Lead Professional Development Phase Coach Ross White will be temporarily updating us on the academy until academy manager Ross McNeilly is back.
White discusses the adaptation needed to keep everyone safe when playing football, how safety procedures were handled, the motivation and drive from the academy youngsters, the importance of football coming back and the goals for the academy next season.
HOW IS THE ACADEMY ADAPTING TO THE SITUATION AT THE MOMENT AND WHAT HAS BEEN HAPPENING IN THE PAST FEW WEEKS?
White said “The academy have adpated really well. Since lockdown, we have gradually come back into training. At the beginning, we started off with one training session a week just to get a system running. We wanted to see what the academy would look like and see what safety procedures needed to be put in place.
“We then moved into twice a week for a couple of weeks and from this week, we’re moving into four times a week and because of how we’ve delivered this in the first few weeks, it has allowed everything to run to plan in terms of safety procedures.
“The boys know what to do and they need to know the social distancing rule and they’ve been brilliant in following that instruction.”
WHEN YOU FIRST CAME OUT OF LOCKDOWN, WAS IT HARD TO GET THE HANG OF THE SAFETY PROCEDURES THAT NEEDED TO BE IMPLEMENTED?
“I’d say that because it was new for everyone doing this, we prepared well before starting training in terms of what it looks like and we had Zoom presentations and Zoom meetings with coaches so we didn’t come into this blind-folded.
“The boys have been brilliant. The hardest thing to follow was the non-contact stuff but there is loads of stuff that we can do in terms of the way we train. We’ve done loads of passing patterns which we’ve worked on in real detail.
“We do a lot of this in the week but it gives us real focus in that area of training. You can see the boys wanting to do the contact stuff and obviously as footballers, that’s their bread and butter but we had to abide by the guidelines and it gave us a good two to three weeks to shake off some cobwebs after not playing for a few months.
“It allowed us to focus on the details such as passing and our patterns to finish. The boys have been doing really well with this in terms of their attitude to training and adapting to the new rules.”
WAS IT HARD FOR THE LADS TO GET BACK TO THE FOOTBALL THAT THEY KNEW THEY COULD PLAY BEFORE THE LOCKDOWN CAME ABOUT?
“I think that the boys have been brilliant in terms of coming back with hunger but I fully expected them to. We had a really successful season in the academy last season with the u18s finishing top of the league, the u23s coming close to the top and the u19s doing very well in their new National League.
“There was a lot of disappointment at the end of last season which was in March. The boys have come in more hungry than ever and it’s been the same for everyone, sitting at home for three to four months and we’ve done a lot of work in terms of online stuff.
“We have worked on a lot of Zoom sessions and we’re doing fitness sessions online. We’re having competitions in terms of types of fitness drills so the boys have been switched on instead of off.
“They’ve had a break but we’ve kept on it for most of the lockdown and they’ve come back hungry than ever like I said before. They’re looking really good, they’re looking nice and sharp as well so it’s a massive positive for us.”
BEFORE WE CAME BACK, WE HAD BEEN ABOUT 4-5 MONTHS WITHOUT FOOTBALL, DO YOU THINK THAT PEOPLE REALISE THAT FOOTBALL CAN’T BE TAKEN FOR GRANTED?
“We love this game but I think in terms of mental health, we have made sure to have a massive focus on that. We make sure that the boys want to get up for training every day and have a set routine for what they are doing. I think this is so important for the boys but we take hold of that.
“We didn’t want boys just sitting at home doing nothing with no routine and no clear vision of where they’re going. Yes, we’ve had a speed bump in the lockdown but it’s important that the goals and visions stay clear.
“It was important that we set a slightly different routine out at home and that’s where we had to stay connected to them and push them in terms of their fitness and their sharpness so that they can do stuff at home on the ball.
“Having that routine was the main thing that we wanted to have a clear journey for.”
WAS THAT IMPORTANT IN KEEPING THE ACADEMY YOUNGSTERS MOTIVATED THAT FOOTBALL CAN COME BACK AND THINGS CAN RETURN TO NORMAL?
“I personally don’t think that we had to keep the boys motivated. They’re young and hungry footballers that just want to play football and the motivation wasn’t the thing that we had to keep up.
“We had conversations about when we’re looking to start and there were times that we didn’t have answers for them in terms of when we we’re going to come back. We framed it in a way that we were clear on not stopping. We made sure not to follow the pack of quitting but instead looking to continue at the first opportunity.
“Football is a cutthroat business and we didn’t take it for granted. We got our heads down and worked hard. I think that we have a bigger opportunity to work on the tactical side. We have set up presentations in terms of our philosophy and it has been really helpful for the boys to see it on the screens instead of just on the pitch. We made sure to take advantage of that opportunity as quickly as possible.”
FOR THE COMING SEASON, WHAT ARE YOUR AIMS AND OBJECTIVES? HOW HIGH ARE YOU AIMING AFTER THE SUCCESS OF LAST SEASON?
“We have this conversation all the time about the academy objectives in terms of what we want to do. When playing football, everyone wants to win, you play football to win. As an academy, what does winning look like to us?
“Of course, we set out to do well but our main focus is to get as many players as we can into the first team. That’s my job, that’s Ross’ (Ross McNeilly) job and that’s the coaches’ jobs who create individuals. Of course, we focus on doing well in the leagues but we don’t pull away from our philosophy.
“At the end of the day, we are here to create professional footballers. We’ve shown that in the past few years we can do exactly that. The likes of Reece Wylie, Harry Taylor, Reece Miller, Ryan Hall give us a proven track record now.
“We’re not going to sacrifice boys’ development just to try and win games. Of course, we do want to win games and that’s why we had a lot of success last year but the focus was the success of boys getting into the first team or in and around the first team and that’s our success.
“Due to this lockdown, we took a Zoom presentation for our recruits for the first years. Me and Ross had a chat about what it’s going to look like because we didn’t have anyone on trial. We didn’t have any first years, we had boys coming up through the u16s but we needed to recruit players so we thought of putting a presentation together of what the academy looks like, the philosophy and our success.
“The players that we’ve brought in since we’ve been back has been a breath of fresh air. There has been some real good recruitment and we’ve bought players in that we think will adapt well to our philosophy and who will do well for the club.
“We’re in a real strong position in terms of the academy and there isn’t a real need to recruit anymore. If we do recruit, we’ll be the ones to pick out who would be best so that has gone down really well. We’ve had the first years in for the last few weeks now and they’ve been brilliant. They’ve come in with energy and some of those players have come from Category 3 and 2 academies and they’ve come in with a different philosophy head.
“They’re adapting really well and they’re really open to what’s going on at the academy. The work rate is second to none and they’re a really great bunch of lads which always helps in terms of the rapport for the group and I think that they’re going to have a really successful season.”