‘Homeschooling’ support all part of the Barn Academy experience

An east Antrim football club which caters for over 300 young players is continuing to strengthen its female setup following an expansion in 2020.

Barn Youth Academy was established in 2003 for boys and girls, with a dedicated academy for girls being formed in July 2020 thanks to the efforts of a coach and her colleagues.

The club has been based at its Prince William Way pitches in Carrickfergus for over 18 years. The academy’s teams participate in small-sided games (SSG), games development programme (GDP) and South Belfast Youth League (SBYL).

Although the Coronavirus pandemic had a negative impact on sporting and community organisations across the country with many having to curtail activities, one positive at Barn Youth has been the formation of the all-girl teams.

Barn Youth Academy has five all-girl teams.Barn Youth Academy has five all-girl teams.
Barn Youth Academy has five all-girl teams.

Speaking to the Times, Jenna Crawford, coach and co-ordinator Barn Youth Academy Girls, said: “We have over 20 teams. We have over 300 members in the academy, ranging from ages four to 18.

“The ages of our girls’ teams ranges from 2016-2009 and we now have five all-girl sides. In Barn youth it was attempted many times to run an all-girl team, which unfortunately never worked. I already had an established boys’ team within our club and volunteered to try again and with the support of other coaches, this became a massive success.

“In July 2020 I started off with 17 girls and through lockdown managed to keep these girls interested by weekly tasks and when they started back training, it became even more successful which then resulted in me having to bring more coaches on to facilitate this. Now the Girls’ Academy has over 50 girls with nine coaches on board to assist with five teams already playing in small-sided games.”

Detailing her aspirations for the female players at the club, Jenna explained: “I did not expect it to snowball the way it did and end up with five established all-girl teams.

“Every week we get more and more coming along. When I was their age I didn’t have this on my doorstep, so being able to give that to these girls has been a massive achievement, not only for myself, but for the Barn Youth Academy as a whole.

“I would like to extend thanks to the club for trusting me with this and supporting me and a massive thank you to all those coaches who helped me make this happen.

“I hope the girls keep going from strength to strength and one day we will be able to have our very first Barn senior ladies team.”

Reflecting on the effect of the health emergency restrictions, Jenna added: “Covid heavily impacted our club as it did many other clubs in the area. Our priority was to get the kids back to football, but in a safe manner by following Covid regulations.

“We had designated Covid officers who requested forms after each training session for all teams, making sure that guidelines were being adhered to.

“We provided all teams with hand sanitizer and added an extra 15 minutes to every training session, allowing teams to leave the pitch so coaches could sanitize and be off pitch before the next team was on.

“Our younger teams normally train indoors, but Covid caused massive issues with this as many facilities had closed their doors, so we had to get alternative training venues.

“Our annual awards ceremony was unfortunately cancelled. This was usually a large event held at the Belfast Loughshore Hotel. Fun days and fundraisers were also cancelled, which we were very disappointed about as we are heavily involved and reliant on our community.”

Throughout the height of restrictions, the east Antrim club, which has a strong community ethos, supported residents who were in need.

Jenna stated: “We were still able to treat the children this year for Christmas with cinema outings and go-karting for older ones. Despite Covid and all the restrictions, we still managed to make sure children played football and were safe doing so.

“We also purchased laptops and iPads to distribute to children within the academy to help them with homeschooling through lockdown. This was a great success and helped massively to those stuck indoors through isolation periods.

“Our club has had many great achievements competitively over the years, but I’d say our biggest achievement has been giving back to the community through Covid by using our grants to provide vulnerable residents with hampers and delivering them personally to those in need.

“We kept the club running and kept our players involved by weekly Zoom calls with coaches and their teams.”

Not only did the club go above and beyond during the pandemic, but it has been a strong supporter of worthy causes for almost two decades.

Jenna said: “We’ve supported many charities over the years such as 1 in 3 Cancer Support and Carrick Babybank. Over past three or four years, Barn Youth Academy has raised over £10,000 for various charities.

“Every Christmas we donate toys to charities for people in need. We held a secret Santa appeal and donated gifts to over 300 families with Action for Children by working alongside a local business to provide as many children and families with gifts at christmas.

“We also support the efforts of any of our members who are raising funds for charities.”

Looking to the future, Jenna concluded: “Our goal is to continue mentoring, coaching and educating these young players, not only about football, but the importance of being part of a team.

“As coaches we get the pleasure of watching these children grow up through our club and it is an absolute pleasure being part of that and making an impact on that child’s life.

“New members are always welcome at Barn Youth Academy.”

For more information, check out the Barn Youth Academy Facebook page.


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