Manchester United Academy provides invaluable tips on ‘Growing Your Identity’ in Next Gen webinar

As part of the initiative with the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) to help facilitate the growth of football in India, the Premier League conducted its first webinar featuring the Manchester United Academy on 6 November. The highly engaging Next Gen 20/20 Webinar Series centered around the ‘Growing Your Identity’ theme and saw more than 80 people - associated with various ISL clubs (coaches and staff) – in attendance.

The Next Gen 20/20 Webinar series has been initiated to aid and assist the continued development of clubs and youth coaches, with the Hero ISL zeroing on ‘Grassroots and Youth Development’, and thus helping the clubs achieve their objectives. Every month there will be a different Premier League club webinar to share insights on various topics.

During the introduction, Kate Hodginkson, Head of International Relations at the Premier League, highlighted the partnership between the leagues that has been in place for seven years and how the Premier League is looking to continue with its support towards the holistic growth of the Hero ISL clubs.

Neil Saunders, Head of Youth at the Premier League, took part in the ‘Youth Development in the Premier League’ panel. He offered insights into the Youth Development Programme of the Premier League, explaining the close work carried out with clubs to help them produce players for the first team, as well as ensuring each player has a positive experience at any Academy.

Saunders also brought to light how the Premier League reviewed their approach to youth development in 2008 before setting a new standard on how they would work going forward, with the aim of developing more and better homegrown players. He added how the introduction of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) in 2012 marked the start of a long-term talent development initiative that is now delivering positive results not just for clubs and the league but also for international age group teams.

On another panel, Nick Cox, Head of Academy at Manchester United, offered tips on how clubs can build their identity, regardless of how long they have been established. "I think you can always find something to start to build your culture on,” he said. “You can always find something historical or geographical that you can start to lay the foundations with. But ultimately, you've got to have a vision of where you want to get to. So, starting with a new club in a new kind of program gives you the opportunity to design it how you want it to be. But what I would argue is, you need to think about what are going to be the things that are unique about you and what's going to make you different.

"You have got to recruit the right people for your organization. Coaches are different so you have got to get the right person in the first place. One of my big non-negotiables is you need coaches that are passionate about young people as a priority. Even more so than their passion for football, they have to be passionate about the development of young people. And so, having the right staff and regular coach education is important," he added.

Cox was also of the opinion that “there is no right way or wrong way, there is only your way” when it comes to coming up with your identity. When asked about some of the key principles at the Manchester United Academy, he replied: “First and foremost, talent identification: you have to know what it is you are looking for and you must remind yourself that you are dealing in potential and not performance. Your job is to understand where a young person might get to, not necessarily where they are today.”

Eamon Mulvey, Manchester United’s Head of Player development U9-U13, and Travis Binnion, the club’s Head of Player development U14-U16, both highlighted the importance of reflection for coaches and staff - a mechanism that has helped them gain clarity on what messages they want to send to their players and how it is a key component that allows them to live the Manchester United identity. Mulvey particularly emphasised the importance of giving free rein to individuality. "I think for us as coaches we need to make sure we embrace personalities. Not trying to change personalities too much; just give them guidance," he said.

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