ACADEMY | Head of Education Joe Francis on the importance of host families

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Head of Education Joe Francis has spoken of the importance of host families in the development of the next generation of academy prospects as the club seeks a host family provider to support its elite young players undertaking their football programmes.

The role not only provides hosts with an exciting, paid opportunity to become part of the extended family assisting the young Addicks, but also offers an insight into the life of a young athlete and, with that, what it takes to become a professional footballer.

“When an apprentice signs and begins his apprenticeship, we have a discussion based around their needs,” explains Francis, who has overseen the club’s education programme since 2011. “What that is loosely based on is their geography from the training ground. The reason we place them with host families is if their transit is longer than sort of an hour, we believe that we should have that discussion to maximise their rest and recovery time. 

“It’s crucial that we find the right host family. It’s not just about them providing accommodation - what we want is for them to provide a home from home experience for the young lads. You can obviously appreciate that leaving home at 16 is quite a big leap for a young person, so what we try and do is find host families that are willing to take on that responsibility.

“I then have a process that I go through with them about their suitability, because what we want is for them to involve the boys in becoming part of the family. All boys have different needs and really it’s just done on an individual basis but the fundamentals remain the same - loving, caring family with the desire to learn about and help manage the pressures that footballers can go through.” 

The host family will maintain day-to-day liaison with Francis throughout the season, while being fully supported by the club’s medical department and sports science team.

“We make sure that the host family is fully supported by all of the staff at the club. Although I’m the first point of contact, the sports science team assists the host family in terms of meal plans and also assists with rest and recovery ideas for the family. 

“I make sure all safeguarding protocols are followed. What I will do is have lots of support meetings with the host family and that’s around lifestyle, pressures, what they need to do to rehydrate and make sure that they’re getting the correct nutrition. And that’s sort of ongoing all the time the boys are in accommodation.

“We have to adhere to a lot of scrutiny from the Football League, so everything that I do makes sure that the host family and the boy feel supported, as does the existing family as well.” 

There are currently two host families managed by Francis in Tracey Leaburn, the club’s player liaison officer, and Peter Lodge, under-9s to 16s lead goalkeeping coach. And while not a necessity, their experiences of an elite football setting are invaluable to the academy players, as Francis explains. 

“The reason she matched the criteria was obviously because her husband Carl was an ex-professional player, so what you’ve got there is someone that understands the pressures and the rigours of going through a scholarship. 

“The other host family is Peter and Sharon Lodge. Again, Peter understands the environment and understands what the pressures are for players as an academy goalkeeping coach.

"It is by no means essential to have an understanding of the football environment, but it always helps if the host family has an interest football in general, and then if you can find a family that has specific knowledge like Carl and like Peter then that’s even better."

Those wishing to express an interest are actively encouraged to do so by emailing Francis directly at joe.francis@cafc.co.uk, who will willingly take you through the vetting process.

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