As part of the ongoing development at the Colney Training Centre, canaries.co.uk caught up with Head of Academy Coaching Dean Wright to find out about the Club's schoolboy programme for the Under-9 to Under-15 age groups and recent work done in this area.
Wright said: ‘"Over the summer we evaluated the work we were doing with our younger players and how we could make it better. This season we have managed to implement changes to the coaching programme, games programme and school day release sessions.’’
Since the start of the season in September, Wright has organised for teams to travel to tournaments with Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea.
“We’ve tried to add a bit of variety with the fixtures and especially show a bit more willing in terms of travelling out of the area to play different opposition and the give the boys a new experience," he said.
“Since the summer we’ve been invited to tournaments run by Manchester United and Liverpool and played new opposition for us in Newcastle United, Cardiff City, Blackburn Rovers, Stoke City, West Brom and Reading. This can involve travelling the day before, staying in a hotel with your teammates and being away from home which is a great experience for the players.
“Traditionally the Club has done tours to Germany and places like that, but one thing we haven’t really done is travel within our own country – the combination of all these experiences allows us to test ourselves against the best opposition and the best players so we can see where we are at.
“Our kids are quite resilient to sitting on a coach for three hours to go to a game; probably a lot of teams in other parts of the country would find that difficult, but because of where we are based to go and get games that is what we have to do.
“The parents have been brilliant with it and have really supported it. If we don’t get the backing of the parents these trips are impossible, so the support they give us is invaluable.”
The young Academy players are now making use of the new changing and pitch facilities at Colney Training Centre on their Sunday matchdays which have been well received by players and parents alike.
“It just gives everyone a positive feeling and helps everyone get behind the work that we are doing,” said Wright.
Another key change for this season is to the day release programme to balance the players’ education with training.
Wright said: “The players take part in a day release programme, so they come out of school as part of their training. It used to be a full-day from 9am to 5pm and they would miss a whole day of school but we weren’t really comfortable with that so we have changed it to half a day and have given the schools more time back.
"Once a week the boys now go to school in the morning, finish at lunchtime and then travel here to train in the afternoon and evening which has been really well received by the schools.
“We also want a programme which still gives our players the opportunity to be a kid and not be here five times a week because they then don’t get the opportunity to do other sports or see their friends. We don’t want to be a Club that steals their childhood.
“To support this we put on a summer training programme in the last six weeks of the school term when everyone is still around. Then as the boys finish school they finish football as well. Everybody has the first month of the summer holidays off and the kids can go and be kids, go away on holiday and do all the stuff they want to do without thinking about missing training and missing games.
“That has also allowed us to give an extended break over the winter when the weather is cold and horrible because we did the work for six weeks in the summer. Everyone can have a longer break over Christmas to spend time with their family and hopefully it takes some pressure off the parents.”
The winter period will see another new change with an indoor programme in December and January.
“When the weather is bad we are going to do some stuff with the UEA and some indoor five-a-side tournaments at Colney,” said Wright. “We will have competitive tournaments so they will play to win, it will be five-a-side which is different to what they would normally do and it will be indoors so they are out of the weather but it gives a different challenge.
“It’s on the same theme of a bit more variety in the programme and something different for the kids but also let’s be sensible and not try to put games on when it’s snowing – let’s just do stuff inside and utilise the facilities we have.
“It just keeps that enthusiasm and motivation for everyone to keep engaging with the programme, because we do ask a lot of them and it’s a big commitment for a family to be in an Academy. We’ve got a duty to make sure that we do it properly and get the most out of it and give the best experience we can.
"Some of the players might be here like Todd Cantwell all the way through and get to the First Team, and some might be here two or three years, but what we want to try and do is make sure that when they leave the Club at any age they say what a great experience they have had as part of Norwich City’s Academy.”
As well as the improvements to the facilities at Colney, the players benefit from a wide support network of staff within the club who contribute to the individual development of each player.
Wright said: “We’ve made a real conscious effort to create an individualised programme where each player has a learning plan specific to them that they work to and get the opportunity to practice with support from the coaches. That is backed up by the video analysis team who produce video clips for each player relating to their learning plan, the sports science and medical team who support each players strength and conditioning, player care and psychology support the boys welfare and elite mindset.
“Grant Holt and Neil Adams come in and are part of the programme now and help with individual coaching and that adds massive value to what we are trying to do. Especially the strikers who have got Grant Holt coming in to work with them and help them with their finishing."
And Wright said the hard work is paying off, with some excellent performances in the games programme and the Club experiencing more international call-ups for young players.
“We’ve had quite a lot of international call ups to youth age group camps so that’s been England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland, from as young as Under 11,” said Wright.
“It’s good news that all of the things we are doing means we are getting recognition from outside with the national associations noticing our players and inviting them to their camps as well which is a real positive for us and makes us really proud of the kids that get that opportunity.
"There is a really positive feel around the place at the moment, especially with what the first team are doing and with our young players playing a massive part in that. That is motivation for all of us in the Academy to keep working hard.’’