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Enhancing NI football skills via EU co-operation
Start date: Jun 1, 2015, End date: May 31, 2016 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Linfield Football Club (LFC) is regarded as the largest and most successful football club in all of Ireland and one of the oldest being founded in 1886. Since the development of its Youth Academy in 2004 which has seen the internal structures grow from three teams to eleven teams/squads from mini soccer to U19s, Swifts and senior team, the club was keen to learn from best practice demonstrated in youth structures within Europe. Having already undertaken one successful VET staff programme in Portugal during 2014, this Mobility proposal was to take a group of elite VET learners that were part of LFC’s Academy which provides an elite programme of superior technical and tactical training, to Sport Lisboa e Benfica, Portugal. The participants undertook the 14 day mobility programme between 24 August 2015 and 6 September 2015. The objective was to develop and up-skill learners to increase the competitiveness of participants and of the Club, to provide the best learning opportunity for its most talented players so that they can pursue a professional career in the game of football. This programme was the perfect platform to benefit those participants who come from areas of targeted social need (TSN) as classified by the NI Statistics Research Agency in 2010 and to educate them not only in developing their communication, both oral and written, social and self-awareness skills but in enabling them to improve their chances of employment, enhanced career progression and long term job security, in football as a result of this Mobility. Sport Lisboa e Benfica (commonly known as Benfica or SLB) was LFC's host partner for this Erasmus+ project as Portuguese football has so often been the benchmark for intelligence and quality in football. The Portuguese Football Federation is currently ranked 6th (Aug 2016) in the FIFA World rankings having just won their first major title, Euro 2016, beating hosts France and as such are a world class producer of talented players resulting from the use of best practice coaching methods in terms of technical and tactical training and play. In comparison NI are ranked 28th, having got through to the second round of the European Championship finals in June 2016, it’s first major tournament qualification in 30 years. NI's average ranking since FIFA World rankings began is 71st and therefore the selection of a partner in Portugal was deemed to optimise both the learning opportunities of the trainees and coaches and give maximum credibility to the mobility whereby the participants from NI were able to observe best practice from a leading football nation. The mobility was effectively planned, organised, monitored and evaluated by the mobility management team who ensured that all of the established learning outcomes were achieved. Key to the evaluation process was the participant reports which verified what learning objectives had been achieved and to what extent. All feedback from the participants, partners and management team was collated and will be used to improve any future mobility programmes undertaken. LFC has undertaken to track each participant’s pathway, for a period of 3 years post mobility by reviewing and evaluating their progress on an annual basis. This will establish key data and trends from the direct relationship between a successful European mobility and improved employability. Similarly, LFC will measure, review and analyse its own Academy performance at club level for the same period. LFC fully evaluated the mobility experience upon completion and widely disseminated the learning objectives and outcomes across the club and with other stakeholders including the NI Football League, Irish FA (NI National Governing Body), Sport NI, Department of Culture Arts & Leisure which widely promoted the Erasmus+ programme across NI. The major long term objective for LFC as a direct result of the learning outcomes arising from this mobility was to increase the number of young players who have signed professional contracts and thereby help LFC realise its long term objective of raising the footballing skills, ability and fitness levels of its young footballers to such a standard enabling their promotion to senior football and potentially full time professional football.
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