Para Lions head for Spain to kick off an exciting 2023
We catch up with England's head of para performance Catherine Gilby to discuss the warm-weather camp and her hopes for this year
With a host of major tournaments, the continued development of new teams and the strong desire to drive standards across the board, 2023 is set to be a hugely exciting year for England’s Para Lions.
And the work starts in earnest, with a squad of 41 players across multiple disciplines flying out to Tenerife today for a week-long warm-weather training camp.
Players from the men’s Blind, Cerebral Palsy and Partially Sighted teams will be joined by members from both of our senior Deaf teams.
Catherine Gilby, the FA’s head of para performance, explained: “This training camp has a number of different objectives for us and is almost a mid-season pre-season. With the large number of teams we have and with them all operating on a slightly different calendar, we wanted something which allowed us to bring the squads together after a few months of having training camps and low-key competitions to then refine our focus into the competitions coming up in 2023.
“For the first time, we have introduced selection criteria and that is to help us move towards selection policies and processes around our training camps and competitions that are really clear for players and staff so we can raise standards, not just performance-wise but behaviour-wise.
“There is a big physical focus for this particular camp. One of the key selection criteria was you had to be in good shape to go. This is not a get-fit camp, it is one for fine-tuning and realigning ourselves ready to kick on for 2023. We will make no apology for that and it will be a highly physical camp, with highly intensive technical sessions.”
Along with providing some crucial vitamin D and the obvious physical and psychological benefits which come from warm-weather training camps, the week in Tenerife will also give the coaches the chance to develop and instil some crucial ‘pride values’ as the staff look to create a sense of one-Para Lions team.
With different physical and technical demands required from each form of the game, many of the training sessions will be separate but there will be a lot of cross-squad interaction away from the field, with meetings and sessions on aspects such as the team culture, targets for the year and much more.
The warm-weather training camp kicks off a busy year, with the Blind and Partially Sighted sides taking part in the 2023 IBSA World Games in Birmingham, the Deaf and Powerchair teams also having World Cups, and England CP having a European Championship.
“Performance-wise, we are looking for some podium placings in the major championships this year,” Gilby said.
“We are also on a cultural shift in terms of Para football. From a non-performance angle, we are looking to make massive inroads in terms of the culture of the programme and that is why we will be looking at pride values and behaviours.
“We are starting to incorporate that into the selection policies to drive standards of not only performance but behaviour. We feel like we made some massive gains on that in 2022 and we want to build on it this season.”
As well as the teams already mentioned, part of the Football Your Way plan, which was launched in late-2021, involves establishing several more England sides.
A women’s Blind team was launched around the time Football Your Way was introduced and this year will see them taste multi-team international competition for the first time at the World Games.
England Amputee were once part of the FA set-up before spending some time away but are set to transition back from the start of next season.
And an England CP women’s team has been created and is in the early stages of its development.
The Covid pandemic caused havoc to the international calendar for Para football, with multiple major competitions postponed, often more than once.
With the uncertain nature of international schedules, the FA are also looking to host several multi-team competitions this year and play their part in developing the game globally.
Gilby added: “The other big aim we have for this year is the four tri-nation events we are running as the FA, with the aim of players having a reliable competitive opportunity year-on-year, which can be a challenge internationally sometimes with cancellations or events rescheduled.
“There is a real performance angle to that with competitive opportunities for our senior players, which we know is lacking and we need to provide more opportunities for our best players to play, but linked to that, we are going to tag on study days to try to drive the international game, whether that is to do with health and safety protocols, analysis of the game or whatever it might be.
“We are taking a really proactive step to drive the international standards in that too, which is an exciting venture for us as we try to lead the way in not only providing a competitive opportunity but also bringing others on the journey with us.”
More on our Para Lions
England Para Lions squads
Blind (men): Azeem Amir, Daniel English, Dylan Malpas, Roy Turnham
Cerebral Palsy (men): Harry Baker, James Blackwell, Matthew Crossen, Sam Dewhirst, Jack Fox-Hockney, Liam Irons, Ryan Kay, Aaron Lucas, Giles Moore, Cameron Osburn, Thomas Page, William Ramsey, Matthew Robinson
Deaf (women): Emma Brown, Ana Cauchi, Rose Kent, Lucindha Lawson, Zara Musker, Molly Ripley, Faye Williams
Deaf (men): Harry Boorman, Henry Bowe, Joseph Dixon, Cavell Donaldson, Josh Feldman, Tommy Hobson, Oliver Manoochehri, Matthew McQueeney, Cole Neil, Matthew Oaten, William Palmer
Partially Sighted (men): Myles Chadwick, Harry Gibbons, Tom Lamb, Adam Lione, Josh Pugh, Jack Walsh