Ben Herd on his Pro Performance Academy: ‘It’s not a dream factory. Education is still the most important thing’
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The Herts Ad checked in with St Albans City’s Ben Herd to find out how his very different Pro Performance Academy was shaping up in its third year. Part one of the three-part series looks at the education side.
Eighteen months after first sitting down with the former Watford, Shrewsbury Town and Aldershot full-back, it is noticeable how far things have come for the Ben Herd Pro Performance Academy.
For one we are not in his home in Potters Bar but at Hertford Cricket Club, their new base of operations having originally done the training in Greenwood Park in St Albans.
“We’ve got our own identity now,” he said.
“Being here, we’ve got the stations and its oyster card so that helps. We’re in partnership with [Simon Balle School, right next door to the club] but everything is done here.”
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It has also grown. Now in their third year, the academy has two classes with 20 in each and there are a few strange accents.
“We’ve got boys from Australia, Portugal and Majorca,” said Herd.
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“I liaise with a sports lawyer who is an intermediate as well and he represents clubs from all over the world.
“It’s good but ideally I’d like boys from round the corner in Hertfordshire.”
What attracts them is not only the chance to develop as footballers, with the goal being potentially help in finding a professional club.
But Herd says that is certainly not the be all and end all of what they are trying to deliver with the main focus being the education side of things.
The Academy have always offered the two-year course but now also have a three-year university course, which as it is blended learning gives the students the chance to gain a sports coaching and development degree as well as train every day.
“We’re in a different area now,” he said. “This is our first year recruiting in Hertford and it’s all about getting boys who are elite-level footballers I suppose.
“That’s what it is. I can’t say it isn’t.
“At the same time it’s not a dream factory. I mean I believe in our training methods even though they are different.
“But it’s not a foregone conclusion that if you come here, you’ll make it as a professional footballer and I think some people, especially on the outside, think that we deliver dreams.
“It’s far from that.
“It’s made very clear to both the boys and their parents at presentation evenings, when they can check us out and get a lot more description of what we do, that it is very unlikely they will become professional footballers.
“However, I believe in the training side of things, I believe in what we do and I know how much time and care we put into the boys.
“But the education is the most important thing.
“Class sizes here are a lot less than if you go to a state school.
“It’s a split timetable so they’ll play football in the morning and do the education in the afternoon or vice versa.
“It’s stressed to them early that if they don’t do the education work, then they don’t go out there.
“There’s a zero tolerance and I don’t want to sound like a massive disciplinarian but you’ve got to understand that it is the most important thing.
“Even if you do make it into football, the average career of a football league player is eight years and that’s it.
“You’ve got to look after yourself. As I’ve got older, my thirst for knowledge has grown.
“But they don’t realise it at their age and to be fair I didn’t either.
“When I was at Watford, they didn’t do the PE GCSE at my school, but the club put me on the AS/A-level PE course at a school in Chorleywood.
“They sent you there and were expected just to get on with it.
“And I didn’t understand much as I hadn’t done the foundation in it. So I just went to sleep.
“It’s bad when I look back at it but I didn’t have a clue.
“And that’s the challenge. It’s trying to get that maturity into these boys.”
It’s a challenge he continues to relish as they start a new term following the Christmas break.
That came on the back of almost 20 weeks of solid training and educating.
“It can be quite a lot for them to take onboard especially if they have just come from school,” he admitted.
“It’s a big change in their life and what I am asking them to do is tough.
“But they haven’t struggled at all.”
For more information on the academy go to their website www.bhppacademy.com