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Swansea City Academy Coach Education Session

TW Braga Coach, David Sleator, attended a coach education day provided by Swansea City Academy.  Below is his report and thoughts on the day.  We thank David for sharing his report.

Stormont Pavilion, Belfast - Sunday 3 December 2017.

Sunday saw the return of the now annual Swansea City Academy education event to Belfast’s Stormont Estate, attended by coaches from all over Northern Ireland.  It was a fascinating insight into the philosophy which underpins the Swans Academy setup, from the foundation phase through to U23's. What is clear is the amount of dedication and focus given to ensure that any player entering the Academy has a clear pathway through it, with the same technical and tactical aims.

Swansea City has built a reputation within their 1st team to play from the back utilising the goalkeepers, a key component to their Academy as well, but the 1st team does act independently when required - a fact reflected upon during the session given the current difficulty the team is facing in the Premier League. Adaptability is still a key component to development.

The session today was divided into the following parts;

  • Overview and Introduction to the Swans Academy – Aaron McNeill, Ireland Coordinator & Ollie Jefferies, Foundation Phase Academy Coach.
  • Practical session 1 – ‘Me’ - Roy Thomas, Head of Academy Coaching & Coach Educator & Andrew Sparkes, Head of Academy Goalkeeping.
  • Goalkeeping Focus – Andrew Sparkes, Head of Academy Goalkeeping.
  • Practical session 2 – ‘We’ & ‘Us’ - Roy Thomas, Head of Academy Coaching & Coach Educator & Andrew Sparkes, Head of Academy Goalkeeping.
  • Video and Statistical Analysis – Harry Spratley, Academy Analyst.

 

The “Swansea City Way”

Ollie outlined the key focus areas for the Academy – technical and tactical development, player personalities, coach interactions and target setting. The technical and tactical development is key to the philosophy of the Academy, which is to have players capable of playing out from the back in a typical 1-4-3-3 system. There has been a real shift in modern youth coaching, no longer is it acceptable to just have young players able to ‘get rid’ of the ball into attacking channels, but technically capable players able to not only receive a pass in their own defensive third, but also utilise the goalkeeper and other players in order to play passes in a controlled manner in their own half. The most fascinating part of this was the tactical awareness element which Swansea have incorporated and essential in producing players able to execute their approach to the game. Ollie continued to give an overview of a typical practical session for players in the foundation phase (u7 to u12) – a clear focus on technical aspects at this age, fun orientated sessions which seek to develop skills needed. Even at this phase, goalkeepers are an integral part of all practical sessions (on top of their own goalkeeping sessions) – should it be a possession based drill or focus on one particular aspect, they are utilised. In the example used, a simple 4v4 rondo uses two goalkeepers at each end who face forward at all times, able to play the ball in to their teammates. The idea of this is to get the goalkeepers as much contact time on the ball with their feet in a high pressure situation – how comfortable are they on making a good 1st touch before finding a teammate? Is their body shape correct in order to offer to receive the pass? All of this built nicely into the practical sessions which followed.

Another aspect touched upon was player personality and coach interaction. Swans Academy have player development plans for every player from u7 up to u23. A set template is used which coaches and players themselves feed into. I was really impressed at how Swansea get their youth players to be engaged in their own development – recognising strengths and weaknesses. Along with long term development, these plans are updated weekly and monthly allowing coaches and players to look at certain areas which require focus. The key thing here is getting the players, even at a very young age, to buy into their own development. Although it sounds very rigid, the plans have broad outlines of what the players are working on at any given time, e.g. technical such as first touch, or when the players are older the addition of psychosocial elements such as interaction with teammates or ability to cope with pressure. Further to this, players are asked what their ‘super-strengths’ are – those abilities a player has which they feel is their best attribute. The interesting thing here is that these stronger attributes are not placed to the side in order to concentrate on weaker elements, in fact it’s the opposite. If a player shows really good skill in playing a penetrating pass, focus remains on developing this to the fullest. The explanation is that players are defined by their strongest ability which will become a key aspect of their game, so why abandon the development of this? Of course it’s not to the detriment of improving all aspects of play, but a balanced approach.

