Scotland’s goal will help youths

Budding Rooneys, Kakas and Ronaldos
are cropping up all over Cayman. Youth football is flourishing and it’s no wonder
considering the amount of talent on the Islands.

A number of youngsters – female as
well – have gained scholarships to United States colleges in recent years,
including Emily Kelly and Ramon Sealy. And the number is set to continue thanks
to the vibrant programme that the Cayman Islands Football Association started a
few years back.

This is particularly pleasing for
Mark Scotland, the Minister of Sport. Football has always been a big passion
which is partly why he is the president of Bodden Town, which has one of
Cayman’s best youth football programmes.

Nationally there already exists an
Under-13, U-15 and U-17 league and leagues at U-19 or U-21 level may soon be
introduced.

There are nine U-13 teams, eleven
U-15s and nine U-17s, which just goes to show how popular football still is
despite the distractions of many other sports and recreational activities.

This is the second year that teams
are required to go to Cayman Brac to play. With the completion of an artificial
turf field on the Bluff Grand Cayman teams have no reason not to make the trip.
It is a huge boost for Brac sides because they don’t have to play away all the
time, a process that involves getting up at 4am and is evidently not conducive
to winning matches.

“We have a large number of teams
and the youth leagues are running very well,” said Scotland who is pleased that
youngsters like Jonathan Ebanks and Tevon Levien have progressed from Bodden
Town teams to US college football and how well Future and Elite kids are
impressing scouts abroad.

Many youngsters as they reach 17
are plunged into adult football. Scotland would like an U-19 league introduced
to help them ease into the senior game.

A limited pool of officials is one
drawback, which was seen with the late start of the girls’ and women’s leagues.

With the completion of many natural
and synthetic football fields, the scope for more youth football is greater.
Parents used to refuse to allow their children to play on fields like at George
Hicks because its poor state made it in their eyes hazardous.

With the World Cup in South Africa
approaching in June, football’s global appeal will be piqued and Cayman will be
no different.

“Ask any parent what is their
favourite sporting activity and they will tell you the youth football leagues,”
added Scotland.

“It runs from November to May and
competes with other sports but a lot of these players are dedicated.

“They have been playing since they
were very young, players like Arin Taylor, Justin Henry and Matthew Suberan.
Even though they are still very young, they are becoming household names in
youth football.

“We also have players like Luigi
Hernandez who is captain of Premier League Bodden Town but still an Under-17
player.

“So we have a bright future in
youth football. Now we need to build a good youth development programme,
similar to what was used for the girls’ teams. We’ve seen how successful
they’ve been.

“The U-17 girls have shown that
they are one of the top two teams in the Caribbean, not necessarily CONCACAF.
Between us and Jamaica we’re vying to be the top two teams in the Caribbean
Football Union.

“That’s phenomenal given our
population size. We want to see the same for the boys.”

Scotland is pleased that clubs like
Bodden Town, Future, Elite, Academy,  
Sunset and Cayman Athletic are seeing the benefits of developing their
youngsters.

“We want to commend the clubs that
have good youth programmes because they are the ones that will feed into the
senior teams which will benefit the national programme.

“We can’t always say that the onus
is on the national association.

“The players themselves are a
different breed now and are much better at an early age.”

Scotland applauds the parents who
are so supportive of their kids, especially in these difficult economic times.

Even if football cannot take
players to top pro level, Scotland emphasises that they can get scholarships
which will lead to successful careers in other spheres.

“We’ve got people in our community
like Renard Moxam. He got his break in life through football. He’s now one of
the most successful businessmen on our Island. Sports opened that door for
him.”

The government intends to increase
its spending in sport because it sees the long-term benefits for the youth.

A creation of a national sports
policy is in the works. Six focus sports have been identified; football,
cricket, netball, basketball, swimming and track and field.

Yet in Cayman there are around 60
sports vying for funding. Scotland insists that the new policy will not ignore
the other sports, particularly the ones with excellent programmes like sailing,
boxing and rugby.

A few years ago Scotland helped
form the Scholastic Football Academy which just after Easter brings over US coaches
who look at players seeking scholarships.

“Every year we’re going to continue
doing it. Last year they looked at 60 players and took 17.”

Funding football programmes is not
cheap. It costs around $20,000 just for a squad to either leave the island or
to bring one in. And gate receipts fall far short of covering that along with
all the other expenses.

Scotland is talking to CIFA and national
technical director Carl Brown about introducing national programmes at youth levels.

“We need to set our goals at
regional level. We’re never going to qualify for the World Cup finals but we
can do well in regional competitions.

“If we can do that then you’ll see
the government chipping in as well as corporate support.

“The government put in $100,000
into sending the girls to Costa Rica. But had we put in double that we would
have got better results.

“If you compare that to the United
States programme which is multi-millions, we did extremely well.

“We’re not far off competing at
that level. But we can’t do it by getting behind the girls just before they go
to Costa Rica with two or three practice matches. They need more than that.

“The US put them in academies and
they play continuously all year round.”

As main sponsor of Bodden Town,
Scotland puts his money where his mouth is, only trouble is, he jokes, the more
successful the team becomes, the more expensive it is!

“When we were losing all the games
and not getting to finals, it wasn’t too bad. Now it’s costing more to be
successful.”

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