Glenavon look to revolutionise youth set-up

Academy Management Committee Chairman Hubert Watson and Academy Director Thomas McStravick .
Academy Management Committee Chairman Hubert Watson and Academy Director Thomas McStravick .

Glenavon’s new academy director Thomas McStravick is looking to revolutionise the youth set-up, beginning with an open training session this Saturday for six to twelve-year-olds.

The club are expanding their Academy to include this younger age group. This weekend’s training session will be held from 10m to 12 noon at Lurgan Junior High School and McStravick is keen to stress that all players will be accepted and coached in the club’s Academy.

He said: “If kids want to come and play for Glenavon, the opportunity is there. These are not trials, we’re welcoming anybody who wants to come and join us.

“The big thing we want to get across, especially for the six to twelve age group, is we won’t be turning anybody away based on their ability.

“If any other players ever want to come on board, even older than that, then they can contact me anytime via the club. Our door is also open for coaches keen to come on board, if they believe in our philosophy and how we’re doing things.”

McStravick, who has begun his UEFA A License, is certainly spreading his net wide in order to conduct his business at the Academy in a professional manner.

He said: “We have put a structure in place to help and educate the coaches to, in turn, help the kids. We have brought in a consultant called Andy Sass, who has worked for Everton. He now works as technical director for the six to twelve age group at Legia Warsaw in Poland. He’ll be coming over to educate our coaches.

“We have already run a coach education clinic with Leeds United at Easter. We’re looking to do those sorts of things more often to help our coaches and keep them happy. We also want the kids to come in, enjoy their football and be creative with the ball.

“We will have five-a-side matches for under sevens and under eights. Then there will be seven-a-side matches for the under nines and up, until we get into eleven-a-side matches at the U12 age group. We’re working off Leeds’ programme for the 13s to 16s. We will adapt it to our needs but that’s what we will be basing it on.”

McStravick has also spent time coaching in USA, Malta and learning how things are done at the Real Madrid Academy. His time in Spain, he says, will certainly influence the impact he hopes to have on Glenavon’s Academy.

“Some of the things I learned will certainly be used and adapted to our needs,” he said.

“One of the quotes in the philosophy I have for this club comes from the Academy Manager at Real Madrid, who said “to form the player is more important than to win the next game.”

“That’s how we’re going to base our coaching. We’re not about developing teams, we’re about developing players.

“In terms of results, we’re not really interested. We’re only interest in performances and how kids improve from one year to the next. We’ll be doing ongoing evaluations with the kids but will do it formally twice a year. That will just give them some feedback on how they are progressing and also give them some pointers on how to improve.”

In order to try and help his players enjoy football and improve faster, McStravick is also introducing an extra, optional night of training every week. This will consist of technical training and futsal for the younger age group or strength and conditioning for the older Academy players.

And, of course, the end goal is to produce players to bring through to the first team, although McStravick does stress that players who don’t make it that far won’t simply be ditched out of the club.

He said: “We want to develop players for our club’s first team, to play in England or professionally and also to develop players to still be playing football when they are 18 because a lot of young players fall out of the game.

“We will treat everybody the same at the club. As the kids get older and hit our senior end, if they aren’t going to stay at our club, we will do our best to find them a good club that we think they will enjoy.

“Gary Hamilton is giving young guys a chance. That’s the big message we want to get across. If players come to Glenavon and are good enough, they’ll get a chance. At Academy level, we’ll do everything we can to help players to get that opportunity. The finances aren’t there anymore so we have to look increasingly at developing our own players.

“Gary, Paul Millar and Nigel Law have all been great and have even been down on Monday nights coaching the four and five year-olds.”