While all that sounds quite overwhelming, it is in fact carefully structured. Training sessions are thoughtfully planned with not only focus on group development, but also individual development through goal-setting. The Academy asks captains (rotating weekly) to choose ‘extras’, a clever way of getting the boys to practice certain skills at home which they can record and share. The reason behind this is part of the wider debate in youth football. Young players in the UK are simply not getting as much contact time with the ball as previous generations did though street football and other forms of free form play which is now seen as key to development. This is one way the Swans Academy has sought to address this. Analysis and feedback is performed to each player, the example shown of the coach and parent watching some video footage of training, before the player is asked to note which areas they want to work on. What is great about this is the fact that the player will present back video footage to his coach and parent, identifying what they have learnt by talking through solutions to problems. For example this could be trying to find space to receive a pass in wide areas – how does a player identify space against the positioning of opponents etc. The technical work on the pitch is followed up with insight and review which greatly benefits the players. The degree of learning and player involvement is perhaps a luxury a Premiership Academy can employ, however it is interesting to see how beneficial even the slightest amount of player ownership of learning can be.

Players also share in the mentoring process, so the older boys will take a younger player under their wing and help them review their own development as well as set goals. We got a snapshot of that within the practical sessions where the older goalkeepers worked alongside the younger kids. This takes place as much off the training pitch as on it which is interesting to see. Finally, players are given the opportunity to player up or down a year depending on their particular need at any given time. So a player low on confidence could play a year down to give more touches/passes/shots, whereas players can also be challenged playing a year up to really stretch their abilities. It’s not too dissimilar to bio-banding which also looks at shaping games to fit in with levels of development, however this method continuously monitors the need of the individual player on a regular basis, allowing them that flexibility depending on how they are doing.

 

Practical Session – ‘Me’

With two sessions running in parallel I had the opportunity to see the group of outfield players but choose to take a look at Andrew’s session with the goalkeepers. I’ve always felt goalkeepers are often an afterthought when it comes to training, but it can be difficult to incorporate them at times besides getting them to ‘go in goal’ – I wanted to see how the professionals did it! It was a good call, because as it turned out there was a particular focus on goalkeepers as part of the wider Academy context.

Warmup was a simple 3v1 passing rondo – working on 1st touch and quick passing. Progressing into all 4 keeping the ball up in the air using a ball in the hands to bounce, finally keeping the ball in the air using alternating hands.

With hands and feet warmed up, it was time to work on the goalkeepers playing the ball out wide and receiving passes in return on the back foot. Coaching points on body position to receive as well as footwork all feed in to the idea of getting ‘keepers comfortable receiving the ball and playing out with their feet. Decision making also played a part, with wide players eventually able to move between set cones so goalkeepers had to be fully aware of movement in front of them. This played perfectly into the other practical sessions later on which developed on these skills. It struck me at this point how little the hands had been used, clearly an emphasis was placed on ability with feet and it was reinforced by a comment Andrew made later on. He wants his goalkeepers to be as good in receiving and passing the ball as midfielders in the Academy. My initial surprise to this was put into context by what he pointed out next – a midfielder losing the ball can make a recovery run, have someone behind him to cover. A goalkeeper is last player back – a misjudged touch or poor pass can easily lead to a goal, and so given the way Swansea wish to play it is imperative the boys learn the skills at this foundation phase. We moved onto handling and diving technique and it was really good to see coaching points delivered one on one. Andrew’s main point was driven home as he touched upon something each of the three goalkeepers could improve upon – in one case position of the knee to aid the dive, setting of the hands forward rather than too wide and also setting too early. Giving a generalised overview for all players is not enough – it must be relevant to the individual.

