With the Sky Blues Academy currently enjoying their Christmas break, Lead PDP Coach John Dempster been pleased with how the first half of the under 18s season has gone and the development he has seen over the past few months.
Like their under 23 counterparts, the under 18s also currently sit top of the Professional Development League Northern Section and Dempster believes this is testament to their hard work.
“It’s been great from pre-season to now just to be back out on the grass, playing games and training, and I think we are all grateful with the challenges that have been with us in the past.” Said Dempster.
“It’s been great watching the boys develop individually over the period, whether that be on the ball, their game understanding and getting mentally and physically stronger so it’s been a good period up until now and some of the performances and results of the team have been excellent as well.”
Dempster has been impressed with how the players have learnt from their experiences so far this season, with the under 18s having featured plenty of under 16s of late, and he spoke of how the Academy promotes players so they can reach their potential.
“The most pleasing thing throughout the Academy is players from the younger age groups stepping up to play in an older age group and that has happened from the bottom age group to the top.
“Why that is so important is because it stretches the players, sometimes the players have handled it really well and other times it’s been a real challenge for them, but we are looking at how they react to that and so far they have been an absolute credit.
“There is always an emphasise on development and stretching all the players and of course when you do that there are going to be ups and downs but one of our key values is resilience and the players have shown that in abundance this season.
“There has been a various different types of performances, whether that’s coming from behind and having to defend their goal bravely in the same period or being ruthless and relentless when scoring a number of goals in one game, but that is what makes it such an exciting and worthwhile job.”
A special mention also has to go to the staff behind the scenes with Dempster not the only person so far this season to have praised the work that goes on at the Alan Higgs Centre.
“The players deserve massive accolades for their attitudes towards the work with the likes of Chay Thompson and Ryan Penny, who work hard with them every day and have put a lot of work into the boys’ development on and off the pitch.
“The players are well supported by all the Academy staff on and off the pitch and I think when that is the case you reap the rewards and see the results.
“We’ve had different people in throughout this season, when possible, to the Academy and they have all been very complimentary about the work that is going on here and we’ll be looking to continue that into the new year.”
Meanwhile off the field, the players have been working hard towards completing their education and Dempster explained the importance of this.
“A lot of people don’t realise that the scholarship is education and football, and they are both as important as each other due to the nature of the business we are in.
“The players do a two-year BTEC and it is the equivalent of three A-Levels, depending on the specification that they do and what grade they get, and the League Football Education, who are responsible for the Education side of things, have been very complimentary about the players in the classroom and their efforts no matter what task is set.
“There has been challenges and credit to our Head of Education Jay Groocock who has had to deliver via zoom sometimes as well as in the classroom, so he has been very flexible and adaptable and that has added to the programme and the support that has been given to the players.
“Of course the players are there to play football but the education is a massive part of it as they won’t have a career playing football for the rest of their lives, it’s a short career at best, so the Football club and the Academy really value that side of things.”
With the under 18s first game back away to Crewe Alexandra not until the 8th January, Dempster expects them to be ‘rearing to go’ for the second half of the campaign.
“I’m sure everybody will come back refreshed and rearing to go again which is important and hopefully we can hit the ground running again, on and off the pitch, obviously with the current climate we might have to be adaptable depending on what happens.
“But we just want to continue with where we left off really, developing individuals every day in the different areas and hoping come the end of the season that the players are ready for their next step and the more options we can give those players by supporting them every day the better.”