Youth squads return to Covid-compliant training

Posted: Monday 21st December 2020 - 12:00 PM

Castleford’s under-16s and under-19s squads returned to training earlier this month but rather than the usual pre-season conditioning, it’s COVID-19 compliance at the forefront of their winter activities this year.

It’s seen both youth development squads switch to a separate training base away from the first team, with training initially limited to twice a week and the players kept strictly within smaller groups to minimise the risk.

The considerable body of work required to facilitate the academy’s return has been led by club doctor Nick Raynor and he told about some of the preparations that have been made.

“We’ve taken every precaution possible and we’ve worked closely with the RFL to get everything ready, including a full assessment on the new training venue. For now, contact time is limited and they’ve been divided into smaller groups to prevent cross-contamination and make contact tracing easier if anybody tests positive, but just having them back at all is a huge step in the right direction.

“We’re doing a lot of the same things we do with the First Team squad. Every academy and scholarship player and member of staff has had to do an individual risk assessment for their household so that we’re aware of their personal circumstances and whether they’re living with anybody who’s at a higher risk.

“They’ve all had to complete an education module set by the RFL, they fill in a wellness questionnaire every day before training and we’re looking at bringing in lateral flow testing for the youth sides as well. There’s probably more responsibility being placed on these lads than ever before at this level.”

Despite the necessary changes and Covid challenges facing them, it’s nevertheless been a much-needed return for the scholarship and academy sides, who – as with the club’s women’s team – had their seasons cancelled during the first lockdown earlier this year.

The club’s youth staff, led by Head of Youth Performance Darren Higgins, have received plenty of praise from parents for their efforts to support the young players over the summer, with players allocated their own personal training programmes and kept connected with regular online workshops and digital get-togethers with teammates, welfare officers and coaching staff.

It’s provided a welcome structure for young adults who have had their daily routines turned upside down, but the longer-term effects of Covid are still being felt at junior level following several changes to youth competitions for next season.

These have seen the under-18s set-up revert back to an under-19s category for next season, whilst the reserves competition has been postponed until 2022, with the youth coaches supporting a number of players who are now too old to play academy rugby in finding a new club for 2021.

For those players who remain, they are now tasked with making up for a season’s lost development time, but Dr Raynor stressed the emphasis being placed on accountability under the new rules.

“We’ve really been educating the players about honesty and stressing that following these rules is now part of their professional standards as young athletes. It’s not tough to overlook symptoms, or to feel a bit ill and then come in and train. This isn’t like playing through bruised ribs and trying to be tough, it’s about being honest and responsible.

“The lads have been really good so far, but we accept that some infections will be inevitable at this age group. These lads go to school or to college, they live within larger groups at home with their parents and families, so aside from rugby, they’re going to be at greater risk of exposure within the community.

“That’s where the risks come from as we’ve seen from the Super League season that it’s not spreading from team to team on the field of play. I don’t think there’s been a single case of opposition players going on to test positive for Covid after being stood down under test and trace protocols.

“We know where the risks come from and it’s about how we handle it.”

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