 

Goalkeeping Focus

Back in the Pavilion Andrew presented a look into the goalkeeping pathway at Swansea City. Beginning in the foundation phase players are focusing in on distribution, catching technique etc. with progression onto dealing with crosses and through-balls and finally at the older age groups looking at specific types of saves as well as the tactical aspects of the game. All of this is centred on that one underpinning theme – playing out from the back. We saw examples of Academy goalkeepers make different types of passes, with three key outcomes - maintain possession, switch play or penetrate to by-pass opponents, all three using the short pass, lofted ball or driven pass. If play was congested down one side of the pitch, the goalkeeper could be used to switch play and this relied upon practising the technique of accurate passing. The second practical session would touch upon this. What initially seems as going against the principle of playing out from the back, goalkeepers are encouraged to look for penetrating passes forward should it be on – the application of smart accurate forward passes directly up to the midfielders or forwards is just as key to the way Swansea wish to develop their goalkeepers. Supporting all of this was a certain mind-set the Academy requires of their players – a short video of keepers from u7 all the way to u23 focused on key attributes of bravery, decision making and belief in their technical ability to play from the back. It struck me just how much emphasis is placed on goalkeepers in terms of what the Academy is trying to do. The modern goalkeeper is much more than a shot-stopper or sweeper for any team – the ability to be a part of the game in terms of switching play, or looking to make that penetrating pass more often associated with a deep lying playmaker is essential.

 

Practical session – ‘We’ & ‘Us’

The final practical session looked to build upon the first, beginning with a three station rotation – heading, pattern play with shooting and also variation of passing. The most interesting of the three asked players to make different types of passes – driven, curved and lofted into goals. Both outfield players and goalkeepers took part and something each of them could take into their own game. Roy touched upon the need to repeat the techniques involved. Following on from the first session, the goalkeepers taking part in the pattern play and shooting drill were tested on distribution as well as shot stopping. It was a nice way of working on as much of the skills as possible for all the players involved. Initial passes back to the goalkeeper were varied, so a slower pass really tested their ability to get the ball to a teammate first time before recovering to cover the incoming shot. Variation was added for the outfield players with concentration on decision making. Which player would sit and cover, which would join the ‘number 9’ to attack the goal?

During all of this, coaching was minimal. Roy noted it was a case that after initial demonstration, the players would continue. Minimal input was made, perhaps the odd question asked in order to get players to think about their decisions but overall player-driven. Also briefly mentioned was ‘shadow-coaching’ – Roy explained how although he may lead a session, other coaches may drop in to provide 1on1 advice when appropriate. A three team pressing game was next which was a great test of player anticipation and stamina, but the real insight was the final session with four teams working in two separate areas in the style of a ladder game – team 1 tried to maintain possession and prevent team 2 scoring, the other area have team 3 and 4 competing. As each team scored, they moved up or down the ladder, but what was interesting was the competitive nature of how the session developed. Roy highlighted one of the kids who had sprinted to retrieve the ball after a wayward shot in order to try and get that elusive goal, a trait any coach likes to see in a player and something picked up on even at that young age as a positive point to highlight.

 

Video and Statistical Analysis

The day finished with an overview from Harry on the role he played in stats and video analysis. It’s now vital to the elite clubs to have this data in order to get the maximum of their players, but it was interesting to hear how incorporating even small elements of video analysis can be beneficial to any youth teams. Looking back to the start of the day, the way in which the Swans Academy use video analysis for player reflection and development is hugely beneficial, getting players to get really involved in their own development by analysing decisions made not only in matches but training. It was noted that all games are filmed with the aim of at least one training session per week. Time consuming enough for full-time staff at the Academy, but something I want to look at in the future again.

 

Thoughts

Swansea City along with a number of resurgent clubs in the English game have sought to choose an identity or philosophy which defines them – through the Academy right through to the 1st team they share an overall approach to football meaning that in theory a player can enter their Academies at u7 and learn the skills required to go on and play in the 1st team, with all the technical and tactical skills required. Their coaching staff don’t drastically change the club in their style of play, reflected in who Swansea and other clubs have hired. Bar a few outliers in recent years, Roberto Martinez, Brendan Rogers, Michael Laudrup, Paul Clement - they all fit in with Swansea’s overall style of play. It’s a realisation of these clubs who cannot compete with the likes of the very top teams in terms of financial clout must seek other ways to be self-sufficient that has seen such focus on the development of their Academies. The attention to detail within a clearly defined player pathway is testament to how seriously Swansea is taking this. Having secured Academy category 1 status, the benefits of such an approach is certainly the medium and long term, but one which is fully invested by all of the Academy staff. They are desperate to see Academy players who pass through their ranks make it to the first team, and while the realm of a Premier League Academy may seem to be far sight from the work done in many clubs in our small province, it is clear that many aspects of what Swansea do can be adapted to enhance development. The ‘me’, ‘we’ and ‘us’ which acted as headers for the practical sessions fits into the “Swansea Way” – the foundation phase of ‘me’ and developing skills, ‘we’ in terms incorporating those skills with others, before ‘us’ – the principal identity of a Swansea Academy player who shares the same ethos, from u7 to u23. Player involvement in their own development plan, how to incorporate tactical learning and the benefits of understanding the psychosocial aspects can only be of help to any coach.

Many thanks to Rory and his team for being open on sharing insights into the Academy.

David Sleator

TWAcademy.Org Tour To West Bromwich Albion

It was a chance phone call at the start of the season that set up this weekend to West Bromwich Albion on the last weekend of the Premiership.  Rewind to August & we had organised our Academy tour to London to see our friend Hugo Langton & his academy along with playing a game against Fulham.  Through Chelsea being awkward & West Brom being so accommodating we finished the season with the Baggies!

TW Academy outside the Academy Dome

We had tried to organise tickets for the Chelsea v West Brom Premier League game at Stamford Bridge.  Although Chelsea would not offer any tickets for less than £75 per person!  No child discount, no group discount & stuck up in the second tier of the Matthew Harding stand.  They suggested contacting West Brom.  I remember to this day phoning West Brom & selecting the foundation at 5.20pm to get the most helpful & accommodating woman called Jan.  It was Jan that offered us a fantastic match day experience at the Hawthorns along with great assistance & hard work by Rich.

West Bromwich Albion

The club is also known as West Brom, The Baggies, The Throstles, Albion or WBA.  They are an English professional football club based in West Bromwich in the West Midlands.  The club was formed in 1878 & have played at their home ground since 1900.

Albion were one of the founding members of The Football League in 1888 & have spent the majority of their existence in the top tier of English football.  They have been champions of England once, in 1919–20, but have had more success in the FA Cup, with five wins.  The first came in 1888, the year the league was founded, & the most recent in 1968, their last major trophy.  They also won the Football League Cup at the first attempt in 1966.  The club's longest consecutive period in the top division was between 1949 to 1973, & from 1986 to 2002 they spent their longest ever period out of the top division.  The 2011–12 season is their sixth season in the Premier League since 2002.

The team has played in blue & white stripes for most of the club's history.  Albion have a number of long-standing rivalries with other Midlands clubs; their traditional rivals have always been Aston Villa, but more recently their major rivalry has been with Wolverhampton Wanderers, with whom they contest the Black Country derby.

The Hawthorns

The speed with which the club became established following its foundation is illustrated by the fact that it outgrew four successive grounds in its first seven years.  The first was Cooper's Hill, where they played from 1878 to 1879.  From 1879 to 1881 they appear to have alternated between Cooper's Hill & Dartmouth Park.  During the 1881–82 season they played at Bunn's Field, also known as The Birches.  This had a capacity of between 1,500 & 2,000, & was Albion's first enclosed ground, allowing the club to charge an entrance fee for the first time.  From 1882 to 1885, as the popularity of football increased, Albion rented the Four Acres ground from the well-established West Bromwich Dartmouth Cricket Club.  But they quickly outgrew this new home & soon needed to move again.  From 1885 to 1900 Albion played at Stoney Lane; their tenure of this ground was arguably the most successful period in the club's history, as they won the FA Cup twice & were runners-up three times.

The boys behind the goal on the Stadium Tour at the Hawthorns

By 1900, when the lease on Stoney Lane expired, the club needed a bigger ground yet again & so made its last move to date.  All of Albion's previous grounds had been close to the centre of West Bromwich, but on this occasion they took up a site on the town's border with Handsworth.  The new ground was named The Hawthorns, after the hawthorn bushes that covered the area & were cleared to make way for it.  Albion drew 1–1 with Derby County in the first match at the stadium, on 3 September 1900.  The record attendance at The Hawthorns was on 6 March 1937, when 64,815 spectators saw Albion beat Arsenal 3–1 in the FA Cup quarter-final.  The Hawthorns became an all-seater stadium in the 1990s, in order to comply with the recommendations of the Taylor Report.  Its capacity today is 26,272, the four stands being known respectively as the Birmingham Road End, Smethwick End, East Stand and West Stand.  At an altitude of 551 feet (168 m) above sea level, The Hawthorns is the highest of all the 92 Premier League & Football League grounds.

Club Badge

Albion's main club badge dates back to the late 1880s, when the club's secretary Tom Smith suggested that a throstle sitting on a crossbar be adopted for the badge.  Since then, the club badge has always featured a throstle, usually on a blue and white striped shield, although the crossbar was replaced with a hawthorn branch at some point after the club's move to The Hawthorns.  The throstle was chosen because the public house in which the team used to change kept a pet thrush in a cage.  It also gave rise to Albion's early nickname, The Throstles.  As late as the 1930s, a caged throstle was placed beside the touchline during matches & it was said that it only used to sing if Albion were winning.  In 1979 an effigy of a throstle was erected above the half-time scoreboard of the Woodman corner at The Hawthorns, & was returned to the same area of the ground following redevelopment in the early 2000s.

The badge has been subject to various revisions through the years, meaning that the club were unable to register it as a trademark.  As a result of this, the badge was re-designed in 2006, incorporating the name of the club for the first time.  The new badge gave Albion the legal protection they sought.

The teams line up before kick off

Saturday night friendly in the Academy Dome

The success of the Academy teams reaching finals meant our scheduled game against West Brom had to be cancelled.  Although through the special effort of Rich he managed to organise a game against his own team that finished the season as league runners up & cup winners.  Another bonus was he secured the Academy Dome to play the game in!

What an experience for our boys to play in a Premier League Academy facility.  It was also great to have the Academy Dome, Foundation & The Hawthorn Stadium all in the one location.  This was something I liked at Stoke City & previous visits to the likes of European giants, Barcelona & Ajax.  I think it adds as an extra motivation to really make it as a kid developing through the ranks when you see the stadium every day from where you train.

We played 3 periods of 25 minutes.  The first period was very close with both teams playing some attractive football.  A well taken goal from young Ryan McCrory put TW Academy 1-0 up.  His finish was a quality lob over the keeper.  The second period seen another 2 well taken goals from TW Academy through Reese & Curtis Ritchie making it 3-0.

It was also encouraging seeing Rich, like ourselves, insuring that all players were involved & received similar playing times.  The changes that were made seen TW slightly stronger in the third period with John-Lee grabbing a hat trick, Connor Maxwell getting on the score sheet along with Ryan McCrory adding to his tally.

It was a game played in terrific spirits & I was very impressed with the organisation.  Not only did Rich organise the Academy Dome & referee but supplied us with equipment to warm up along with plenty of water & cups for the players.  Although to have a physio present was crucial after Andy McIvor had a bad fall & needed extensive treatment.  It was reassuring that he could be checked over by her.  Again these are all things that people take for granted, but believe me, I know how much planning & organising that has to go in to bring it all together & I can't thank Rich enough!

Here is some highlights from the game - watch the video!

Match Day Experience

The teams meet before kick off; West Brom v Arsenal

What terrific value West Brom offered us.  For only £25 we received a match ticket to see West Brom play Arsenal, a stadium tour, fun training session & small sided games in the Academy Dome along with a packed lunch!

After a cooked breakfast in our hotel we enjoyed the short stroll over to the Hawthorns to meet Rich.  He welcomed us & placed all our bags securely away in an office so we didn't have to worry about carrying them all day.  We started the morning with a tour around the Hawthorns.  The highlight was to get pitch side & sit on the bench!  Rich was very informative but insured he kept interesting for parents & children.  After the tour we had an opportunity to see around the club shop & purchase some West Brom goodies!

We then transferred back over to the Academy Dome.  Rich took the boys for a fun warm up & kept it very light after the game from the previous night.  He then soon divided the boys & operated small sided games.  We then seen first hand to what level the club works in the community.  The Dome was packed with other clubs & teams doing the same package.  Not forgetting that they had to be split, so while we were all playing football there was another group doing the stadium tour...there must have been several hundred children on the match day experience!  We were even treated to a display of talent from Connor's dad - watch the video!

After the session we all received a packed lunch.  This included a sandwich, drink, piece of fruit, chocolate bar & crisps.  We were able to eat this before taking our seats for the game.  What great seats we received as well!  We were in the third row & touching distance of the players.  It really was a special atmosphere as it was the final day of the season & many West Brom supporters came in fancy dress (Batman& Robin insured we got across the road safely & into the stadium!)

West Brom wanted to finish on a victory as Roy Hodgson was leaving for his new role as England Manager, while Arsenal needed the victory to guarantee Champions League football next season.

It was a terrific start to the game.  After an early mistake by the West Brom keeper Arsenal went 1-0 up.  Then the Baggies fought back to go 2-1 up!  The atmosphere was electric!  Arsenal equalised before half time making the score 2-2.  It really was an unbelievable half of football & such a treat to see these Premiership stars live & be so close to the action.

TW Academy Director, Tim Wareing, with Darren Moore

The second half started well & Arsenal went 3-2 up.  After a lengthy stoppage West Brom offered everything going forward & forced what seemed to be 5 or 6 corners in a row but couldn't find that equaliser.  We had to sneak away just before the final whistle so that Rich could grab our bags for us & we transferred back to the airport for our return flight to Belfast.

We captured highlights from a special day at the Hawthorns - watch the video!

On returning to the Academy Dome to collect our bags we bumped into Baggies hero, Darren Moore, who signed autographs & was happy to have his photo taken with us all.

Clubs don't receive enough credit for opportunities like these.  People sometimes take things for granted but to receive what we did for such a low price is special.  To head to an Irish League game can cost in the region of £10-£12 per adult & £5-£7 per child.  To think what West Brom offered us for only £25 really does show you the lengths they work too.

Thanks

Our thanks goes to West Bromwich Albion FC for such a fantastic experience & for their hospitality - especially to Jan & Rich.  Also to all the parents & children that supported the tour.  A lot of organising goes into these great opportunities & pro club visits & shouldn't be taken for granted.  The Academy was launched in 2010 & boys have had the opportunity to travel to Holland to play PSV Eindhoven & Helmond Sport including playing in an all seater stadium along with visits to PSV & Ajax's stadiums.  We then travelled to London & played against Fulham before having a bumper April & May.  This offered opportunities to players from the academy to travel to Premier League side, Stoke City, for training & a game before a visit to Carrington & Manchester United.  Of course we can't forget about the terrific game & clinic against SC Braga in Belfast!

For those that want more information about the Academy & to request a trial please contact Tim Wareing on; 07740120788 or email.  Remember this does not effect the club you play for.  We offer additional training to develop your child's technique & game understanding helping to offer the all important 10,000 hour theory - 1 or 2 sessions per week is not enough.

Stoke City Experience

I had the pleasure to travel over to Stoke City FC with 3 boys from our elite squad.  This was a terrific experience for the boys to see a Premier League club & it's academy set up.  Their U10 coach, Will Ryder, hosted us during our stay & I must say what a positive experience we all had.

Belfast Departure

We all met at Belfast International Airport for the 7am departure to Manchester.  A nice early start that had Ryan, Stephen & Tom all kitted out in their black TW Academy tracksuit along with white polo.  They all said goodbye to their parents & I became their surrogate father for the next 4 days lol.  We got straight through security & boarded the plane.  We enjoyed a pleasant flight over to Manchester on a lovely morning.  We used the time to chat about the experience telling them to be focused but to truly enjoy the experience.

