Student coaches on Premier route
Think of a football coach and it is easy to picture a veteran in a sheepskin coat, shouting from the sidelines. But the guy in the dugout giving orders could be a fresh-faced 16-year-old student training at Bolton Wanderers.
The Premiership club is helping to instruct teenagers as coaches to Football Association standards to help improve the sport's grassroots development.
Five colleges have teamed up with the Lancashire club to teach level 2 NVQ (GCSE equivalent) in football coaching. As part of their studies, the 16- to 18-year-olds will pick up an FA coaching certificate, the first step to becoming a recognised professional coach.
By level 3 (A-level equivalent) - one step below the top level UEFA coaching qualification - coaches could be working at the biggest Premiership clubs.
Jack Trainer, Bolton's coach education manager, said there were a growing number of job opportunities in football coaching at grassroots level as it became increasingly professional in its approach.
Bolton offers the students work experience with its international programmes, which provide coaching to children on holiday abroad, for example.
Mr Trainer said: "We are preparing young people for the coaching industry.
"There are a great number of opportunities for young people, and ultimately it's going to help to raise the standard of football in this country."
About 125 students a year can study for the qualification at Pendleton College in Salford, Preston College, Kendal College, St John Rigby College in Wigan and Bolton Community College.
Ben Blocksidge, curriculum leader of sport, fitness and public services at Bolton College, said: "Coaching in sport historically has been seen as a pastime or as something which is done by volunteers. Now there is an effort to make it more a bit professional: it's a job which stands comparison with any other.
"Students learn how to prepare professional coaching assessments, different coaching styles and which ones to use with different people. They learn how to analyse and improve the performance of footballers, as well as what to do if there is an accident or an emergency.
"It's about getting students involved in education and the reward is that it's in a subject that they enjoy and that they are passionate about."
Under a scheme offered by Bolton Council, the students can also volunteer to coach local children in return for "virtual money" that can be spent on further courses to help them develop a career.