Mariners school targets west Sydney

The Central Coast’s unique International Football School has nearly tripled in size a year after opening and is targeting the expansion of the model to western Sydney.

The sports school, which opened last year, is dedicated to football and is the first of its kind in Australia. Located in Mt Penang Parklands, it started with 76 students and now has close to 240.

The aim of the school is to give kids elite football coaching and provide them with the best opportunity to develop their skills.

Chief executive and founder Paul Chapman said setting up the school, which follows the model of schools in Europe, was a personal project.

“The set-up that currently existed in Australia didn’t from my perspective seem to be very condusive to giving these little guys the best development opportunities,” he said.

“The football was always an afterthought. Football had to fit in and around their lives and I didn’t think like it was a good mix.

“The advantage of our program is that I’ve been able to utilise the school, in the way we set up financially, so that I can afford to have full-time coaches who have the time to out together a really strong program and have the time to really think and long hard what is really best for them.

“When you read what happens in Europe in their development programs over there they put their best coaches with the youngest kids because they realise you need to get it right particularly at a young age.”

Making elite coaching and education affordable for children and their families is one of the school’s key goals.

“I didn’t want families to be in a position where, if they don’t have a lot of money, they just feel like it’s not a valid option for them,” Chapman said.

“So we’ve set up the tuition at school literally as cheap as we could afford to offer. We’re a not-for-profit school, we do attract government funding like other independent schools.”

Pupils at the school do two hours of football training a day, from 8.30-10.30am, which includes outdoor sessions, recovery and futsal. Fortnightly games against other schools and clubs are also organised.

“Sport is the centre of what we do and the education comes around that,” Chapman said. “There are no battles between the school’s departments. Every single student at our school is involved in our sport program.”

The International Football School has a joint venture with the Central Coast Mariners and Chapman sits on the Mariners’ board. He is keen to partner with other A-League clubs.

“That relationship will grow over time,” he said. “I’m intending to speak with the other clubs to offer them the same model, to really say to an A-League club we know it’s very expensive to do youth development. We know that clubs in Australia in particular aren’t flush with funds.

“My proposition to a club is we can provide you with this type of development environment which will literally cost you no money, as we don’t charge. The Mariners don’t pay us any money and we don’t pay them anything. But what we can do is we can provide the Mariners with a group of young players after a period of time that have been through a really strong development program after 10 years.

“And hopefully those players desperately want to become Mariners players one day.”

The school runs the Mariners futsal operation and community programs for the club.

“My coaching department’s probably three times the size of the Mariners coaching department,” Chapman said. “It’s been an interesting thing for them because what we’re doing is different to everything that’s been done before. The normal football culture in this country is through the RAP programs and hopefully you get selected on to a state team and selected on a national team and away you go.

“A-League clubs traditionally haven’t put much emphasis or focus on the youth development programs because it costs a lot of money. I think that space is shifting as A-League clubs start to realise the importance of developing your own players. But it’s got a long way to go.”

Legendary former Matilda Julie Dolan is the school’s technical director while its coaching staff includes ex-Mariners Andre Gumprecht, Brad Porter and Damien Brown, as well as former Matilda Joey Peters and Football NSW coach Danny Abboud.

The school already attracts students from Sydney and Newcastle but Chapman is keen to bring in students from overseas, and launch other campuses in western Sydney and Melbourne. He also wants to help Australian football produce better players.

“Our goal longer term is to take these campuses around the country,” he said. “The model we’re creating here will be a model we’ll be replicating around the place. Hopefully this is the first of many schools just like this you’ll see popping up all over the place. The long-term goal is to produce higher quality player so Australia’s competitive internationally.

“I’m working pretty hard to get something going in western Sydney. Sydney or the fringes of Sydney are something that we’re very interested in going to. Ideally the next campus will be within 100kms of where we are at the moment. Once we’ve done that I’m pretty keen to get down to Melbourne when we can and go from there.”