Six Months of Velocity: Reflecting on a whirlwind start to our revamped full-time educational academy

Six months have passed since Velocity Football launched the only football-based education programme of its kind in Oxfordshire aimed at young people with aspirations to develop a career in sport.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only presented our newly formed team of coaches and tutors with unprecedented challenges, but also students on our revamped and improved programmes who are learning remotely with the support of daily interaction via Zoom and 360Player.

But even the challenges of lockdown cannot mask the achievements of our students since they enrolled with the programme. In fact, they make them even more remarkable. Here, we reflect on the highlights to date since our first official day of term back in September.

Player development

Helping develop students into young adults and creating well-rounded individuals capable of entering the professional world is at the heart of our core values.

It is our ambition to support every student to reach their full potential at Velocity Football.

To underpin our aims, we have developed an experienced and supportive team of professionals and invested in technology to support each students’ pathway.

“The introduction of GPS Vests, 360Player and Veo Camera has enhanced students’ learning experiences and player development,” said Justin Merritt, Velocity Football director.

“Our player pathway opportunities have already seen current BTEC students Ethan Gough and Tyan Hawkins involved with Oxford City FC’s first team. Additionally, every student has the opportunity to play competitively during their time at Velocity via our three registered teams in the Tactic and National Leagues that accommodate for players of all abilities.”

Tyan Hawkins has been working hard in and outside of the classroom to progress his development.

Quality coaching

Delivering education with impact from expert coaches and tutors has been an essential philosophy of the Velocity Football programme.

It is why we appointed Mickey Lewis and Lauren Haynes as head coaches of our male and female programmes. Mickey is a UEFA A Licence coach and has more than 400 professional appearances to his name in addition to a coaching career that saw him work in the Football League and in America.

Lauren meanwhile is the current captain of Oxford United Women FC. Together they are assisted by a strong team of experienced UEFA B coaches including 2019-20 Oxford City Player of the Season Josh Ashby.

To underline our commitment to quality teaching, we recently hired Dean Tetley and Dominic Newton to join our team of coaches as strength and conditioning coach and performance analyst.

Partnerships

In November we announced Macron Store Cardiff as principle sponsors of our programmes and our partners Oxford City FC until the end of the 2021-22 season. The sportswear supplier is providing training kit for all our colleagues and students.

Vestel Visual Solutions and Westcoast generously donated of a 75” analysis screen that has enhanced students’ ability to analyse their own performances.

We are also grateful to Virtual Learning UK, whose delivery of our BTEC Level 3 and Level 2 programmes ensures our students are receiving a strong education to support the training they complete on the pitch with our team of UEFA A and B licence coaches.

Working with organisations including Ignite Sport UK, Oxford Brookes and Activate Learning has also helped us retain strong community values.

A team effort

The pandemic has in many cases brought out the best in people across the country, and the same applies at Velocity Football.

In January, coaches, tutors and students combined to complete Red January, raising more than £1,000 for Sport in Mind – a charity that supports people suffering with mental health problems via sport.

Lauren Haynes, Head Coach of our female programme, said: “Red January really developed the team spirit among our students and although we still cannot welcome them through the Velocity Stadium doors it is evident many have developed friendships for life.

“I have been impressed by the proactive qualities the students have displayed through lockdown by helping to deliver Zoom-based skills sessions to some of Oxford City’s young female players. Our hands-on approach to learning means students are developing real-life skills they can apply professionally once they graduate from the programme.”

Virtual open events

COVID-19 restrictions meant we could not host any physical open events to prospective students. So, we innovated and delivered three virtual open events via Zoom.

Our PR partners Fortitude Communications produced a professional showcase video that highlighted all aspects of the Velocity Football programme with input from Justin Merritt, Lauren Haynes, Mickey Lewis and some current students.

“It has been great to see so much passion for careers in professional sport among young people in Oxfordshire and further afield,” said Justin. “We received lots of positive feedback and interest in our programmes from the virtual open events and look forward to welcoming our second intake of students in September.”

You can watch our video by visiting our YouTube page here.

Community response

In addition to our in-house responsibilities, we have also called on the expertise of figures outside the Velocity Football frame to inspire and motivate our students.

In November, we welcomed England U17s sports-scientist Luke Taylor to the Velocity Stadium to lead a socially distanced session with some of our BTEC students.

Luke’s visit has prompted some students to consider a career in his field once they graduate from Velocity because of the greater understanding they have developed regarding the role of a sports scientist in a professional environment.

Other guests that have visited Velocity Football since our launch include BBC South Today, who ran a feature on the evening news to showcase the opportunity we provide to young people. You can watch the news clipping here.

COVID-19

The safety of our students and their families will always be of the upmost importance.

Since our doors opened in September, everyone on site has been required to sanitize their hands upon arrival, keep at least two metres distance between students not in their training bubble and wear masks in areas where social distancing is not possible.

These rules will remain in place until Government guidelines change and students will continue to learn from home until further notice.

Justin added: “I’d like to thank everyone for working together to ensure Velocity Football is doing everything possible to keep our students and their families safe during these difficult times.

“Training sessions have had to be postponed, re-written and adapted by our team to ensure everyone on site remains safe. Hopefully, we can look forward to a much brighter future in the coming months.”

Information regarding the relaxation of rules will be provided on our social media channels and website.

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