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Junior Academy FAQs

The Bristol Bears Academy aims to unite and inspire the city. See below for frequently asked questions about what the Academy can do for you.

Please see below for the responses to questions which are frequently asked of the Academy. If you do have any questions not answered here, please feel free to contact the Academy administrator, Sally Knight.

What is the vision and purpose of the Bears Junior Academy?

Please see section Academy Structure, which outlines the broad aims. In addition please follow the link below which represents an induction presentation for Under 13s. Please be aware that this is a representation of the induction, filmed without audience or the usual interactions which make each presentation unique.

How does my son get involved in the Bears Junior Academy?

There are several ways for players to be put forward to the Academy:

  1. Nominated directly by the club or school coach. They will be in receipt of a list of key attributes desirable for boys aspiring to be young Bears and will put boys forward who match many of those attributes
  2. Through the Bears Community Foundation – from the various rugby camps and schools programmes throughout the Bears catchment area
  3. From observations of age grade games by Bears coaches. Although this is mainly from inter-school games, many of the Bears coaches are involved in local club rugby and keep an eye out for local talent.
  4. Transfer from other Academies. Although this does not happen often, there are occasions where boys move into the area and who have been involved in another Academy.

Is there a limit on the number of boys put forward? Do they have to ‘trial’?

Although some programmes continue to put restrictions on the numbers of players who can be put forward by clubs and schools (often three max), the Bears do not. The reason for this are many.

  • Talent identification at a young age is notoriously flawed and error strewn
  • Clubs/schools may be blessed in a particular age group with a host of able, confident young players
  • We trust the coaches to make a decision in the best interests of the players – boys who closely match the criteria, are motivated, confident and mature (mentally & socially) are better able to cope and flourish in the Bears environment. Boys who are not YET at that stage, may lose confidence and motivation.
  • Trials are a poor indicator of ability and character. We prefer a longitudinal approach where we can better assess players development, progress and character.

My son is Under 14/15/16 and has not been put forward for the Bears. Is that the end for him?

The simplest answer is NO. As outlined in question two above YET is the key word here. A good number of school and club coaches understand that players develop at different rates and we continue to emphasise that the door is always open. Players can be, and are, put forward, when coaches deem it appropriate for them, taking into account the criteria and confidence of the player.

Does my son have to trial/be nominated every season to be in the Bears?

Once in players are deemed to be part of the Bears family, and are there for the duration of the programme (U13 – U16 inclusive). We understand that players develop at different rates (physically, socially, mentally, emotionally) and in different ways – which can have a temporary detrimental impact on performance.

We believe they were put forward in the first place because they have demonstrated the attributes we are looking for. Those attributes are still there, they just might be on a temporary hold during the’ growing up’ process! There may be instances where players involvement is reconsidered, most of which will be discussed prior to any actions taking place

  • Attendance – infrequent attendance at sessions with no or unsatisfactory communication
  • Attitude & behaviour – not appropriate to the Bears expectations and detrimental to the learning and development of others
  • Confidence – the player is losing confidence due to the high standards expected and/or demonstrated by other players.
  • Self-determined  - the player no longer wishes to pursue a performance pathway.

What is the Bears catchment area?

The catchment area for Bears is considered to be Bristol post code, South Gloucestershire, North Somerset, Sedgemoor, Taunton Deane and West Somerset. To qualify for the Bears the player must comply with one of the following:

  • Live in the catchment – i.e. home address
  • Play for a local club in the catchment
  • Attend school in the catchment

My son is a Bears supporter who lives just outside the catchment. Is he able to be part of the Bears academy?

We recommend that boys stay within their own catchment as much as possible. However as an academy we also want boys who want to be a part of our club and our journey, a view shared by other academies. We have a good working relationship with the other academies in our area, and where boys are keener to go to their club of choice, an honest discussion takes place between parents and both clubs and a solution found.

We would not solicit, encourage or agree with boys moving local clubs or changing schools in the catchment to become part of the academy, and prefer honest dialogue and communication with all parties concerned

Other academies programmes are called DPP (Developing Player Programme) and PDG (Player Development Group), are they the same as the Bears?

It was decided to change the names of the Bears Junior Academy programmes to better align with our purpose and vision, and to underline our uniqueness. We were instrumental in changing the national tag of PDG from EPDG, where 'Elite’ preceded Player Development Group. Our argument was that, in a late development sport such as rugby, it was not appropriate to label 15 & 16 year olds as ‘elite’.

Bears Aspire and Bears Excel are steps on the academy pathway with the rationale being explained in the link below.

How do boys move from Aspire to Excel?

The players are continually assessed throughout the duration of Aspire and Excel. Other than exceptional circumstances, players are not invited into Excel below the age of Under 15 (Year 10). Character is a considerable factor in assessing players progress and potential. Grit, determination, self-motivation, resilience, hard-work, coachability, allied with confidence & ability are the key determinants of players being invited into Excel from Aspire. Occasionally a boy may be identified from a competitive school game and go straight to Excel. This happens rarely, and is most likely to happen at Under 16s, as time is pressing.

Experience suggests that some boys train better than they play and vice-versa. As a consequence inter-centre competitive opportunities have been introduced at Under 14 and Under 15 in the evenings, in addition to half-term activities. Not only does this enable players and coaches to benchmark progress it also enables boys to see the range and scope of the programme. The Bears are also integrated with Bristol Schools and Somerset county at Under 15 and 16, playing as many teams as possible (e.g. five teams v Cornwall at U15) to ensure  as many boys as possible have competitive development opportunities

What is the difference between Aspire and Excel?

Boys in Aspire train once a week during the school term for an hour. The sessions are largely made up of injury prevention activities and rugby game play with an aim to increase speed of play, fitness, tactical appreciation and broad technical development.

Boys in Aspire are invited to take part in inter-centre games on additional evenings and at half-terms. At Under 15 and 16 boys may also be invited to play against other county teams.

Boys in Excel train twice a week with sessions including strength & conditioning, injury prevention exercises in addition to rugby – tactical, technical and mental sessions. Players from Excel are more likely to get selected for games against other Academies – although being involved in Excel does not guarantee selection. Boys can and are invited into Excel throughout the Under 15 and Under 16 seasons.

What happens after Under 16?

The Aspire and Excel programme stops at Under 16 – normally around Easter, with the following possible course of action:

  • A small number of boys are recommended for involvement in the Senior Academy U17s/U18s process
  • Excel and Aspire Boys are recommended to try out for the Somerset or Gloucestershire Under 17s and 18s programme

Boys  aged U17/18 who have not been in Excel, or even in the programme at all may be invited to train/play with the U17s/18s based on club, school/college, county form and/or recommendation. The door is always open.