This is a line (sans what’s in the parenthesis) taken from the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams.” In the movie, an actor played by Kevin Costner builds a baseball field in the middle of Iowa and crowds of people magically show up to the ground including his dead Father. Since then so many sports organizations have made the mistake of believing that just by establishing an Academy or building a stadium, the fans will show up. This only works if you are building another La Masia or if a live U2 concert is the first act in your new stadium. The reality is that the public no longer just jumps at something unless there is some certainty that it would be worth their while which makes it extremely important for sports organizations to remain open about reaching out to the masses - by traveling to their backyards.
In early 2014, just a few months after our client, DSK Group, launched the Liverpool International Football Academy, we had to a make a call whether we would invite youth to the Academy for trials or invest time and money and tour the country to identify the players that would make up the first batch of the residential program. It was a no-brainer. We knew that as a first year Academy, in spite of having one of the world’s biggest clubs as our technical partner, we must visit people’s homes vs. expecting the LFC brand to drive the best youth players in the country to travel to Pune for the trials.
So in the first quarter of 2014 the LIFA-DSK technical staff including two Liverpool FC coaches, travelled to Aizawl, Delhi, Goa, Kolkata, Mumbai and Shillong over a few months and hosted trials for over 2,000 youth. Eventually that 2,000 was filtered down to most of the 64 boys that have spent the past 2 years living and training at the Academy in Pune with the LFC coaches and staff. 2 of those boys are 18 year old Jerry and Zola both from villages in Mizoram who have now gone on to represent India and recently spent a week training at the Liverpool FC Academy in Kirkby, UK.
Anyway, back to the title of this post. My strong belief is that “If you build it and continue building it, they will come.” LIFA-DSK has not only established the Academy but continued to demonstrate excellence since its inception in 2013. This is why they had the luxury of hosting their latest trials at the Academy itself knowing that their reputation of nurturing talent in a world class set-up for the past 2 years would ensure some of the top youth footballers in the country would now feel enticed to travel to Pune for the trials - in other words credibility and proof of product were established.
Their notion was correct and this past weekend over 500 15 – 17 year olds showed up at the Academy on an exceptionally warm Saturday ready to showcase their skills in front of the Liverpool FC coaches. These boys came from all corners of the country and would have traveled by planes, trains, buses, cars and autos to make the 8:00am check-in time.
I also attended the trials as a guest of LIFA-DSK and had the opportunity to experience “The Liverpool Way” of evaluating youth players. Walking past the long line of determined boys, you could clearly sense their nervous excitement to achieve their dream of being a part of India’s best football Academy.
I must say that the entire trial was executed professionally with a high level of engagement and personal interaction with the youth footballers. It’s truly fantastic that 500 youth from all over India had the opportunity to experience what a professional football environment and operation looks like – some for the first time in their lives – which they will take back with them into their own communities. This type of exposure is critical as we collectively look to make India a strong football nation and I can proudly say that LIFA-DSK is serving as a contribution to this movement.
Here are some pictures from the trial…