Anyone who glances at the DASSA league tables will know that sport is a huge part of academic life at Dubai English Speaking College.
Gulf Youth Sport visited the school to find out more about their pioneering football development programme, which is giving some talented students the opportunity to flourish both on the field, and in the classroom.
DESC, which currently has 1,300 students on the school roll and many more on the waiting list, are in their third year of the programme which integrates football training into the traditional school curriculum.
Following a series of trials at the start of the year, selected students are taken out of two classes each week to hone their skills on the football field. The rotation system means that training sessions occur on a cycle and that students never miss the same subject twice in one month.
Head Coach Paul Barratt, who coordinates the initiative, believes that the students are given a special opportunity to combine their academic work with football training.
“It’s a specialised and privileged programme that we have students on in year seven, eight and nine – it’s something that we’ve worked on in the past couple of years. It’s for players who are looking to develop their skills and maybe have a long-term future in the game.”
Barratt feels that the players who take part in the programme gain more than just football skills. Each student is required to communicate with their teachers to let them know what classes they will be absent from – just one of many positive traits available to the kids.
“It’s really important that we develop their characteristics and their personal skills. We talk about the social and the mental side [of the game] which are part of the five key areas that we look at.”
As we speak to Paul, there are workmen laying a brand new astroturf surface behind us within the DESC campus, with one half of the field complete and available for use. Barratt says that this is a visible testament to the fact that the programme receives great support from school staff and parents.
“Our principle and head teacher are fantastic, they back sport at DESC and they know it’s important for the students. We’ve just got a new 4G astro-turf put down so again that’s promoting what’s at the school and the fact that we take our sport seriously.”
“The teachers are really enthusiastic about the programme as well and the parents realise that it’s a good opportunity to be on the programme as well.”
Barratt is keen to make sure that the programme develops good people as well as good footballers: “On the football side, our teams are really successful but we are strong on making sure that they behave themselves and that their culture around the school is good. We get a hold of some of the best football players but we expect high standards from them.”
In an ideal world, Barratt would like the players who are part of the programme to continue their football careers after school. As a former Liverpool academy player he would love the students to get the same opportunities he did as a young footballer.
“We want the kids to go on and have a pathway so that they can go back to the UK and play for the academy teams. Dubai does a great job for football and it’s fantastic where they can get up to but obviously playing for the Manchester City or Liverpool academies is a little bit higher still.”
Riley is a part of the programme and he believes that the extra training he receives at school goes a long way to helping him improve as a player and as a student: “I feel really proud of myself and of all the boys and girls and it’s a real privilege to be part of the programme.”
DESC’s U12 sides take part in two title deciders this afternoon (Tuesday 13th) as they look to cap off a hugely impressive season. The A and B teams are both in action with the chance to end the season as champions.
Both games kick off at 3:30pm at Dubai English Speaking College.