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PRO INSIGHT SERIES: The Pro Project On Tour

"It was like I had never been away"

WOW – what an amazing trip to the UK and I am absolutely fizzing with so many new ideas to share.

My first stop was back into Carrington (Man United training ground) and catching up with some of my former coaches, to see all the new facilities and get some great advice to bring back.

Neil Harris – current U13’s coach and Tony Whelan (Head of Academy) were just as I remembered them from many years ago. I may have left the Academy building 12 years ago but I was treated like I had never left.

" Football has to be enjoyable & not over complicated"

I shared our vision for The Pro Project and the mission we’re on to help ambitious players here in New Zealand.

Tony gave me an insight into what’s changed in the 30+ years that he’s been with the club and how the modern game is so different. Every Academy session is now filmed and reviewed by specialist coaches and full-time staff and game & player analysis is available for all players from 12 years old. Back in the early day it was play and work hard and whilst Tony is still as passionate about the game, his main message is that football has to be enjoyable & not over complicated.

I ended the visit by watching a session in ‘the cage’ which is a big astro-turf arena boxed off by walls & netting so the ball can never go out of play. It was an amazing opportunity watching the U13/14/15’s all mixed in and were playing 7v7 / 9v9.

Another highlight of my trip was watching the last Premier League game of the season, United v Fulham. It was great to return to Old Trafford having not been in years and I was reminded how big football is in the UK. We were invited into the International Lounge before-hand with the Academy coaches and had a great time. The atmosphere was as good as I remembered, and they won 2-1! Happy days.

A couple of days later after catching up with friends and family, I had a meeting with Andy at MCFC who is the head of player recruitment for the women’s game and also with the PFA (Players Football Association).

We talked about all things The Pro Project and discussed the opportunity to try and help former Pro’s and Scholars in England come over to NZ.

There are thousands of top players every year getting released from professional clubs as the margins are so thin. So fingers crossed and stay tuned as there might be some exciting things happening in the future!

Learnings I will bring to The Pro Project

  • Football doesn’t need over complicating. The game hasn’t changed

  • Enjoyment & fun is the main focus for young players

  • Best practice for group sessions & session ideas

  • The effectiveness between coach lead & player lead sessions

  • A focus on athlete development (as well as player development)

  • Mixing age groups is a must for player growth

  • Older players are role models to younger players

  • How to identify talent

  • Keep it simple - Young players don’t need so many variations of training

"Be In To Win!"

I was given a big bag of United merchandise to give away so if you haven’t seen our competition on social media, jump on now as it ends Sunday 2nd June.

What next ...

I’m now back in NZ and straight into my sessions. Really looking forward to catching up with all The Pro Project players and families and sharing some cool ideas and structuring sessions a bit differently after my learnings in the UK.

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