FA-LA Masthead

FA Leadership Academy Experiences

Emma Smyth and Aaron Fernandez share their FA Leadership Academy experience

The FA Leadership Academy (FA-LA) is an annual event, organised by The FA National Youth Council, for young leaders within football. 

It aims to upskill youth leaders by delivering three days of opportunities for self-development and engaging fun learning experiences. The attendees are both national and international.

This year, the challenges of the pandemic resulted in the programme being delivered online, despite this it was still a very worthwhile experience.

Here, we share the stories and experiences of two young people from Sussex who attended the event. 

Aaron Fernandez who has been involved with youth leadership for four years, he is a referee and a member of the Sussex RA-FA Youth Council, and also a qualified Level 2 football coach. 

And, Emma Smyth, she too is a referee and part of the Sussex RA-FA Youth Council, as well as a qualified Level 1 football coach, who enjoyed success with Meads, in 2018, assisting them to victory in our Sussex Girls Under-12 Challenge Cup.

Aaron Fernandez
FA-LA 21 opened with an introduction by FA National Youth Council Chair Roya Mehdizadeh-Valoujerdy who welcomed us all to the course. We also heard from Baroness Sue Campbell, director of women’s and girls’ football. She highlighted the importance of celebrating differences.

Next up was meet your mentor and mentor group - fun challenges included Strava fitness task, followed by retrieving items from your home that spell ‘We Belong at FA-LA’ my mentor group excelled at this challenge and were overall winners! 

Day 1 workshop - PERSONAL LEADERSHIP PHILOSOPHY (PLP) co-delivered by Leigh Gell and Selena Creighton. PLP relates to the building blocks of leadership, and the importance of accepting your authentic self; the importance of inclusivity and if you know a good leader - tell them! This was outstanding and definitely one of many highlights of the course for me and the other attendees. 

Day 2 workshop - My group was merged with another mentor group, an opportunity to be exposed to the insight of other young leaders and promote interesting and varied discussions about PLP. In particular, the two groups were tasked with discussing the PLP workshop.

Leon and Rupesh the group mentors stepped back enabling the course candidates to lead, debate and discuss our opinions on PLP. This was highly rewarding and produced some interesting feedback from both groups on reflection of the previous day. I thoroughly enjoyed this task. 

An audience with… followed and gave an opportunity for a Q&A session with ex-England goalkeeper David James, who highlighted the power of communication within a team.

The afternoon focussed on ‘BEING YOUR BEST SELF’ co delivered by Chelsea Wanga, youth leader and Alice Kempski, who works nationally to develop football. This highlighted the importance of two models of self-care SHED (sleep, hydration, exercise, diet).

The other workshop was ‘The Four Burners’ within your personal life. This workshop was powerful, poignant and professionally delivered. An undisputed message of the importance of mental health was successfully achieved on day 2 - be an enabler through empowering others as you progress on your own journey. 

Day 3 workshop - ‘BELONGING’ created around three areas of diversity and inclusion - Race and Ethnicity, the LGBQ+ aspect was delivered by Jehmeil Lemonius from The FA, and the Disability element delivered by Lauren Asquith also from The FA. The workshops were supported by Paul Elliot MBE, former professional footballer. They were enlightening with a clear message of the importance of inclusivity. 

I feel privileged to have been selected to attend a first-rate course, truly beneficial and informative. I can honestly say that this has fuelled my passion to lead, inspire and continue to develop. I can highly recommend The FA-LA 2022 to any aspiring youth leaders with a passion for ‘the beautiful game.’

Emma Smyth 
I discovered the event through the FA National Youth Council's Instagram page and immediately wanted to get involved. Ever since I was introduced to my first football leadership role, as a referee when I was 14, I have wanted to develop my skills, explore new roles and progress within my FA career. 

FA-LA stood out to me as an unmissable opportunity because of its networking possibilities and the chance to meet and learn from incredible role models. As a result, as soon as I received my acceptance email, I was so excited to begin my journey on the 3-day online course. The fact that FA-LA 2021 had been moved online just highlighted the importance of adaptation in these times and the staff's dedication to the programme, which elevated it even more.

When the event started, it was amazing how welcoming everyone was, the staff's commitment to making sure each person felt like they belonged was outstanding. The special guests had such a talent for inspiring and motivating me to think bigger with my project. 

I thought it was really valuable to listen to their stories about the challenges they faced while pursuing their leadership roles and take onboard how they overcame them to succeed in their dream careers. By listening to and interacting with my role models I was able to relate to them as well as understand what being a leader means to them. 

One of the guest talks that stood out to me was Baroness Sue Campbell, she explained how we have the power of youth, football and personality on our side and the advantages it gives us to influence other young people in sport. In addition to meeting the special guests, there were also different workshops covering topics such as qualities that make a good leader, how to look after our physical and mental wellbeing and ways we can break barriers to ensure no one is excluded from the beautiful game. 

I loved the fact that in the personal leadership philosophy workshop I was able to reflect on role models I’ve had growing up and share how they have positively impacted football for me. It made me realise how lucky I am to have leaders in football to look up to and what I need to do to be that role model for someone else. It was also really interesting hearing feedback on my project from other participants as it allowed me to improve sections and hear the fantastic events they have planned.

When we had our networking evening, it strengthened my drive to continue my football leadership journey. By listening to the international delegates talk about how they are growing football in their countries, I got to see how these leaders are gaining priceless experiences to represent their nations. 

They showed us that no dream is too big and that if we work hard we can achieve anything. Finally, I’d like to give a special mention to my mentors Dan and Tiana who were so supportive, and to my breakout room staff Alice and Ciaran who encouraged healthy conversations on important topics.

I can’t wait to see what the upcoming season holds and what opportunities arise from this great experience, especially with the women's Euros right around the corner. I am so grateful to have been given the chance to take part! 

I would definitely recommend FA-LA to every young leader with a passion for football. Now is the time to step up to the challenge. Now is the time to make a change. We are the leaders of the future.

Alongside The FA Leadership Academy, we are launching NextGen Sussex Football, a new programme for 16-24 year-olds who want to experience football beyond playing the game. 

It will involve a series of workshops on a range of topics such as Disability Football, Marketing & Communications and Performance Analysis. We will be working closely with Brighton & Hove Albion, The FA, University of Chichester, and others to deliver these workshops throughout the season.

If you would like to follow in the footsteps of Aaron and Emma, and are interested in NextGen Sussex Football, please complete the NextGen Expression of Interest Form.

For more information on The FA Leadership Academy, please contact:

E: Development@SussexFA.com