Special report (part two): Rovers investing in youth

Liam Wakefield has progressed from youth team to the fringes of the first team.
Liam Wakefield has progressed from youth team to the fringes of the first team.

Doncaster Rovers’ relegation from the Championship last May has not had an adverse affect on the club’s junior policy.

“The club’s youth budget has actually increased this year,” said Ben Mawson, the club’s Foundation Phase lead coach.

“This isn’t as a reaction to relegation as discussions were well underway prior to the defeat at Leicester, because the club recognise the importance of constant progress and have supported our department accordingly.”

So what does the club look for in a young player?

“We have a comprehensive selection criteria for players and a clear profile which we use for assessing players to progress through each phase,” said Ben.

“First and foremost we look for them to have enthusiasm and have a genuine interest in football.

“We also look for players who have other qualities which increase through the age groups.

“These factors are personality, intelligence, technique, attitude and speed (PITAS).

“Once a player is a member of the academy they are educated to have CHARACTER.

“This requires them to be: Creative, Honest, Adaptable, Resilient, Attentive, Confident, [be able to] Take risks, [be] Enthusiastic and Respectful.

“Obviously players need to have excellent technical ability and certain physical attributes.

“But, as I say, personality, attitude, intelligence and enthusiasm are also key to a young player progressing – especially to the highest level.

“Parents have a massive part to play in a player’s development.

“The lads are only with us for up to 12 hours a week so the contact time we can have is minimal.

“We really need the support of parents not only to get the players to practice and matches on time, but also to support their education process.

“We have recently invested in a new online system so parents can access feedback on their son’s performance on a regular basis.”

Due to the fact that Rovers are in competition, often from bigger clubs, for the best local youngsters, Ben says a good reputation is vital.

“The feedback I have from players and parents we have as part of our programme and development groups is very positive,” he said.

“We work hard in the community and we are constantly trying to improve our reputation.

“The club believe in a model of promoting young players into the first team which also helps.

“I feel that this fact, along with the quality of our training programme, are key factors in young players making their decision to join the club.”

Ben is keen to pay tribute to long-serving academy boss Paul Wilson and youth team manager Paul Stancliffe.

“Paul Wilson, in particular, has been a great mentor to me over the years,” he said.

“But both men have had lots of success of developing players over the years, many of whom are currently playing in the Football League.”