Academy players finding ways to shine during lockdown
Fri 17 April 2020, 17:20|Tottenham Hotspur
Real-life responsibilities, specially-tailored individual programmes, challenging football quizzes and even magic tricks... our Under-23 and Under-18 players are keeping themselves in shape physically and mentally during this uncertain period.
Government restrictions and social distancing measures designed to combat the coronavirus have seen football players at all levels resort to exercising individually at home but, by liaising with our dedicated team of coaches and employing basic technology and equipment, those within our Academy have been able to maintain their work ethic, team spirit and competitive edge – and in some cases, show their character away from football.
“We’re keeping in contact with all the players every day, sending them programmes and challenges – we’re doing lots of things to try to keep them engaged and keep them in their routine,” explained Under-23s Coach Wayne Burnett. “We’re having team meetings in groups of four to eight via video calls, helping the players with their behaviour and psychology via some excellent sessions with Dr Dave Burston – who is a psychologist we work with regularly in the Academy – and I have to say, the boys are doing remarkably well in terms of the effort and how they’re engaging with the group of staff, so I’ve been really pleased with them. They’ve done as we’ve asked them to do and at times gone beyond that too.
“There’s one or two who are having to look after their younger brothers and sisters, some as young as eight, because their parents are critical workers, some working for the NHS, so our players, at the age of 18 or 19, are taking responsibility for schooling and cooking meals for their younger siblings – we’re obviously very proud of them and it’s important that we’re quite sensitive to the players’ situations. Obviously everyone wants to be on the training field, everyone wants to be back at work but the players are finding ways to grow whilst ensuring they adhere to the stay-at-home measures in place, which we all know are paramount. In these times, even though it’s difficult, there are still opportunities for them to develop and the players are making the most of that.”
Each member of the Club’s coaching staff has a group of players under their care and every morning at 9am, a plan is sent out to the Under-23 and Under-18 squads via WhatsApp, detailing the activities they’ve been set for that day, collaboratively devised between the coaching, medical, sports science and education departments.
The players have until 11am to have breakfast and complete the initial football exercises, before undertaking different challenges in the afternoon. Video diaries are compiled as they go along, with players asked to submit the work they’ve done to their designated coach via a downloadable mobile phone app. GPS data from the players’ heart rate monitors is gathered remotely by our sports science experts, who can analyse the feedback to carefully maintain the lads’ fitness levels, while players are also assigned time during the day to continue with their college studies – all while remaining at home.
“The main element of the daily plan is the football part, keeping things fresh, giving them new ideas, new techniques, new skills and asking them to work on areas of their game where they can use this time individually to keep practicing,” said Under-18s Coach Matt Taylor. “As coaches, we devise the football sessions for them, the sports science staff give them a different gym session every day and then they have a task in the afternoons – which is at times football based, at times non-football based, but all possible within the confines of their houses or gardens – which they have to deliver back to one of the coaches.
“They’re working remotely but they’re being kept busy for four to five hours a day, all within government guidelines. The Club have been fantastic at delivering some gym equipment to certain players where appropriate. Obviously the players are not training at the intensity they would be if they were with the group, but as a Club we’re working hard and have taken quite an active role in making sure that we give the boys the best service that we possibly can at this time.”
Among the football-related challenges set for the players so far have been skills tests, ball-and-a-wall control techniques, headers and balancing drills. Afternoon activities have included players being tasked with presenting their best Premier League XI with detailed reasons behind their choices, posting a video in their group and giving a presentation about it, attempting the social media ‘ball in the bin challenge’, taking part in video call quizzes led by the coaches and even attempting magic tricks – all inventive ways of invoking competition while operating from separate locations.
“We recently devised a quiz – football based and general knowledge – which lasted about an hour and we’re quite fortunate that we’ve got a group of staff who are still talented footballers, so we’ve been able to set tasks like the ball-and-a-wall keepy-up challenge – all things that we as ex-professional players would have done as children when you just practiced and practiced on your own in the garden or against the side wall of the house,” said Matt.
The latter activity saw players and staff competing against each other remotely via video clips, with 18-year-old Harvey White setting a benchmark of 103 keepy-ups against the wall, before former player and current Academy Coach Ryan Mason won with a score of 133. Later in the week, after the challenge had finished, 19-year-old Phoenix Patterson was inspired to post a new record and notched up 134! Elsewhere, forward Tarrelle Whittaker, 17, won the tennis ball keepy-up challenge with an impressive total of 195.
Among the high scores so far
133 - Ryan Mason (winner of wall keepy-up challenge)
103 - Harvey White (second in wall keepy-up challenge)
134 - Phoenix Patterson (subsequent wall keepy-up)
195 - Tarrelle Whittaker (winner of tennis ball keepy-up challenge)
This week, a number of the Club’s Academy graduates who have gone on to enjoy successful careers as professional footballers across the country are joining in with online Q&A sessions in order to keep the conversation among the players fresh and in context, similar to the sessions Brad Friedel, Oscar Jansson and current Spur Brandon Austin put on for our young goalkeepers recently.
“As another example of the activities taking place, three of the boys have written up football coaching sessions and used their brains in that way, while one of the players is really into magic, so he taught three of us how to do card tricks via Facetime. We’re trying to keep it fresh, keeping their minds active as well as their bodies,” added Matt.
“Obviously it’s a tough time for everybody, but if there’s one thing that could possibly come from this, maybe it’s that our players, as young men, will have to grow up slightly quicker than they would do normally, because what we’ve also got to be mindful of is that football is secondary to family and making sure that everybody is safe. While we give them all of the work remotely that we can, if for some reason one of the boys can’t undertake that on a given day or for a period of time because of their circumstances, we ask them to be imaginative and use their own initiative to try and make sure they stay as fit as possible. It’s about the Club trying to test them and the staff using our experience as coaches to give them as much as we possibly can, because ultimately it’s all about the players and their development.”