Academy Manager Dan Harris writes
As an Academy we are acutely aware that we are ultimately judged based on the players that we help go on to make careers in the professional game. Whether playing for our First Team here at Oxford United or being sold on to clubs in higher divisions, the “productivity” of any Youth Development programme is a datapoint that can be measured and then used either as a trophy to be waved around or as a stick to beat us with!
We will never lose sight of this need to continue to produce the next Chris Hackett, Callum O’Dowda, or Shandon Baptiste but we also need to balance this against a potentially more significant focus. As an Academy we have a fundamental responsibility to “invest in the lives of young footballers” in order to ensure that we are playing our part in helping to produce young men who are equipped to take their place in the world as valuable and responsible members of society.
It is easy to look at the current emerging generation and see the faults and flaws in these young men and women as we gaze through rose-tinted specs that hark back to days when “we were much more resilient” or “we would never have done things that way.” As an industry we tend to default to what a young player “can’t do” rather than what they can…it is crucial that we ensure that the outstanding characteristics in these individuals are acknowledged, developed and reinforced alongside working to address the weaknesses that we all have in our performance. As a club, if we are serious about wanting to keep developing our own young talent we need to give space, time and resource to ensuring that these players can develop into the players that they are capable of becoming and this forms the basis of the work that we are trying to do here in the Academy.
This commitment to investing in the lives of young footballers has been seen this week with our U15s and U16s who have been in full-time during half term. Every day these players have been completing at least 2 hours of structured GCSE education and revision alongside their football with our qualified teaching staff – I would be very surprised if many of their contemporaries outside of the game have been as diligent in their studies during this holiday period! I would also like to congratulate U18s players Callum Crook and Nico Jones who, alongside their full-time training programme, have both recently passed the next stage of their English and Maths qualifications - testament to the work of both players and Steve Alman & Matt Jarvis who do great work leading our education provision.
Half term has seen our younger age groups have the opportunity to play against Liverpool, Fulham, Birmingham City, Millwall and Burnley this week – these are crucial fixtures against more established programmes that enable us to keep benchmarking our progress as we continue with the lengthy process of moving towards becoming a Category Two Academy. In addition, in what has been a tremendously busy week:
- Our two Regional Training Centres, which are our most direct recruitment pathway into the Academy, have continued to see growth as more of the most talented young players in the region access this additional level of training.
- We have had two staff involved in presenting at the first ever Sports Psychotherapy conference in the UK held at the Kassam Stadium earlier this week.
- We have had over 16 trialists in the building across the age groups as we continue to scour the region for the next generation of talent.
Lots going on as we keep trying to build a bright future here at the club.
Stay up to date with all things Academy by following the club’s official youth development twitter feed - @AcademyOUFC.