Leicester City Football Club celebrate their against-the-odds victory today with an open top bus tour round the city. Thousands of people are expected to turn out, and as Leicester dwellers, NYA staff will be out waving their flags too.
NYA’s connection with Leicester goes back 50 years when we were set up in 1964 as an information centre for youth services. Back then we were the National College for the Training of Youth Leaders. Over the years as most youth sector organisations locate themselves in London, NYA has remained in Leicester, with youth work as a guiding principle of our work.
Much has been written about LCFC’s indomitable team spirit. The never say die attitude, playing for the team, the tight knit unit which empowers each player to fulfil their potential. This is true of course, although largely recognisable in Leicester by its absence in the other top teams.
What has struck me more is their ability to embrace new ideas, new ways to approach old problems. Their use of match statistics for each player, more so than many clubs, is an example of this; possession, passes completed, tackles made, distance covered, rotational fouling (how does that work?).
Leicester was amongst the first to train their academy coaching staff in youth work skills too. The club was quick to recognise the value of giving their staff the knowledge and theory to connect with young people, and embraced youth work as a way to invest in their staff and the future of the young people they work with.
27 other football clubs have since seen what Leicester saw and embarked on youth work skills training. Whilst councils reduce youth provision and cut youth work programmes, football has been quick to understand the benefits of investment in youth work and young people. Critics would say that councils face invidious decisions about spending their limited budgets whilst football is awash with money. Yet it is interesting that whilst there is ongoing debate around demonstrating the impact of youth work to justify investment, football clubs have felt no need to see proof before forking out.
Leicester City has become everyone’s favourite (or second favourite) as the plucky minnows beating the big guns of the Premiership. Even when Leicester’s style of play was unpicked it still proved largely impossible to stop them winning. The classic underdog story is one everyone can relate to. Leicester’s success is not down to youth work, but perhaps their attitude and approach – if it works, keep doing it – is worth adopting.