In the five school years separating my two sons, the scouting efforts of our local professional clubs have intensified. As an under six and under seven, no.2 son’s ‘friendly’ competitions have been frequented by sharp-eyed scouts. His club has fulfilled invitations to several professional clubs’ academies for ‘extra training’. While this training takes place, a word in the ear of the junior club coach would lead to a parent being ushered into a room to discuss their lad joining the academy structure.
Five years before, only a handful of no.1 son’s teammates were scouted. Most notoriously, one of his friends was scouted and booted with a long-lasting detrimental affect on his confidence and interest in the game. Adjacency to that experience had set me against the scouting enterprise for boys of six, seven and eight.
Last year I found myself regularly made awkward by other Dads on the touchline (including Obsessed Dad) asking if no.2 son had ‘been picked up yet’. As more boys in his junior club’s squad were invited to join pro clubs’ ranks and outreach centres, what had seemed unlikely began to be a possibility. I discussed this potential quandary with Mrs TL. We agreed that if it were to happen and we were happy with the arrangements, we would ask no.2 son; if he wanted to try it out, we would not deny him the opportunity.
The approach, when it came, was so similar to the fixing of a teen’s first date. The enquiry about whether we wanted to go out on Friday night came not from our suitor, but via somebody else – a Dad whose son was already involved. I asked that the scout call me direct. Unfortunately, this encounter was in front of no.2 son, meaning all my ‘mates’ wanted to know every hour whether the date was on.
After four days and no phone call, the coach came up to me at a club training session. He chatted me up: called me by my first name; said no.2 son must be attracting a lot of interest; reassured me about the development centre he was being invited to join. I mentioned the bad experience of my older son’s teammate. The coach was straight: the development centre’s role was to find the most talented kids. At some point, when they had had the opportunity to impress, some would be dropped. That was the purpose of the enterprise.
I presented it to no.2 son as an invitation to train with a different club, that different boys would be invited at different times and it didn’t matter if he only went for a few weeks. He had his own take on it. When we talked about New Year’s resolutions, he said his was not to be dropped by the pro club.
So, Friday nights during the winter, I have been driving across town to a floodlit astroturf pitch. I admit I am proud that no.2 son has been selected. Like so much else in following my kids’ sports, it creates conflicting feelings. I continue to wonder what pro clubs want with six and seven year olds.
There’s a new head coach in charge of the development centre. Last Friday, most of the parents of the eight year olds were told, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ The word is that the six and seven year olds are next. I’ll blog again about this – perhaps the teen dating analogy will persist and it will be like being dumped by a first girlfriend – and also about the development centre itself, from my perspective on the touchline and what I understand it means to my son.