Brooking’s FA Skills pride

Sir Trevor Brooking has scaled the heights as a footballer, coach, broadcaster and administrator, but few achievements give him greater satisfaction than his work in bringing the game to the country’s schoolchildren.

The former England and West Ham United midfielder – and until his retirement last month The FA’s director of football development – has played a key role in establishing FA Skills, the programme for five- to 11-year-old girls and boys.

What is FA Skills?

  • FA Skills is a football coaching programme that allows five- to 11-year-old girls and boys to get active, learn new skills and enjoy the game, both in and out of school
  • Established in 2007, FA Skills has reached over six million children
  • The FA employs 158 coaches based across England

And on Wednesday Brooking headed for a Skills event with a difference – on New Palace Yard at the Houses of Parliament in celebration of the programme reaching its six millionth place since it started in 2007.

Under the shadow of the Elizabeth Tower, and in front of many MPs, including secretary of state for sport Sajid Javid, secretary of state for education Nicky Morgan, and FA general secretary Alex Horne, three schools were put through their paces in challenging and fun sessions, just like the six million kids to proceed them.

“We are celebrating seven years of our Skills programme and I’m hugely proud that we have been able to offer six million places so far,” said Brooking.

“A lot of the MPs are down here – and we’ve had a lot of compliments from MPs over the years for our work in this area.

“It’s a wonderful setting for us, and those windows that are probably very expensive to replace are just too far away for any of the kids to damage!”

“For me it is a really exciting time to see youngsters like these here, with long lives ahead of them, knowing that sport can help them in whatever they end up doing.”

A skills session takes place under Victoria Tower

A Skills session takes place at the Houses of Parliament

St. Bartholomew’s in Loughborough, Kirton Lane Primary in Doncaster, and Millfields Primary, Bromsgrove, provided the participants for the day, and Brooking was impressed by the sessions laid on. 

He said: “We thought seven years ago five to 11 was a really important age where you can bed down a lot of fun and enjoyment about being physically active, which hasn’t always been possible.

“Then as the sessions progress we introduce a bit of ball work and channel some of those who might be better than others to skill coach centres and charter standard clubs.”

The FA employs 158 Skills coaches, who cover the breadth and length of England, delivering sessions in and out of schools.

Funding comes from The FA, from the National Lottery and the government through Sport England.

Sir Trevor Brooking and Sajid Navid MP address kids in Westminster

Sir Trevor Brooking and Sajid Javid MP chat with kids at a Skills session

In 2013 The FA became the only governing sports body to be endorsed by the Association of PE with an accreditation for supporting teachers.

Brooking says Skills will one day pay dividends by delivering high-quality players to the top of the game, but that the programme’s aims are wider benefits.

The 65-year-old said: “I have always been a believer that if we want to play a better standard of football at international level, then we have to teach control of the ball, and you can learn a lot of that at a very young age.

“But more than anything it is about friends and fun and football can give you a lot of life skills too.

“It’s about relationships and it can teach you about communication and teamwork, how to work with different individuals with different temperaments and characters.

“It’s down to us to encourage kids to go out and play and practise their skills. And practice has got to be fun and challenging.”

Sir Trevor Brooking 

Brooking recalls his early days of playing football, when he had “only one TV channel in black and white to distract me from playing the game”, but times have changed.

“When I think of my grandson, I can tell you that you can become a great expert on football through computer games – four of them can be in their own homes and play each other, but that wears off after a while and kids want to play the game and apply that knowledge.

“So it’s down to us to encourage kids to go out and play and practise their skills. And practice has got to be fun and challenging.

And as Brooking settles into his retirement, he does so in the knowledge that only now will the first intake in the Skills programme, seven years ago, will be approaching adulthood.

“It’s an exciting time for football development in this country. I’ll be keeping a close eye on the game and I feel confident that – with St. George’s Park and initiatives like FA Skills – the foundations are in place for us to make great progress.”