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Published 19 January 2024 5 min read
England Para Teams

Para Lions heading to Spain

Written by:

Frank Smith

The FA's senior technical performance manager for Para, James Watkins, discusses the warm-weather training camp in Tenerife

This weekend 40 of England’s Para Lions and Lionesses will be heading to Tenerife for a warm-weather training camp, as the players are challenged physically and staff look to develop the ‘One Para’ culture among our Para football programme.

Members of the Blind Men, Cerebral Palsy, Deaf Men, Deaf Women, Partially Sighted and Blind Women Teams – as well as more than 20 members of staff – will be flying to Spain on Sunday for a ‘mid-season pre-season’ before returning home on Friday 26 January.

September to November is a period where a lot of the Para Lions return to their clubs, with the disability football season in effect starting later than mainstream football.

So Tenerife is a chance for the players to work in their impairment-specific groups in the morning before they are all brought together for another physical session in the afternoon.

James Watkins, the FA’s senior technical performance manager for Para, explained how the trip to Spain is a chance to develop the ‘One Para’ culture whilst putting the players through really tough physical challenges.

“It is like a mid-season pre-season camp,” Watkins explained. “It is about impacting players’ physical performance through tailored sessions. It’s also a chance to provide a positive experience which will springboard players into the main part of the programme and the run in to major tournaments and games.

Members of the England Deaf Women squad during the training camp in Tenerife last year
Members of the England Deaf Women squad during the training camp in Tenerife last year

“It was open to all players from our ambulant teams. Availability drove selection alongside some clear criteria linked to players’ physical performance, engagement in club football and the players who have been performing on camp.”

He continued: “Last year’s camp had a massive impact on the motivation of players. It is a challenge to be selected for the camp. Importantly, it’s also an enjoyable experience to be involved in a warm-weather environment and I’m delighted we have been able to fund the trip. Players’ desire to be selected has helped create motivation and engagement in our physical performance programme during that September to December period.

“The term mid-season pre-season is right because it really does kickstart their focus and we noticed last year that those players who went to Tenerife were really tuned in to areas like our tournament objectives.

“Our training calendar starts in September and that September to December period is viewed as an on-programme selection probationary period – it is almost symbolic to go on the Tenerife camp now.”

All seven of our Para Lions and Lionesses teams had major tournaments last year after several had been delayed due to COVID-19, with Deaf Women Futsal securing bronze, the Powerchair and Partially Sighted sides going agonisingly close to being crowned world champions for the first time, and our Cerebral Palsy team securing silver at the IFCPF EURO.

James Watkins spoke about the importance of the trip to Spain
James Watkins spoke about the importance of the trip to Spain

This year England Deaf Men have high hopes heading into June’s European Deaf Football Championships and our Cerebral Palsy team will be aiming to medal at the 2024 IFCPF World Cup.

The other teams will all have competitive fixtures throughout the year and twice a month will be meeting up at St. George’s Park over the weekend as part of their training programme.

There has been a real focus in recent years to create a ‘One Para’ culture among the teams and Watkins explained how the Tenerife trip benefits not only the players but also the staff.

He said: “It is predominantly a physical performance camp but with that constant messaging about working together and sharing practice.

“It is also about the staff from different squads having time together to share practice and ideas, with areas like how they pre-frame or review camps or the way they work with their players.

“It is brilliant that, whether they are coaches, members of the operations staff or the wider MDT (multidisciplinary) practitioners, they are spending time together, so you have doctors and physios who wouldn’t normally work together and building strong relationships.

“We are trying to build the ‘One Para’ focus into all of our camps and underneath that, help create regional support groups. For example if players are based in the North East, they get to know the other para players from their region so they can travel together or train together.

“We are starting to see regional training groups now which have evolved quite fluidly where we have groups of eight or nine players from different impairment groups who get together regularly to train, which they do off their own backs.

“It is also a chance for the players to get some vitamin D and sunshine so there is a mental health aspect to it as well and helping the players get optimistic about the season ahead.”

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