Students’ spirit epitomises the power of football and its ability to change lives

Justin Merritt, Director of Velocity Football, reflects on a whirlwind first year for the educational academy.

It is hard to believe a year has passed since plans to revamp and improve Oxford City Football Club’s full-time educational academy were finalised.

This month, we had the priviledge of hosting an end of year celebration to mark the achievements of our first intake of students.

The Velocity programme consists of Virtual Learning UK’s Level 3 BTEC Extended Diploma in Sport and Level 2 BTEC First Extended Certificate in Sport plus Higher National Certificate and Higher National Diploma courses and sports apprenticeships.

Our celebration provided a fantastic moment of reflection and everyone felt a great sense of pride in the achievements of the students and the role our coaches played in their development.

Powered by Ignite Sport UK, Velocity Football was formed with two primary aims.

One, to provide young people interested in a career in sport the ability to pursue their dreams of becoming a professional athlete while studying a relevant qualification. Careers include becoming a coach, working in strength and conditioning, nutrition, the media or sports analysis.

Two – and most importantly – to develop well-rounded individuals ready to continue in further education or commence a career in sport via an enjoyable education programme.

We are pleased to learn many graduates will further their education at university, start apprenticeships in the sports sector or begin full-time employment. Equally, we look forward to welcoming back students returning to continue their studies with us.

Challenges that students have overcome in the past year have certainly prepared them for future endeavours. 

Like all education sites across the UK, we were forced to adapt our methods of programme delivery through lockdowns to ensure the safety of students and their families.

We pride ourselves on our ‘hands on’ philosophy at Velocity Football – helping students align what they learn on the pitch through practical tasks with their studies in the classroom.

While we were successful in delivering training sessions and lessons via Zoom, it simply was not the same.    

Part of enjoying your education is about being amongst friends daily and overcoming new challenges as a team. Very few of our students knew each other before term started, but they are now great friends.

Regular training and an enjoyable education helped facilitate those friendships which positively impacted Oxfordshire communities.

Students voluntarily raised more than £2,000 for mental health charity Sport in Mind and Ignite Sport UK’s support packages for families that required our help by running hundreds of miles between them during the winter lockdown.

This was perhaps our proudest moment of the year.

I say perhaps because there are so many success stories from both on and off the pitch over the last 10 months.

Part of the Velocity Football programme allows students to play competitive development matches against other football academies in the UK.

We fielded four teams in the National and Tactics League respectively.

All matches were structured with development in mind. Although we witnessed some fantastic results in the male and female camps, the improvement of players’ tactical awareness and overall team cohesion was noticeable.

Training three times a week allowed our team to identify outstanding talent ready to take their game to the next level. In October, BTEC student Ethan Gough progressed through our player pathway to represent Oxford City FC in its outstanding FA Cup run.

Billie French was another to show exceptional skill. Her efforts in training on the Velocity programme earned her a place in Oxford United Women’s squad for their FA Cup games against Billericay and Charlton.

Team and individual development is undoubtedly helped by the experience and energy of our dedicated coaches and tutors.

Working under Oxford City coach Ross Jenkins, first-team player Josh Ashby, Oxford United Women’s captain Lauren Haynes and strength and conditioning coach Dean Tetley provides students with an exceptional platform to build on.

We are also fortunate to have coaches Jordan Piper, Jack Tutton, Aliyah Anthony and Andy Francis on the programme plus performance analyst Dominic Newton.

The education aspect has been delivered in partnership with Virtual Learning UK and tutor Matt Giles. Units on our programmes cover a range of roles in the sports sector from coaching to psychology, nutrition and injury prevention.

Technology is increasingly playing an important role in sport too, which is why we have invested in the latest GPS pods, VEO Camera and 360 Player to record and monitor students’ performance levels in training.

Everyone at Velocity Football was deeply saddened by the loss of our head coach Mickey Lewis in March.  

He was an inspiration to us all and we have further plans to continue to honour his tremendous contribution to Oxfordshire sport later in the year.

Like all the tutors at Velocity Football he would be incredibly proud of the students’ achievements this year. I wish everyone a well-deserved summer break and look forward to continuing to support more students in their professional development in September.

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