Name: Rob Saunders
Course: BTEC Level 3 in Sports Studies
St Albans football Academy third year student Rob Saunders chats about his Oaklands experience to date, it is one of fantastic transformation and progression. He joined the SAFA scheme back in 2014, taking the opportunity to entertain his interest in football by joining the programme in addition to his chosen Sports Studies programme based at St Albans Campus. After completing Levels 2 and BTEC Level 3 in Sports Studies, Rob is now in the first year of a Foundation Degree, a path achievable through the College’s route to Higher Education.
Despite holding a passion for sport, Rob by his own admission was unfit, overweight and lacking in any confidence when he started– a stark contrast to the toned, physically fit motivated player that is now lining up potential career prospects for life after college. He saw SAFA as an opportunity to regiment himself into a leaner shape and physical fitness, and despite the physical and mental challenges of the first term particularly used the discipline, challenge and support of the wider SAFA team to fuel his motivation to succeed.
The changes to be found from regular training and matches that the SAFA program offered meant changes were soon evident for all to see and by the end of the first year Rob was one of the fittest in the Academy. From his starting point at the lowest league in Sunday League PlayStation playing, fizzy drink fan to a quicker, leaner, water-only kind of guy – fairly quickly his football skills improved and his confidence flourished.
Rob says: “The beginning was tough – I was going from a lazy kick about on a Sunday to full training – with fitness tests and players around me that are already playing for league teams. It was hard, but my family and the SAFA coaches have taught me giving up is not an option. Looking better and feeling better gave me the motivation to keep on pushing myself – I’ve always been taught if you start something you have to finish it.”
Like all Academy programmes, the SAFA scheme runs in conjunction with a chosen study programme with the College, so keeping the balance between your passion for sport and your academics is key. Rob kept up the pace academically, achieving a D*DD (Distinction) in his Level 3 Extended Diploma in Sport (Development and coaching BTEC qualification, exceeding the predicated grades of his tutors. Despite being told he would be likely to achieve merit level, Rob set his sights on distinctions to prove them wrong.
In his own words, Rob says that being part of SAFA has completely changed his outlook in ways beyond his studies at life in College. He says: “I don’t go out every weekend drinking like most people do my age, it’s just not my thing. My focus is my studies and getting work experience and money together to start setting a life up for myself. I still have fun and go out with my mates, but it’s all about balance. I train six days a week, I work two jobs and continue my studies.
“That’s not me missing out, I’m just doing what’s right for me. Now when I look back I’m proud I stuck to my guns to prove to everyone I could do it, it just goes to show anyone can make a journey for themselves, doesn’t matter where you start from.
“College life has really worked for me – you are responsible for you own learning, the help and support is there if you need it and it makes you more mature and prepared for the future. I think my personality has developed too – I’m more comfortable in who I am, and able to explore my potential. “
Rob currently coaches the next generation in a youth team in Watford as a part time role, finding it rewarding to give the same positive support he has been given to players enjoying the game from a much earlier age.
Head of the SAFA Academy Steve Castle said: “Throughout his time with us, Rob has show great enthusiasm and determination in everything he does. He is a pleasure to have around and is fully committed in every aspect of College life. Rob is a perfect example of the sort of student we are proud to have within our football Academy.”