James Brooks Leadership Academy July 2019 1

Best four days of my footballing career

JAMES Brooks has recently returned from the FA Leadership Academy at St George's Park.

JAMES Brooks, along with Amy King, recently returned from the FA Leadership Academy.


James (pictured above) and Amy are both members of the Suffolk FA Youth Council sponsored by R Bugg Trading Ltd.

The two 17-year-olds both spent four days at the annual event at St George’s Park, the FA’s national football centre in Burton Upon Trent.

A Level 7 referee, James represents the Suffolk Referees’ Association on the main Suffolk FA Council.

James, who lives in Ipswich, recalls his experiences over a memorable four days…


Back in June I was sitting in Cyprus, in 36 degree heat, having the time of my life. A notification pinged up on my phone and as I read it a huge smile and a little outburst of celebration appeared as I had just received the email that I had been selected to attend the FA Leadership Academy 2019.


Upon arriving I was instantly impressed by the reception that each young leader was getting, every single National Youth Council Member and Mentor had a beaming smile on their face and all seemed eager for us to begin. I was enthused from the very off and my already sizeable excitement went through the roof. 


We went into the opening ceremony where Sarah and Cameron greeted us with a rousing speech about how to gain the most out of the week. ‘Enter the arena’ was Sarah’s tagline and this really resonated with me because I was eager to get stuck in. Greg Clarke was then welcomed to the stage and I was inspired by his words, his emphasis was truly on giving the young the right tools and opportunities in order to change football positively. He went as far to say that, ‘The old cannot change football’ echoing very strongly the opinion of Sarah that Youth-adult partnerships are vital to the development of football.


Introductions to our mentor group followed and with this came our first chance to really connect with other Youth leaders. Everyone’s personalities were different but the passion that was clearly in everyone’s hearts filled me with such pride to be part of FALA. 


The first workshop I experienced was run by Selena and Roya and the emphasis was on our ‘Personal Leadership Philosophy’ – in effect what values and beliefs we held important and how that moulds our leadership style. Listening to Roya’s own PLP revealed to me that a leader isn’t someone who’s in charge. It’s someone who knows who they are and are comfortable with that.


The next workshop was run by Rafe and Lauren and put an emphasis on self-care and looking after yourself. The importance of getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, doing enough exercise and eating properly were introduced to us.

No-one was surprised these were important but the majority of people agreed that at least one part needed improving. This workshop taught me that how can you expect to look after a team well if you are not looking after yourself well?


We had the pleasure of Baroness Sue Campbell’s presence also on the first day and it was uplifting to hear yet another wonderfully experienced and successful adult, putting faith in us and Youth as a whole. What made it even better were the funny anecdotes and caring tone in which her messages were delivered.


We had an evening activity where we had to solve challenges that related to what we had learned that day. After all four had been completed we then had one final challenge to solve. This was a very useful revision tool but it also meant I was able to connect with young leaders that I hadn’t already met and this socialising didn’t end until lights out that evening.


The next day we went up to Club England in order to have more workshops. Josh Stockdale helped run the first workshop which placed importance on how we communicate as a team. Selena also had another part to play as she agreed that while social media may be useful for keeping up to date, that we mustn’t neglect the importance of face-to-face communication, especially in the development of interpersonal skills. My biggest lesson from this was use two ears and one mouth in that ratio, as if you listen to people more than you talk to them, everyone is much more communicative.


The next workshop was about building and maintaining relationships and was run dually with Sarah Nickless taking the lead. We had to do a challenge of walking through paper blindfolded and I stuck my hand up and blindfolded myself ready to walk. After some hard grafting I got to the other side, only to be spun around to see that all the paper had been picked up and I could have walked in a straight line. Boundaries and non-judgement were two concepts which all fed into the idea of making stable and solid connections with people. Trust was apparently the key takeaway from this workshop but Sarah still has a lot of making up to do.


Graduation played a key part in the day with all of us getting together in order to celebrate the achievements of last year’s graduates. It was very motivational to see people who had been in exactly the same position as us last year, achieving great things from then to now. I think what really hit me in this ceremony is that FALA doesn’t end after four days or even a year, it is a journey that I will continue to have long after the academy and it showed to me that FALA is ‘life-changing’. 


Two amazing opportunities then presented themselves in the evening. First a speech from Zöe of UEFA who spoke about her role but also the opportunities that young people can have with UEFA (like our very own Alex Shipp who has been to Cyprus and elsewhere with UEFA’s game changers programme). Then came a chance to connect with other international delegates. For me the biggest take away was that no matter where we come from football unites and is a vehicle for social change.


The next day was a complete change up as we went off site and engaged in a workshop run by Fieri in the national forest. The first presenter asked us to put up our hand if we thought we could break a piece of wood with our hand. Having missed the gym for the last 17 years I put my hand up to showcase my innate physical strength! The presenter gave me the knowledge of how to do it and with great support from everyone I eased through it. What was most pleasing for me was not the fact I broke through but when asked who thought they could break it, the percentage had gone up from 15% to 100%!

The next workshop was about follower-ship and the type of followers you could be. From this it became apparent that a leader relies heavily on his team. The final workshop was about how to lead effectively and used a challenge to showcase processes leaders should go through such as planning and briefing. 


The afternoon saw these theories put into action with six practical applications of what we had learnt. We were scored out of 10 for each challenge and our team won but what felt better than lifting our little trophies was the feeling of being an integral part of a team.


We could never have predicted what the evening would hold for us. Drumba was probably the most intense exercise I had ever done and was so much fun and it was great to see that every single person was throwing themselves into it and really trying to push themselves.


The next day saw our last two workshops. The first was about FA insight and how research helps the FA grow as a company and please participants in football. The second workshop was about how to plan for change – how people will respond to it and how best to enact change.

It showed that initial responses to change aren’t usually good, but over time people come round to change if we can see the benefits change is bringing. Both workshops are vital for our work this year as it was the practical things that we can do as a Youth Council to effect change, whether it be at Suffolk FA or with the community that we serve.

The closing ceremony was fabulous and hearing about other young leaders journeys showed to me that we had all experienced the same thing but every person had their own personal response and that individually we all grew in some way or another. The goodbyes were hard as I have made so many new friends and connections but also hope for the future as I hope to see all my fellow leaders at next year’s graduation.


I thoroughly enjoyed my time and would like to say a huge thank you to James Morley and Alex Shipp who put me forward for this event, but also to the National Youth Council, the mentors, Dermot Collins and Selena who all made it the best four days of my footballing career.

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