THE weekend before last Lesley Allon and I attended with representatives from more than 60 youth leagues from across the country, the inaugural FA Youth Leagues Conference at St George’s Park.

What a tremendous event in which delegates were treated to four different workshops and sessions in matters such as the introduction of Futsal, the importance of licensed coaches, utilising young volunteers and safeguarding youngsters.

All this was organised by the FA National League Development manager Andrew Hailwood and I have no doubt the conference has proved beneficial for the leagues in attendance and the FA.

The passion and enthusiasm within the league attendees and representatives from the FA gave me so much confidence that the game is in good hands and we are heading in the right direction.

This was my first ever visit to St. George’s Park. There was some controversy over the money spent on it, but I am fairly and squarely in the yes camp, as I believe that the home of football should have the very best facilities. This does not detract from the fact I also believe the state of our grassroots facilities are a national disgrace and parties from all sides need to stop talking and start acting to address this issue.

The two-day conference brought up a number of issues which prevent many youth leagues from progressing, whether that is due to facilities, lack of volunteers, finance or even representation at County FA level. I, though, have confidence the FA is listening and will be taking everything on board and looking to improve the situation wherever they can.

I personally learned a lot from the two days and although our league is highly regarded, there is much more we can do for our players, coaches, referees and volunteers.

Our to-do list includes: building links with the FA Licensed Coaches Association, the Future Game, embed ‘Respect’ in everything we do, build a sustainable Futsal league, work with other leagues to develop inter league competition and under 21 provision, embed the FA Full time into our website which allows greater flexibility with referee allocations and club, team and referee marks.

We need to develop online registration processes for our players, work with our members to enhance their coaching, playing or refereeing possibilities and seek to build a sustainable model under the Sport England Whole Sport initiative to bring together all sports for the benefit of all the community.