Youth Department: Pre-Season So Far
Posted: Thursday 5th December 2019 - 2:51 PM
The Tigers’ Head of Youth Performance, Darren Higgins, discusses how the opening weeks of the 2020 pre-season have been for the Youth Department.
Followers of Castleford Tigers on the club’s social media feeds will have seen the First Team begin their pre-season schedule on Monday, 11th November at West Riding Football Association and the Under 18’s side began their training sessions that same evening. Darren Higgins has been pleased with how pre-season has begun in the Youth Department with players being urged to take more charge of their own development, he also discusses similarities between the young Tigers training sessions and the First Team.
“Despite a few disruptions with the weather, we had planned to train on grass, but we have been on 3G surfaces so far this pre-season, but it’s been a really good start. We have a different focus this year with a couple of themes and one of them is; ‘Be Responsible’ and that is about the players understanding what it takes to be a professional player. All the support that we can provide for them with coaching, strength and conditioning, the nutrition and the mental skills is guaranteed but our emphasis is on the players and what they themselves are going to do about it. So ‘Be Responsible’ is about how they will drive their own development and self-awareness, it’s a theme that we’ve really made important and the players have responded greatly so far.
We started on the same day as the First Team and there is a bit of crossover in what we’re doing with players who are progressing. Players in the Scholarship and elsewhere are in different stages of their career and development so, there’s slightly different emphasis in some ways but there’s crossover from how the First Team are training as well.”
2020 sees the return of Reserves action allowing Tigers fans the chance to see five teams at the Jungle with one Season Ticket, the fixtures for both Castleford’s Reserves team and Academy team were revealed earlier in the week. Higgins explains how pre-season works with the addition of another team into the Fords’ fold.
“Reserve players are in two groups; with full time players training with the First Team and the part time players training with the Under 18’s, the part time lads are training four times a week and once we get in season that will continue including a game preparation session where the two groups will come together before a game.”
It would be a common misconception to think that the ‘off-season’ period is the quietest part of the year around the club, however the hard work continues as is shown by the Youth Department who operate all year long.
“There’s no real off-season as such for this department, for example the Under 19’s as it was last year they finished on Saturday, 7th September and then the Scholarship programme for the new year began on Monday, 9th September so, we’re literally working 12 months a year. There’s a lot of things going on that people probably aren’t aware of, typically Saturday mornings the Youth Department are dealing with 120+ players, 40 on the Scholarship programme, 30 in the Academy and Reserves and then we average about 50-60 players attending Tigers Talent Pathway sessions and it results in a lot going on. Add into that our work with Talent ID where at this moment in time we are looking at around 80 players per week, monitoring them with a view to our recruitment next year, it means we are working 12 months a year.”
Aimed at both boys and girls the Tigers Talent Pathway sees hundreds of young players benefit from professional coaching and development whilst playing rugby league, it offers a route from Under 12’s to Under 16’s and is designed with two things in mind, as Darren comments on.
“One; Player Development, that every player that attends benefits from it by improving as a result of the coaching and provisions provided. Two; Recruitment, looking for players to place into our Scholarship programme and the window for signing players will happen in June 2020. The TTP is contact time, we get to know these players and they’re getting to know us which compliments what we’re doing in terms of Talent Identification when we’re watching players out there playing for their clubs. Another good thing about the TTP is that it allows Scholarship entry at a later date with sessions running for Under 15/16’s and it also feeds into students who undertake the Tigers’ College of Rugby League - Category Three course, which allows students to continue their rugby progression whilst gaining qualifications. We anticipate that players will come into our Scholarship or Academy system via different routes, it might mean someone is signed up at 14 or maybe through the TTP and Cat Three later.”
Lewis Peachey is one of the younger Tigers players who is in the mix of First Team training sessions and made his way through the Tigers Talent Pathway as an Under 14’s player. Alongside Peachey other young Tigers looking to make their mark in pre-season are; Brad Graham, Lewis Carr, Robbie Storey, Brad Jinks and Joe Summers. After working hard in the Academy system these young players are fully integrated within the First Team’s pre-season training. Darren Higgins is proud of what they’ve achieved so far and hopes they will continue to rise through the Castleford ranks.
“Last year it was more of a bespoke training routine where they trained with the First Team in pre-season and worked alongside the Academy lads, but now following their hard work and performances these past couple of years they’re fully engaged in First Team training. The hope is they will have more opportunities to play on a weekly basis with the return of Reserves rugby and hopefully we’ll see of them emerge and play First Team action this year. Those who are training well should get the opportunities in pre-season matches too.
Pre-season matches present a massive opportunity for the younger players, it’s all well and good training well but the coaches are looking for performances out on the field and it’s that experience of playing in the First Team with and against better players and it should be interesting how the lads handle that.”
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