Equality Inspires programme draws to a close for the 2015/16 season - Part One
Following on from a series of pilot workshops in 2014/15, Kick It Out and the Premier League launched their educational partnership at the beginning of the 2015/16 season through the Premier League Academy programme – Equality Inspires.
The workshops are delivered to players from Under-11s to Under-21s, as well as academy staff and parents/carers of the players. The aim of the programme is to create a positive environment for players, both on and off the pitch, which is free from discrimination and exclusion, assisting them with their own personal development.
The workshops cover the protected equality characteristics, as well as focusing on the dangers of engaging in discrimination on social media. ‘Banter’ is a key aspect and the players learn how it can also have a negative impact.
On Tuesday 17 May, Equality Inspires delivered its penultimate workshops for the 2015/16 season during an afternoon spent at The Harefield Academy, home of Watford Football Club’s Academy. In the first of two pieces, Kick It Out spoke to Troy Townsend, the organisation’s Education and Development Manager, as well as other tutors and Chris Thurston, the Hornets’ Head of Education and Welfare, about the success of the initiative in educating academy players.
Equality Inspires – Academy Players Workshops
The Equality Inspires programme represents an excellent opportunity for Kick It Out to engage with young players and support them in their journeys away from the playing side of the game.
As such, Troy, alongside a pool of tutors, has been busy throughout the season visiting Premier League Academies to deliver equality and inclusion workshops for young players, staff and parents.
Workshops have been delivered to Academy players at 17 of the 20 Premier League clubs, whilst a total of 71 individual teams have so far received at least one of the educational sessions.
One of the final afternoons of the season began with Troy delivering to Watford’s Under-15s squad alongside Marcus Gayle, the former Hornets and Wimbledon striker, whilst Kevin George ran a workshop with Watford’s Under-12s.
Topics of discussion at The Harefield Academy included key issues around forms of discrimination, the protected characteristics and stereotypes within the game.
There were also opportunities to reflect on the everyday language and banter used by the players, words and phrases they perceived to be acceptable or unacceptable, as well as the different genre of music players can listen to and the impact that could have on creating an inclusive dressing room environment.
Troy emphasised the significance of the work Kick It Out is doing with the Premier League around the country.
“I think it’s massively important,” he said. “The tutors delivering the workshops have a real experience and understanding of the various issues and topics that are discussed. For young players, they need role models to look up to and people that have been through the journey that they’re embarking on.
“We constantly see negative stories about players and maybe they didn’t have the kind of influences around them that could have supported them with any difficulties and pressures that can arise in the game. So I see the whole package as vitally important.”
The positive influence of the workshops is reflected in the feedback provided by the Academy players from across the Premier League – 84 per cent of players rated the workshop an eight or above out of 10, whilst 80 per cent of players found the workshop beneficial to them.
Marcus Gayle firmly agreed with Troy’s sentiment: “It is vitally important to tap into the younger age groups. How we want the game to be in ten years’ time depends on this generation right now and how we can fill them with good guidance, good support, help them with their education and knowledge about certain topics and how they can face it and deal with it differently.
“You learn from your environment from a very young age,” he added.” You have been influenced from an early age and some of those influences aren’t quite right. They’re going to keep learning throughout the years and we want to just influence them in a positive way so they become a better person as well as a better player.”
Watford are fully supportive of the Equality Inspires programme and were delighted with how the educational workshops went. Chris Thurston, the club’s Head of Education and Welfare, praised the impact of Troy’s work.
“Troy has really challenged some of their thoughts and made them think about what’s going on but he’s dug quite deep,” he said. “He’s asked the boys questions and once they have presented some of the things they think and experience, he’s then really challenged that and said ‘actually, is that okay?’
“Ultimately that improves the environment that the boys create for one another and in turn that means that they support each other a little bit more towards becoming a professional.”
Chris continued: “They’ve had the opportunities to ask questions which can delve into the more personal topics of racism or homophobia and they’ve come out a lot more reflective. That’s a massive plus when the boys go away and start evaluating their own behaviours and how they can help themselves and how they can help other people.”
Feedback from Academies across the Premier League supports Chris’ sentiment. Ninety seven per cent of players rated their understanding and knowledge of equality and inclusion as an eight or above out of 10 after they had participated in the workshop, which was an 11 per cent increase on their understanding of those issues prior to the training.
Kevin George delivered his workshop to Watford’s Under-12s and was pleased with the balance he was able to strike between enjoyment and serious learning.
“We covered diversity and role models and it was very interesting because we have a very relaxed style with loads of fun,” he said. “But at the same time we have the hard-hitting element of it as well, so we had moments with lots of laughter, dead silence and people revealing some emotions. I think that’s what made it powerful.
“Because of the moments we created in that session, I believe that when they revisit similar situations – I’m not saying everybody – but one or two will think twice and think differently in terms of how they behave. That’s all you can ask for really.”
Watch interviews with Troy Townsend and Marcus Gayle about the Equality Inspires programme below: