I recently passed one year in this role and it’s been a bit of a whirlwind. I came here knowing that there was room for improvement in all areas of the academy and there’s been a natural turnover of staff which has allowed us to revamp the team
A lot of thanks must go to those employees who were here previously and all of those who remain, many of whom had to take on additional roles until we found suitable replacements.
We now have our structure close to being concluded and we would hope that things will settle down in that respect next season. There has been a lot of upheaval, but we’re now in a very positive place. I feel confident that the staff we’ve assembled can support what we want to achieve in the academy.
I don’t think that this was ever going to be a short-term fix. When you look at player development, that’s never an overnight thing – or even a one-year thing. What I have been encouraged by, however, is the amount of progress we’ve made in sharing a sense of alignment with the first team and the fact our working practices are mirroring what they do in many regards.
Our under-18s have more than 11,000 training minutes with Danny Cowley’s side this season and we’ve had some fantastic news in recent weeks with the professional contracts signed by Harry Jewitt-White and Toby Steward, while third year scholarships have also been offered to Dan Gifford and Alfie Bridgman.
I feel that has enthused the academy staff and given them a lot of confidence that we can hopefully start to get not only more contracts for young players, but to see them gain experience in the EFL.
Harry and Toby need to believe in themselves because they’ll be surrounded by seasoned professionals with a high skill set. They’re going into a competitive environment and are trying to push their way into the team, so they need to have confidence, while continuing to work extremely hard.
They’ll be aware of what they have to do to build on their strengths and improve the areas where they are weaker. But they also shouldn’t place too much pressure on themselves.
It’s fine to set goals and there’s value to it if you have steps in place, but you can’t go straight from the beginning to the end otherwise you’ll get frustrated. They need to work with Danny and his staff to put stepping stones in place to get to where they want to be.
We will be rewriting our coaching curriculum and those plans are already underway, with more work to be done in the close season. That will mark a substantial shift, but you have to keep evolving.
We’ve also lagged behind a lot of our local competitors in terms of recruitment, but we now have a scouting team who are working tirelessly to support us in identifying talent. We were probably guilty of looking within 20-30 minutes of Fratton Park, but the guidelines allow us to go further and it’s important we maximise the radius that’s allowed to be far more competitive.
We have to give ourselves the best chance in this market to discover those youngsters who can progress through our academy just like Harry and Toby, and go from under-9s to a professional contract. That’s what we always aspire towards.