Professional Development Phase Coach Ryan Simmonds feels hard work has paid off for some of the Under 18s who have been training and playing in the first team.
Tom Owen, Dylan Thomas and Piers Juliff have all featured in first team friendlies while others have also joined first team training.
The Under 18s are now training alongside the first team at the club’s training base in Essington so Head Coach Mat Sadler and his staff will also be able to have a closer eye on how they are progressing.
Simmonds insists the players who have featured in the first team have earned their opportunity through hard work and good performances. He is pleased to see some of the boys make the most of the opportunity they’ve had to play in the first team and is delighted that the academy are now training at the same place as the senior squad.
“It’s so important that we’re training with them, it’s brilliant that we’re all down at Essington,” Simmonds said.
“There was one training day when there was 10 lads training with the first team that were either ours now or had graduated and for a club of Walsall’s stature, it’s so important to get our players through but they have to be physically ready and they have to be good enough.
“It can’t be just a token but with the communication we’re having with the first team staff, it’s based on who’s ready and every lad who has gone up there has had glowing reports.
“We all know that the journey is so hard but what the lads have shown is that when they go up there, they want to stay up there. My job isn’t to have a settled squad, my job is to deal with what happens and I want them to be there, I want them all to be there but ultimately, it’s the ones that will go there, be good enough to stay there and have the right personality to be a footballer.”
As well as preparing on the field, the pre-season programme also took the academy players on a residential trip earlier this week.
The players endured some physical tasks along the way but also learned how to build resilience and Simmonds felt it was a beneficial outing for the boys.
“It was brilliant for me, I’m not sure if they thought it was brilliant,” he said.
“I was able to step back and observe rather than be the one driving them.
“Our Head of Education Lee Fraser was helped by some brilliant staff there that did different exercises whether it was team building or a physical challenge.
“A lot of it was a mentality challenge as well and I think it’s important that we try and replicate some of the mental challenges that these boys are going to have to endure throughout their careers because how can we teach them to be resilient if we don’t give them chances?
“In their career, they will have a few weeks where they’re in the first team and then they’ll get dropped and they don’t know why they’ve been dropped.
“They have to be strong enough to deal with it and keep training at the same level so we try and do these things for that reason.”
On the pitch, the Under 18s have played five friendlies so far, winning three and losing two so far.
They’ve had a mix of tests and Simmonds is pleased with how it’s going.
“So far so good,” he commented. “We wanted a different range of challenge.
“We’ve had some category one opposition, we’ve had category two, we’ve had category 3, we’ve had non-league with Kidderminster and we’ll have a men’s team against Shifnal next Tuesday.
“In terms of the games programme, the lads have had a bit of everything and with some of the boys going up with the first team, the games programme has been really good and it’s been a positive start.”