The Stoke U10 Academy Manager, Will, arrived to collect us at Manchester & transfer us to his home in Stoke.  It was an enjoyable journey that offered an opportunity to get to know Will.  Straight away I found him to be very professional but with a warm personality that put the boys at ease.  It's funny as over the years I sometimes would meet very stuffy coaches who seem to be above themselves & I wonder how they can relate to kids.  To meet a guy from a top premiership club that had such a welcoming & down to earth attitude was refreshing.  But that's enough man love for Will haha.

Tom, Will, Ryan & Stephen training with Stoke City's Britannia Stadium in the background

Arrival & Small Group Session

We got settled in to his house & had a drink before preparing to go out for a morning small group session with Will.  The session took place on grass outside the Academy Dome which incidentally is just across from the Britannia Stadium.  What a back drop to have while you train!  It was a great opportunity to watch another coach work with a small group.  As many of you know it is something I work on a daily basis with - 1-on-1 coaching & small group coaching.

The boys had a terrific time concentrating on ball familiarisation, Speed, Agility & Quickness (SAQ), passing & then into finishing.  I filmed highlights from the session & you can see Will & the boys work by clicking here.  This is something I do until the cows come home.  You can never do enough ball work!  Will also had one of his academy development players arrive in to take the group up to 4.

When you watch the video you will see that Will has a great way with working with players.  I believe we share similar philosophies.  It is refreshing to see a coach work heavily on technique through demonstration, snippets of guidance & always positive encouragement.

 

First Team Training Complex & the Academy

After the session the boys got to see the Academy indoor 3G Dome & parents lounge.  We then transferred over to the first team training ground.  Will's U10 team had a friendly against the only team that Stoke have an official link with.  They were over from Orlando.

It was terrific to see around the first team complex & to see one of the academy teams in action.  At this age group they played on a smaller pitch with smaller nets.  On all occasions the keeper looked to pass the ball out & play from the back.  The defenders were comfortable on the ball & we witnessed some lovely passages of play & individual skill.  The players looked to take players on & the coaches only added encouragement & short snippets of advice to the players.

The weather decided to put on a performance as well & wanted to make sure every condition got a game!  We had warm sunshine, cloud, rain to a heavy downpour of hail stones!!

Picture with the boys in Stoke City first team training complex

I captured highlights from the game & the Stoke City first team training complex & you can watch the highlights by clicking here.  All the pitches were immaculate & their was a mix of a couple of full sized pitches for the first team, the reserve team pitch, academy pitches full size & a number of marked out smaller sized pitches.  There was also a full size 3G pitch.

The complex was over two levels.  On ground level there was reception, changing rooms, gym & a rehab room complete with mini pool.  On the first floor there was offices, including the first team manager Tony Pulis' office!  The canteen was also situated on this level.  Many may remember big Peter Crouch walking across this area on Sky Sports transfer deadline day!

We had our photo taken in here beside the Stoke City badge.  What was also present on all the walls was photos from the current stars of the first team to famous older players from yesteryear.  This included Gordon Banks & 'the dribbler', Sir Stanley Matthews!

I was very impressed with the facilities & the welcome we received.  There was always a smile & hello from coaches, players, staff or parents.  The boys loved the experience!  Not a bad first day to train, watch a game & be shown around the first team training complex!

The Britannia Stadium

We enjoyed a private tour of the Britannia Stadium

The Britannia Stadium is an all-seater that can accommodate 27,598 spectators (reduced from 28,384 due to segregation.)  The name is taken from the sponsors of the Stadium the Britannia Co-operative Bank.  Along with hosting football matches, the stadium has played host to performers such as Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams & Elton John.  The ground also holds conference & banqueting suites, the Delilah's Bar, & a club shop selling Stoke City merchandise.

