It was a good week over half-term for The New Saints FC Academy, with some excellent fixtures and opportunities for our Young Saints, writes Jason Brindley.
On Tuesday, we took a mixed group of U13s and U14s to face Stoke City. It was a difficult game for our youngsters against a good Stoke team. We continued to play our football throughout the game and I was delighted with the way the players responded to the challenge.
On Wednesday, our U14s/U15s mixed also travelled to Stoke City, for a three team football tournament. While we were arriving, the Stoke City first-team players were all departing. It was a good experience for our young players to see the Stoke first team.
The three team tournament contained Chesterfield, as well as ourselves. It was good to be invited to play in this, as it shows the strength of our Academy that we are being invited in to play against top opposition around the UK. Just being thought of is a testament to our team of players and staff.
The boys did really well, winning the tournament with two excellent performances. We don’t really go on about results, as no one has made it at these young ages. We don’t want to be distracted from the main aim goal of developing players. It depends what you deem as success. Is it winning trophies or tournaments at youth football or developing players to play professional football? Obviously our first team are successful and we want that winning habit. Losing does hurt but you often learn more about yourself and your players in defeat.
Take nothing away from the team though, they were excellent on the day and credit where credit is due. Stoke were enquiring about a number of the players at the end, which again is credit to the level of players that we are now developing on a consistent basis.
As the weekend approached, we held in-house Foundation Phase training games on Saturday morning. Often in games you see things that you need to coach to help player learning. This was a great opportunity.
We were working on positional understanding and principles with our U8s and U9s. You may think that they are too young for positional play, but it was more about creating space in possession and playing narrow out of pressure. We marked the pitch with discs and had the thirds and wide channels marked out as references for the players. We conditioned the games to see player understanding. We then challenged the players during the games to see if they could work out solutions to problems. It was very good and you could see players grasping the ideas during the practice.
It’s mainly planting seeds at the young age. Plant the seed, the idea, and nurture it to develop within.
Our U10s and U11s also did a similar practice. Again, it’s really beneficial to do in-house games and conditioned practices. It’s good to see players playing against older players too. Dealing with the age difference is important. It reminds me of school, you are in year 3 but playing against year 5s and 6s. You might get knocked over by a bigger kid but you just get up and get on with it.
Can you work out a solution to the problem? Can you move the ball quicker or time your challenge/interception better? It’s all about creating problems for players to solve, in real time. This helps to create the thinking player and that’s what we want.
On Sunday, we began our FAW Academy Cup Super6 campaign. We are the only Academy in North Wales to have achieved all three age groups qualifying for the Super6 for the three years it has run. We are very proud of this and see the continued development of our players as a result.
Our U12s travelled to Colwyn Bay early Sunday morning. We wanted to get off to a bright start and we certainly did that. It was another excellent performance for our Youngest Development Phase age group, who continue to improve individually and collectively. We thank Colwyn Bay for hosting, and credit goes to their players and their goalkeeper who had an outstanding game.
Our U14s and U16s travelled to Flint Town United. Both teams had tough encounters against Flint, but continued recent good performances. It’s good to see the improvement of both groups. We thank Flint for the games and look forward to the return fixture.
The Super6 is a good concept where you face off against the Academies that qualify in a league format. The added pressure of a result that actually matters is a good psychological challenge. Again like I mentioned, it’s not win at all costs, the end goal is t0 develop players. Players learn about themselves when faced with pressure or adversity, so that in turn is a form of development.
Our U15s welcomed Wrexham to Park Hall Stadium. When they last met it was a good fixture and this was very similar. Both teams contain very good players, a couple of feisty ones also.
It was physical but fair for the majority. One incident did get a little out of hand but apart from that it was a good contest. You don’t want to take the physical side out of the game. You need to embrace it, after all, football is a physical game. However, at this age, it can quickly get out of hand so it’s important that it’s managed. We thank Wrexham for travelling and look forward to facing them again soon.
Our U13s completed the weekend by hosting Connah’s Quay. Connah’s Quay were National Champions last year so we knew it would be a tough game. Our U13s weren’t at their fluid best if I’m honest, but grew into the game.
Such is the standard and benchmark that we have set, that they need to match and surpass that, although consistency is difficult at a young age. We were missing a couple of players and playing a U12 up a year, who didn’t look out of place for a second.
Saying that, the players scored some excellent goals. They are improving and I look forward to working with them this week on the back of observations of individual and collective areas of focus and improvement.
Next week we look forward to games against Bala Town in the Super6 and Bangor City.