Following Wales' glorious run at Euro 2016, FAW Trust CEO Neil Ward spells out his hopes and ambitions for the grassroots game, to help ensure the national team's success isn't a one-off
Euro 2016 has drawn to a close but the exploits of the Welsh football team will live long in the memory.
In their first appearance at a major finals since 1958, Wales' glorious run to the semi-finals was arguably the biggest story of the tournament, providing unparralleled joy to generations of Welsh football fans.
Now, as the dust settles on the campaign - which ended with a 2-0 defeat to eventual champions Portugal - the Football of Wales (FAW) Trust are looking to seize a unique opportunity to grow the grassroots game and build a platform for future national team success.
In an interview with Sky Sports, FAW Trust CEO Neil Ward has outlined his ambitions for the future of the game in Wales, as the Trust aims to capture the unprecedented interest in football to boost participation levels, alongside plans to develop top-class facilities to help them succeed.
Here's the full Q&A from the interview with Mr Ward:
What will be the legacy of Wales’ performance at Euro 2016?
The national team have certainly dispelled the myth that they are a one player team. They’ve shown huge courage and have been supported by a fantastic backroom team and an excellent team behind them too.
In terms of raising the profile and taking it to another level, the tournament is going to inspire future generations of young boys and girls to take up the game. The role of the FAW Trust is to capture that interest and plan for further successes in the future.
What expectations do you have in terms of increasing participation?
We set some ambitious targets leading up to 2024 and that’s to get 50% of children - boys and girls - to play football at least once a week. In terms of boys, we’ve achieved that target with 53%, but the area of growth is around girls where it’s presently 21%.
Our main focus is to grow the female game but retain the boys at the same time and then ensue they have a positive experience and continue to play for many years to come.
Which comes first? An increase in participation or national team success?
We’ve been working hard and steadily over the last 10 years and we’ve seen increases in participation year-on-year. But the shop window is healthy when the national team are achieving success, like they are achieving at the moment.
That has taken it to another level. It’s a catalyst and that’s what we’re looking for. We’re using it as a driver to carry forward all the great work that we’re doing at grassroots level.
How will you cope with the increased demand on your coaches?
We’re very proud of our coaching programme here in Wales and we believe it’s world class. We’re attracting some of the top names into the top end of our coaching programme but equally at the bottom we are seeing more people coming into coaching.
More volunteers are key to growing the game and that’s where a key area of our focus will be - getting more mums and dads into the game. More volunteers will strengthen club structures for the future.
We’ve set out in our growth targets for the number of coaches that we need. We have a workforce plan in place already, which will be implemented in September. This sets out how many coaches we are going to need, in what areas of Wales and what standard we need to build on this present success.
We’ve done a number of stakeholder events across Wales [and beyond]. Our first event was in Dinard, Brittany, where we launched our new relationship with the Brittany federation, which is all about giving our young players - aged 14 and 15, boys and girls - the opportunity to play against continental opposition.
This gives our young players an early taste of international football, which leads them into the performance programme for the future.
We’ve also been working very hard in increasing our media profile and telling people as much as possible about the excellent work that we’re doing and what we intend to do in the future.
Why do you think you’re having such success?
We’ve had a strategy in place for the last 10 years. We’ve been very clear about the areas of the game we wanted to focus on in terms of young players. We want to produce more players and better players for the future.
There has also been a key focus on facilities as well. We’ve been investing with our key partners, the Welsh Government, Sport Wales and the FAW, in more artificial pitches, which are more durable and enable more people to play more often. That’s going to be a key focus going forward.
We need to protect the grass we’ve got and make sure those facilities are accessible and affordable and make sure we invest in artificial pitches in the future.
I’m seeing the Welsh football shirt wherever I go. I’m seeing people in a buoyant mood, smiling and happy and diehard rugby fans are talking about football for the first time.
For football to capture the imagination of the people of Wales is absolutely fantastic, across all levels.
Is football trying to close a gap with rugby union in Wales?
The public perception is that Wales is a rugby nation, due to the consistent successes of the national team in the past. But football has more people playing it, 300,000 recreationally and more than 100,000 registered players, but I’m not interested in comparing ourselves to rugby.
I think there’s more to be gained by rugby and football working closer together because if we do so, we can provide more opportunities for young people. Competing against each other could be counter-productive because young people need to have a range of opportunities.
Are you in contact with the Welsh Rugby Union?
Very much so. Since the change in leadership there we’ve had an open dialogue about how we can work together. We are working collaboratively with rugby and hockey in terms of sharing facilities and all-weather pitches.
We don’t want to compete for investment. There’s more to be gained by working together. We want to get the right result for all sports, not just ourselves. The more access there is to sports, the more the health of the nation will benefit.
Club Website has been a partner of the FAW Trust since 2008. This partnership is central to the FAW’s ongoing support for football in Wales and enables all affiliated leagues and clubs to host their very own website free of charge. Find out more about the FAW Trust at welshfootballtrust.org.uk.
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