Our Supporters’ Director Huw Cooze recently caught up with Nigel Rees, the Swans Academy Manager, to have a chat about Youth Development at the Swans. Here is what Nigel had to say:
As an Academy our primary function is to develop players that have the potential to make the transition into the First Team environment and represent Swansea City in the Premier League. In order to accomplish this goal we have introduced a very structured curriculum. We have introduced a new and innovative coaching curriculum, which focuses on the development of the individual player.
Our coaching contact hours are at the same level as category one Academies. We have introduced this structure to maximize our contact hours with our players to ensure that we can build solid technical foundations.
Our under 21 squad has been unbeaten for the last 14 games and are currently top of their division. This improvement is testament to the coaching curriculum we have introduced.
Our under 18 squad reached the last 16 of the FA Youth Cup but were unfortunately beaten by Chelsea. They have reached the semi final of the Welsh FA Youth Cup and will be playing Bala Town. This squad is currently second in their league.
Our under 15&16 squad are involved in our full time education programme. This is the first time we have operated a full time programme and the boys are in the Academy every day from 1.30 pm. The structure has been very successful and has resulted in two players moving into the under 18 squad at the age of 15 and one player making their debut in the under 21 squad. This programme allows the players to gain maximum benefit from our excellent facilities at Landore.
Both squads played Cardiff City last weekend. The under 18 squad won 3-2 and the under 16 squad won 3-0. One of the most pleasing factors of this fixture was that we started the under 16 fixture with six under 15 players and Liam Cullen who is a member of our under 16 squad played and scored two goals in the under 18 match. This is testament to our philosophy that we must always challenge our players as part of their development programme.
Under 14 squad qualified for the first time to compete in an International Premier League tournament in Warwick and also reached the last 16 of the FA under 14 Cup.
The under 12 squad took part in the Christmas Truce tournament in Ypres and were a credit to both the Club and Academy.
All foundation Phase teams have been involved in scheduled Premier League fixtures and have been very competitive.
Recruitment is a never-ending process and is the lifeblood of all football teams. It is probably the single most important factor in any football club environment. From the senior team down to Development Centre players, an ability to recruit ‘quality’ players is absolutely crucial if we are to be successful
In order to support our Academy recruitment strategy we have been establishing Development Centres in a number of key areas throughout South and West Wales.
We have this year established fifteen Development Centres, each one catering for under 7 to under 12 age groups and in some venues up to under 14. These Centres are not a moneymaking venture and we charge the minimum to cover the cost of the facility and the coaches. The Development Centres are very closely linked to the Academy and serve as a very effective tool in talent identification. New Centers established in Barry, Treorchy, Bristol, Bridgend, Aberystwyth, Cambrian (Rhondda Valley) and Pontardawe and the existing Centre in Pontypridd give’s us the opportunity to identify players who historically would not have had an avenue to come into the Swansea City structure. In addition, West Wales as a whole now has a Swansea City Development Centre in order to cater for as many players as possible.
The Foundation Phase is a very important part of a young player’s development as the “golden years” of learning are between the ages of five to eleven. As an Academy we have been working very closely on the development of our pre academy age groups i.e. under 5 to under 8. The newly established facility at Cwmdu has allowed us to continue with this development and we have produced a skills based curriculum to develop the technical ability of the players whilst ensuring that we cater for all ability ranges. The Cwmdu facility has given young players in and around Swansea the opportunity to access a structured football curriculum delivered by qualified coaches.
The Academy is working in partnership with Treorchy Comprehensive School and St John Baptist High School in Aberdare. Academy staff deliver two days per week in each school delivering coaching sessions as part of the curriculum. They are also delivering in Primary schools in the Rhondda and Merthyr areas to ensure that the Swansea Way is an experience that is available to all our wider communities. This is an excellent talent identification tool but also a great opportunity to further enhance our growing fan base. This is in addition to the delivery programme that is already embedded in Swansea, Neath and Port Talbot, Haverfordwest and Pembroke.
We are also working with a number of local Clubs to deliver sessions and support coaches who are working in the grass roots football clubs. We are looking to further develop this progamme and will be looking to develop closer links with local clubs in conjunction with our Development centres.
The Academy has been working in the USA during January and we will be delivering soccer camps for six weeks in the USA during the summer period. The under 19 squad will be playing in a tournament in South Africa in April and our under 9 squad is embarking on their first away tour to Poland during Easter.
We have organised a number of mini tournaments with teams from both Northern and Southern Ireland and we are looking to develop Development Centres and Camps in both countries during the next few months. In addition to our coaching workshops at Landore, we have delivered workshops in the USA, Ireland and Gibraltar.
The Academy had four players in the squad that recently won the won the Victory Shield and a large number of players have gained international honors during this season.
If you would like to keep up to date with the latest Academy news, then follow Nigel Rees, Swansea City AFC Academy Manager on Twitter.