Lockdown Club Stories: Burgess Hill Town Juniors
At the very start of the pandemic, Burgess Hill Town Juniors decided it was their duty to ensure each and every one of their players were taken care of by the club, in the best way they knew how.
Their committee acted quickly and came up with an action plan to ensure something was put in place, even if, at first, this was as simple as regular contact.
With a school teacher on that committee, they were able to relay facts of things that could affect children in lockdown. Armed with this information, Burgess Hill were able to shape their interaction with the kids, especially around the mental health issues and exercise.
They tackled this by consistently checking in on players, and their parents with fun targets being set and regular goals that they could participate in (like how many kicky up’s can you do in 10 minutes - the toilet roll challenge etc.) and share with their team-mates.
First things first, throughout lockdown, the coaches and managers got together on a regular basis to discuss online activities for the children to do at home. As well as keeping the children engaged with their coaches and team-mates, it also ensured they were keeping active, healthy and happy.
Using this new form of contact and relatively unknown use of technology for them, they quickly learnt how to use Zoom calls as the main reach of communication. The children were delighted in seeing their team mates on screen and used it as a fun space to be away from the school learning environment.
Burgess Hill's ‘Mini Hillians’ (under-5-6s) usually train every Saturday morning at 10am so their coaches ensured that every Saturday at this time, they got together on a Zoom call to see each other, have a catch up and do a short virtual training session which proved to be great for their well-being.
Another great resource to the club is UEFA A Licensed coach, Gary Mansell. He performed a weekly, high energy Zoom class, which concentrated on ball control and fitness.
Through the Zoom call, Gary was able to mentor through the screen and show them new and precise ball techniques, along with fitness drills. This was on top of the usual team meetings, and all were invited (per age group). They also didn’t forget about the parents, hosting a family quiz night to make them feel as inclusive to the club as the children.
Burgess Hill Town Juniors are a fairly new outfit, merging with Burgess Hill Town in 2018 before which they were Athletico Burgess Hill. It’s been an interesting journey for the chairman, Vince Alfieri who has been working to build something beyond just your average football club: “The key thing was to establish why we were doing it and why we exist. So, you look at it and think well if we were suddenly gone tomorrow, what would be missing?
“Ultimately, we were doing it so that kids had a place they could come in, develop and once we established that, everything else became a lot easier.
“We partnered up with Burgess Hill Town a couple of a years ago when I had a meeting with Kevin the chairman, who has a great vision for the town. It’s an ambition for the Juniors to have that pathway into the Men’s side and the manager, Jay Lovett, is a key part of that with his background.
“When the pandemic first happened it really crept up on everyone. We saw what was going on with the NHS and we just thought we really needed to do something that, not only gets our kids involved, but can also do something for the NHS.
“Tina (Head of Girls Football and social media), came up with the idea that we all do kick ups with loo roll, and we dedicated the video to the NHS. We have since integrated the NHS badge on our kits with a donation to charity on every kit we do. That was essentially the catalyst for us for all the effort and engagement that we then went on to do.”
The aforementioned Tina added: “For me, I’m just bursting with pride with our club. I’ve never seen such a fantastic group of people where we have, players, coaches, parents all coming together and make this ordeal as bearable as possible.”
In this Lockdown Club stories series we have seen how, togetherness, and people’s well-being has always been at the forefront. For Vince, the togetherness that was born during the pandemic, is something he is immensely proud of.
“The togetherness that we created was incredible and I saw some wonderful things. People put so much effort in, in their own time, as volunteers, to do a lot for the children, understanding they were very deprived of activities and seeing their friends.
“I’ve seen so much effort from everybody and it’s really been overwhelming to see just how much they’ve put in. In terms of the kids, it’s the resilience, they’ve come through this.
“They’ve had some big set-backs with leagues, cups, competitions being curtailed etc. and that’s tough on them, but they’ve all bounced back from it.
“It was tough to manage at times, there’s only so much we can do and, importantly, we don’t want to put too much on the coaches who were going to be struggling themselves.
“We can’t assume that we’re going to return to football, and everyone is going to be fine. Sarah (Club Welfare Officer) has sent out messages to everyone and the signs to look for in terms of if someone is struggling and see where we can offer that further support.”
Talking to Vince, you understand his passion for the club right away. The well-being of players and coaches that he talks of, is an important factor. One that Club Welfare Officer, Sarah Barron, is treating vigorously.
“We’ll be taking the child’s welfare, when they come back, very seriously, and I’ve been working closely with Sandra and Larette (Sussex County FA Safeguarding team) to make sure we’re doing everything we can.
“I’ll be at every first training session when we go back, speaking to the coaches, making sure they’re okay, asking if there’s any concerns, just keeping engaged with them all and I know Sandra and Larette will always be there for us.”
Vince doesn’t want all the hard work to stop here, once football resumes, and has identified ways in which the activities done during lockdown, can be integrated further.
“We’ve added a fitness and nutrition aspect to the club, which is new and, at a young age, the kids find it quite fun. It gets them doing things they haven’t done before and we think it’s important.
“In terms of the challenges and activities we’ve done, I’d like to use that as a platform for recognition. I don’t think, as a club, we recognise just how many heroes we’ve got.
“We usually use our social media platforms, but I think this new technology we’ve adopted, we can really use to promote some of the work the kids do.”
As the return of football looms, there’s excitement from Vince, Tina and Sarah as they realise exactly what they’ve missed. As our conversation draws to a close, Vince reflects on what has been a tough year for everyone: “There was a bit of a novelty to the first lockdown, the weather was very nice, and it was almost a fun time in a way. The second lockdown hits, and it’s a bit more concerning where we’re really starting to think we need to look after the kids well-being.
“This last lockdown, being really honest, it knocked me for six. I was extremely busy with work and I just didn’t have the energy and what I’m so pleased with, is how the coaches just kept going, the togetherness was amazing.”
For more information please contact:
Burgess Hill Town Juniors
T: 07543 979 454