leads to the highest levels of the game.
At the very least it will open doors into a world that was merely a dream for many and it can only be hoped that others follow this example and help to give a hand to those that have had to do without for far too long.