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Under 18s: Ryan Simmonds reflects on 2023/24 campaign

3 May 2024


Under 18s: Ryan Simmonds reflects on 2023/24 campaign

3 May 2024

Professional Development Phase Coach Ryan Simmonds feels there has been a lot of positives to take from the 2023/24 season for the Under 18s.

It’s been a busy year throughout the academy and a lot has been achieved on and off the pitch this season.

While it’s not been the campaign that was hoped for results wise for the Under 18s, finishing 14th in the EFL Youth Alliance, there has been a lot of encouraging stories from an individual perspective and Simmonds has been pleased to see how so many players have developed and grown over the course of the 2023/24 campaign.

“It’s been really positive in terms of individuals,” Simmonds said.

“We have to always try and remind ourselves that we’re still in the professional development stage and they’re all developing, whether that’s them developing with us or developing with other clubs on loan so from an individual point of view it’s been really positive.

“The second years have been going out on loan, getting that experience, and bringing it back to us.

“They’re getting out there and seeing different things and for them as humans and young men, it’s been really good for them.

“A lot has been achieved this season. Some of the first years have played in every game for us, Dylan (Thomas) made his debut while Cayden (Bennett), Jaiy (Leydon), Charlie (Wragg) and George (Barrett) were all involved on the bench against Shrewsbury Town as well.

“For Cayden to get an international cap at just 17 as well is amazing so from an individual point of view it’s been brilliant.

“All the Under 16s and five Under 15s have been playing in the youth team all season, it’s something that other clubs don’t do but we’re trying to accelerate their learning.”

Thomas managed to make three first team appearances this season while George Barrett has been on the bench for the first team on numerous occasions. Bennett also got a taste of senior football when he played for Saint Kitts & Nevis in the March international break.

Two other players who have stood out are Charlie Wragg and Jaiy Leydon who have both been prolific in front of goal and Simmonds has been impressed with the duo but insists they need to work hard and kick on again next season.

“Charlie and Jaiy have scored a lot of goals this season,” Simmonds commented.

“I think they’ve both got near 20 goals in all competitions and I think they’re both on double figures for assists as well.

“I keep saying to them every day that they’ve got to keep doing it. You don’t get a career by doing it for one season, you have to be consistent and have to do it next season whether that’s with us or they go out on loan and they continue to score goals.

"When they go out on loan the game will make the decision for them so if they go and score goals at a really high level next year, it makes everybody talk about them and that’s all they can do.”

With the season now done and dusted, the scholars will now enjoy a break but, in similar way to the first team, the players will have individual programmes to follow and while Simmonds wants the players to recharge their batteries, he emphasised the importance of putting in the hours during the off-season period to ensure they return in the best possible shape when pre-season arrives.

“Of course, they need a break – more so mentally because it’s such a long season,” Simmonds said.

“It’s a big shock coming from school into a full-time environment so for sure, they need to have two or three weeks where I would encourage them all to rest, reflect on the season, see their friends and families who they might not have seen or go on holiday and do all the things that a 17-year-old should be doing within reason.

“They know that then they have to start work, it's not just the first day of pre-season they have to start the work. You saw last season Dylan and Tom (Owen) were with the first team on the first day of pre-season so they know that is possible.

“The rest of the week will be testing so we get a benchmark for the tests come pre-season and it’s just so everybody knows what’s expected.

“If they come back and their tests are too far away, it’s obvious they haven’t been doing the work.

“They will get sent plans but every plan will be different. One player might need to focus on upper body strength or another player might have to look at their endurance so every player is different in their off season. Ultimately, as I said, the game makes the decision. Off seasons, you really get an idea of whether they want to be a professional footballer or not so it’s quite an interesting period.

“We try and give them the best possible resources and all of our experience to make sure they know how important the off season is.”

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