Academy Coaching Expert Aaron Danks

Expert Soccer Coach Aaron Danks

Expert Soccer Coach Aaron Danks is Head of Academy Analysis at West Bromwich Albion FC where he works closely with elite players aged 6-18. I had the opportunity to interview Aaron recently and gain a valuable insight into the academy structure at WBA and how they look to capitalise on their development work and graduate players into the first team squad.

PW: Can you tell me at what ages WBA brings players into the academy?

AD: We bring in players from the age of 6 into our U7s-8s development centre. We only bring players in on a full time/ games programme at the age of 8 to play in our Under 9s.

PW: And how long do players typically stay with the academy?

AD: We would then be looking for a player by the age of 21 to be threatening a place in the first team if not they will most probably move on. This season we had a 17 year become an established 1st team squad player, in Chris Wood New Zealand Centre Forward, and also a 16 year old make his 1st team debut.

It varies on position, physical/mental maturity and, of course, ability.

PW: What intermediate steps are there between a top academy player and the first team squad e.g. youth team, u21s, reserves etc?

AD: We have, as all academies do, U16s and U18s age groups. We then accommodate our 19-21 year olds in our reserve squad.

Younger players with either technical or physical outstanding attributes can also be fast tracked to this group which in turn supplements the 1st team training and match day squad. Players in this ‘middle’ group are also highlighted for the loans system.

PW: How many hours of coaching time and how many hours of game time do players get at different ages?

AD: This is a fascinating area and, for me, a massive contributing factor in the type of player the English nation produces. I’m a big campaigner for the 10 000 hrs for player development and we don’t achieve this in our country.

Our climate and practice areas (especially at winter time) are not especially conducive to producing a Xavi or Iniesta either – so I feel there are certain aspects which are uncontrollable – however typically Academy’s don’t train as much as our overseas competition.

At WBA our U9-11s practice for 7hrs per week and play a 60-80 min SSG on a weekend. Our 12s-16s practice for approx 9hrs and play 11v11 for 75-80min. Then our U18s are in full time.

PW: I’d also be fascinated to hear what you think are the limitations placed on your academy? What would you like to see changed and where do you think is the biggest stumbling block in producing world class footballers?

I think in any walk of life you need goals to be successful. When you plan begin with the end in mind, so when you plan out your sessions you must know what you want you team to look like on a saturday afternoon. You need a Vision, a game style, a DNA. Without this you’ll not master anything.

The English FA doesn’t have a DNA at the moment. It wants to come away from the direct ball style and preaches about Spain, Holland etc, but attending the A licence I saw that certain tutors revert back to type and go old school.

However, there is good work being done at some academies and with the international age groups at England. The England U17s recently won the European Championships (2-1 v Spain with 2 WBA graduates) and both the U19s and U21s made it to the final, so maybe there are some signs of hope.

Whilst The FA promote lots of fun games in their L1 and L2 courses, there should be more emphasis on proper skill acquisition and practice environments.

You can find Aaron Danks (@coachdanks) and Pavl Williams (@betterfootball) on Twitter

  • Was this helpful? :
    Loading ... Loading ...

Did you like this article?

blog comments powered by Disqus