The highest attendance being recorded at the stadium was 28,218 for the sell-out fixture against Everton in their FA Cup 3rd Round tie in 2002.  The first goal in the stadium was scored by Graham Kavanaghfor Stoke in a league cup game against Rochdale.  The club had played at the Victoria Ground until 1997.  Club legend Sir Stanley Matthews ashes were buried beneath the centre circle of the pitch following his death in February 2000; he had officially opened the stadium on 30 August 1997.

The Stoke City fans were awarded with the loudest supporters in the Premier League last season!  We were shown the executive boxes before being taken down to the changing rooms.  We all left our mark there lol before heading down the tunnel & out on to the pitch.  We got some great photos & memories that we'll never forget.  Those that clicked on the above video link will also see the stadium tour after the academy game & first team training complex.

Before leaving the stadium we made sure we grabbed some Stoke City training gear & were all kitted out!

Stoke City Development Game

After returning home to eat & relax we prepared for a game that night.  The boys would feature for Stoke City's Leicester Development squad playing against Stoke City Development squad.  This is the stepping stone to being selected for the academy.

Ryan, Tom & Stephen line up for Stoke!

The match was played at a local club called the Stoke Domino's.  They have a fantastic set up that reminded me of a typical Dutch grassroots / semi pro club.  While the boys got ready I grabbed a coffee in the club house & had a walk around the facility.  I met with a parent whose son had traveled over from Asia.  He played in the academy game the previous day.  It was fascinating speaking to them & hearing about their experiences back home.  He was a talent.

The game was played on a smaller pitch with reduced size nets.  The pitch size was perfect for a 9 v 9 game.  The coaches on the night decided to play 11 v 11.  Personally I thought it was too tight a pitch but on a positive it meant that Ryan, Stephen & Tom all got full games.  They played 4 periods which allowed the coaches time to speak & organise the players.

The boys played in the Leicester Stoke Development side & played some great football.  They were very unlucky not to score with Tom going close while a team mate hit the post.  It was in the second period that Stoke City went 1-0 up.  During the third period the boys did excellent.  First of all Ryan came up with a terrific bit of individual play by flicking the ball up & over the Stoke defender before sending a looping shot over the keeper to equalise!  We captured the goal on camera.  Although no sooner had kick off taken place that Tom picked the ball up & sent a thunder bolt into the roof of the net to put the Leicester Stoke side up 2-1!

This was great personal achievement by the boys as Ryan & Tom had scored at Stoke while Stephen grabbed the goal against Braga before flying out!  Disappointingly I missed Tom's goal on the camera : (

The third period seen Stoke Development equalise at 2-2 & that would be how the scores remained.  Was made up for the boys to play in the Stoke top & have such a memorable experience!  Watch the match highlights here!

Indoor Tournament

On Friday there was a meeting for all academy staff based on the new EPPP coming in so it changed the schedule of the day.  The boys enjoyed playing an indoor tournament in the Stoke City Academy 3G Dome.  The bonus was it included a lot of players from the actual academy so the standard was very high.  It was non stop action & I enjoyed watching the game before having a walk around the facility & the local area which was beside the stadium.

I really do like the idea of clubs having their training bases close to their stadium...what motivation must it offer players - especially young ones.  Barcelona & Ajax are two great examples of this.

As Will attended the meeting that night it offered us some down time in the house to reflect on the experience.  I think I was buzzing as much as the boys!  To see the various training sites, stadium & for the boys to be involved in training & games...along with grabbing a goal each!  These experiences should be jumped on.  We need more children from Northern Ireland to sample being around the professional environment that a Premier League club offers.

Return leg

On our final day Will dropped us down to the Trafford Centre in Manchester.  We enjoyed some food together before the boys seemed to change into woman & went shopping!  Never been into so many shops in my life.  Will played a game for his club before returning to collect us & take us to Manchester airport.

I can't thank Will & Stoke enough for what was an awesome experience.  Will opened up his home for us, as did Stoke City, & it will be a memory I'll never forget about not to mention the boys.  We hope to link up & offer a clinic in Northern Ireland by Will as well as a return visit to Stoke City.

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