City u18s wrapped up their title-winning league campaign a fortnight ago but only broke up for the close season on Thursday.
We caught up with their Head Coach Jason Wilcox to find out what a summer looks like for an academy footballer at the club.
You’ve continued to train for a couple of weeks after the season has finished – does this show that playing games and winning titles is just one part of your work with the u18s?
We didn’t want to give them too much of a break – we thought it was a good idea to keep them in and to let them play. It’s been minimal coaching, just a bit of fun for them, to stay together and play but I’ve been so impressed by their application in this – they haven’t switched off.
They’re a really good group, really good friends and it shows.What will be the last thing you’ll say to them before they go away for summer?
We’ve had all of our discussions and they’ve been given summer plans. It’s important they stick to them. Some of the lads realise they’ve got such a big summer ahead of them – some are moving up to the EDS, some are staying behind. They tend to grow a lot in the summer at their age – it’s important they’re professional in their approach. It’s important they have a break because I’m demanding, the programme is demanding.
What do the summer plans contain? How stringent are they?
They’re given gym programmes, running programmes, a bit of yoga’s in there – there’s all sorts in there to give them a plan to work from. The u16s have got a similar plan but it’s all very individual and tailored to them.
How big of a role do their families have to play?
Massive. Support is one of the most important things. We get the lads for the majority of the season here but when they’re home we don’t know what they’re doing and it’s important that they don’t take one eye off the fact that their return for pre-season will come around really quickly and they'll feel it if they let things slip.It's a matter of trust and responsibility for them?
I’ve been 17 or 18 myself and I know what’s really important is that you relax and have a good time but, like I say, the programme is demanding. They have to take responsibility for themselves – they’ve got to make good choices, if they make too many poor choices they’ll find themselves lagging behind when they come back which they don’t want.
Rest is important too?
Mentally, more than anything they need a rest. It’s relentless – if they’re not playing football, there’s education or there’s analysis or they’re in the gym, they’re getting up early in the morning. When you’re a seasoned professional, the rewards are great. That’s why the sacrifice is worth it – the ones who make that sacrifice will be successful.
How much have things changed since your playing days?
Hugely. We had to come up with our programmes. I’d have two weeks off then I’d start jogging. Initially they’d just be small jogs and then I’d build it up so that when pre-season came I was flying.
I preferred it that way. I used pre-season as a chance to enhance my fitness rather than to obtain it. It’s something that was part of my life and something I took great pride in, to have that competitive edge thinking “the other players might not be doing what I’m doing.