Calvin Hothi interviews Swindon Town youth team player Tom Smith to ask how are the club developing the stars of tomorrow?
With the current emphasis on youth, a major part of the future is developing our own players through the academy and consistently producing players of quality to make the first team squad. With the help of Swindon Town first year scholar Tom Smith, I delved into the depths of the STFC academy as he revealed how the young Robins are being developed into the stars of tomorrow.
Tom Smith is a first year scholar at Swindon and can operate in the sweeper role along with a more natural centre midfield position. His own breakthrough this season has often been overshadowed by the appearance of Lee Marshall to the professional scene; which itself is quite an achievement.
At the age of 16 that players are taken on scholarships, they are faced with the challenge of juggling training with continuing their studies at college. This can be quite a struggle for some and the average week for a scholar is quite full.
When asked to describe a typical week for him Tom explained, “We mainly do skills sessions throughout the week. 8:30 start every day. Monday we have college in the afternoon. Wednesday we have a whole day of college. Thursday and Friday are devoted to preparation for the game on Saturday. That is going through our formation which is called shape. We go through set pieces. The team is normally named on Friday.”
Staying in shape and keeping their fitness in line is a major part of any section of the game whether it be youth, professional or semi-pro. Many academies over the countries have adopted the approach of diet plans but as of yet it is only something being considered by the academy staff, “As of now we haven’t really been given anything for diet , however we had a meeting. And we are getting more information on that soon. We roughly know what to eat , breakfast – slow release energy foods , and some protein. Lunch – protein and carbs . Dinner – more protein / salad”
Preparing young players for the jump to the first team is one of the most important parts of any academy. Taking match days in the wrong way could potentially lead to not being in the correct mindset and under performing.
When questioned about a his match day routine, Tom says “We report for games at the County Ground for departure at a time set by the coach. We leave together on the mini bus. Arrive at ground one hour before kick off. Pitch check. Music is normally played in changing room to get pumped and mentally prepared for game. We have to fill out an objective sheet – which are goals that we want to achieve in the game. Get changed , then go out for warm up . We then get into keep ball to get used to moving the ball . Stay out for kick off and Complete the game .”
One of the most influential impacts is the opportunity to train with current professionals and learn from them. This is the advantage of being part of an academy to a professional team. The chance to regularly train with and watch internationals like Massimo Luongo and Yaser Kasim can only benefit players coming through the ranks. It also gives the chance to take advice on from a manager and set of coaches with years worth of experience in the game.
“Me personally , have been involved with the first team quite a lot for a first year scholar. I mean the first team coach is great for involving youth team . So we get a lot of experience when training with first team , the style of play , the tempo that they play at and the physicality.”
This is a far cry from the Paolo Di Canio reign where the youth team was often shunned away and dismissed with the manager taking very little interest in what the scholars had to offer. Mark Cooper is very different to this however, he can regularly be spotted attending U18 games and development squad taking a keen interest in who deserves the chance to move up.
Smith and Marshall have been included in Matchday squads against Scunthorpe, Luton, Gillingham and Fleetwood to name a few teams. This paired with Will Randall’s involvement aids the experience and development of them massively, a point agreed by Tom Smith, “Being involved with the first team gave me huge experience , in terms of being in the dressing room , putting on the kit . Warming up on the pitch , being in front of a crowd and being on the bench. Even staying overnight at Fleetwood. In terms of development , it helps me deal with pressed situations better”
While the involvement of scholars sometimes cannot be helped due to low squad numbers, it does represent a massive incentive for players coming through the academy currently that should they work hard enough an opportunity is there.
A number of the current crop of second year scholars will find out over the next few weeks whether they have a future with the Robins. One thing they can be assured is that they will be given a chance to impress.
Players like Tom Smith, Lee Marshall, Will Randall can look up to the achievements of the Thompson brothers, Connor Waldon, Billy Bodin and Miles Storey to name a few the academy has churned out.
Tom Smith himself is only at the start of this progress, going onto the second year of his scholarship next year he will continue to develop and shows a lot of promise. Keep an eye out for his inclusion in match squads in the future with his bright ginger locks making him someone hard to miss. He showed immense maturity beyond his years while I conducted this interview and his feet are firmly planted on the ground for someone with such talent at a young age.
Images courtesy Billy Gibbs and Calvin Hothi