Skip navigation

Player Care Officer explains how Palace support prospects throughout careers

Features

Young players involved in Academy football from Under-9s through to Under-23s at Crystal Palace receive not only a high level of coaching on the pitch, but also holistic support off it, where staff like Kiran Dingri create “an environment in which players can flourish.”

“Day to day I support the rest of the Academy staff to make sure the Academy programme runs smoothly,” he says one evening at the club's new facilities, before delivering a player care workshop. “That’s the main thing. It’s not as heavy day to day as what the coaches have, but it’s making sure we have players here ready to learn in an environment that can help them.

“In terms of week to week it’s making sure players who require transport support are looked after, some players who require additional support, and supporting coaches and staff with players who need support in terms of having a chat around anything from school to home to the Academy.

“They’ve got another person they can recognise that isn’t the person picking the team or making decisions on their futures and selection. This season I will be working with each age group and their parents, delivering different content on navigating through the Academy journey.”

Dingri is very familiar with south London, having grown up in and around Dartford, and previously held the position of Designated Safeguarding Officer (DSO) at Charlton Athletic.

“In November [2020] I made the switch to come as YDP [Youth Development Phase] Player Care Officer and now it’s grown into Academy Player Care Officer from Under-9s to Under-16s. It’s nice doing that role because I’m able to offer a layer of support that has definitely been there, but now it’s formalised into one role, and putting my own print and stance on it from what I didn’t have when I came through on my Academy journey.”

Dingri’s own route saw him at another south London club, Millwall, where he achieved a scholarship, and this is arguably what shaped his current trajectory in player development.

“I didn’t recognise how steep that step up would be from Under-16s schoolboy to full-time scholar,” he says. “I didn’t realise how much of a step up that would be in terms of the physical load on my body.

“I was a young lad and probably not ready. You’ll get a lot of boys with similar feelings but the layers of support are there now and they can gain those characteristics. There’s a lot more people you can speak to on a non-football level and a football level.

“It was a different time within football where it was football or nothing. We’re at a better stage now - boys are more rounded. They have to be.”

Providing this sort of player support with the ability to empathise is vital in a role like Dingri’s, as many now utilise his guidance to assist their goal of reaching a scholarship and going beyond. Though, as he goes on to explain, that success could be considered the easier step:

“Achieving a scholarship is sometimes seen as the hard bit. It is sometimes the easy part, the bits after that are the really telling years to see if the boy can mould a career for himself.

“It’s not about earning that first contract. Coaches will tell you as well: it’s about earning all the contracts after, which is kind of the step up that the boys need to realise. When they’re 16 the next two years don’t just build for the next year as a pro – they’re hopefully building the foundation for a long career.”

Of course, not all players will make it through from the early stages of Academy football to a professional career, however the club’s support structure remains accessible to anyone who leaves the Academy.

“We’re looking at an extended aftercare plan for PDP [Professional Development Phase] where boys will understand that, even if they leave the Academy, for around three years after they’ll have support from us.

“Whether that be to help them with football journeys, education, vocational learning, jobs, apprenticeships, whatever it may be, we’ll help them find that next step. In terms of supporting players who transition away from the Academy between U9-16s, it’s about supporting the next football step but also recognising the impact this can have on all different areas of their life.

“We hope, even if it’s not here, that they can make the step into another football area, but essentially understanding that they still have more options out there and a life to live and that really one door might close here, but there’s a million doors that will open for them.”

While the support is in place regardless of development, the goal is for players to utilise this to its full potential, and ultimately have a well-rounded life aided by the Academy structure. Dingri elaborates:

“It’s inevitable that boys will leave this Academy and transition away from the Academy, whether that be after one year, two years or five years. It might be after 400 games in the first-team, but at some point football will end. What are they going to be left with at the end of that?

“Are they going to be left with a personality and identity which is ready to excel at the next step? Or is it just what we’ve given them on the face of it, which is football? We’d hope to think we’ve given them a lot more here.”