A trip to the North West for the World Club Series gave me the chance to see the work of the Warrington Wolves Community Team alongside Embed The Pathway. That meant a short trip to Birchwood Community High School, who have a great 4G facility at the front of their site.
The session was for Under 12’s and there was a long line of enthusiastic young players signing in as I arrived. I’d say there were around 50 lads, oh and 1 girl! I’d arranged to meet Anthony Atherton – National Talent Development Officer, with The Rugby Football League. More of the work carried out across the country through Embed The Pathway later.
I spotted a very familiar face once things got under way – Phil Jones – a man I’d never formally met but had seen over the years at London Broncos. Having been at in London working with the Broncos from 1998 – 2013 he returned to the North to become Head of Youth with Warrington.
I had a chat with Phil about how the principles of Embed The Pathway are aimed at ensuring that no talent is missed when it comes to rugby league. The programme gives every boy, and it has to be reinforced that this is targeted at finding future England players so it is focused on boys, an opportunity. Historically it’s been hard for chronologically younger boys to get a chance. In Phil’s opinion and in fact experience if a 4th Quartile athlete is brought through the system they are highly likely to play Superleague.
In the case of players who passed through Phil’s ‘hands’ in London – Dan Sarginson – born 26th May, Tony Clubb – 12th June and Keiran Dixon – 22nd August are all proof of that thought.
The group being trained that morning were in fact split into age groups within the year, it was in general quite plain to see the size differences between those born in what would be the Autumn and Summer terms in general. It was also clear that a couple of those in the youngest group had some natural talent.
There were a mix of coaches involved on the day as they had been all week, Community and Development staff were working well together with the odd U19 player thrown in too.
We spoke about Warrington’s plans for their Youth/Reserves set up, up until now their programme has been part time, with training sessions taking part in the evening. The programme will however be moving to full time in common with the majority of Warrington’s competitors. The club were looking to provide a decent education programme for their young players and now have an arrangement that will provide both A Levels and BTEC’s. This way training can take place as school/college finishes leaving both students and coaches free in the evening.
Now for more on the programme delivered across the country in partnership with Embed The Pathway. Between Monday 8th February and Friday 19th February a total of 35 Open Access Development Days were delivered. A breakdown provided by Anthony is below.
· This conservatively provided an opportunity for about 1500 players.
· The days have identified game improvements for the players, movement skills improvements for the players and mental skills improvements for the players.
· Sessions have contained technical and tactical coaches, small sided game play and player profiling allowing players to track their own progressions.
· Approximately 50 volunteer coaches recruited by the performance departments of each delivery partner teamed up with over 100 members of staff to provide this opportunity.
· Members of the RFL Performance Department have conducted site visits and are delighted with the buy in to the programme and the fantastic opportunity players are getting all over the country.
Quote from Anthony
“It has been fantastic to spend a week out on the road to see just how much providing opportunity for all players to develop means to our delivery partners. They are recruiting and supporting volunteers to ensure that there is a legacy of the programme and holistic player development is to the fore of all activity we’ve observed. To open the talent pathway of to so many in such a vibrant way shows the clubs understand the programme and are regularly producing exemplar delivery”
Quote from Tony Fretwell who I interviewed last year
“It’s been great to see the buy in to the programme. We’ve had delivery this week that has surpassed our expectations! For us to be able to turn up to the development days and chat about how well the partners are delivering and focus on how much this is helping them has been refreshing. In a little over 18 months we’ve grown so much and the biggest reward is that it is the players and coaches out in the community whom are seeing the benefits”
A further quote from Anthony
“We are already looking forward to Easter and May Half term as there will be more days and the partners will be working to make them even better. We also have plans for delivery to take place in Gloucester, Devon and Cornwall, all in collaboration with existing delivery partners looking to expand the talent pool”
To show just far this programme is spreading below is a breakdown of Development Days; The Embed The Pathway training has also been carried out in far flung areas such as Devon and Cornwall, no talent will be overlooked.
London x 4, Wigan x 3, Warrington x 3, St Helens x 3, Hull x 3, Bradford x 3, Rochdale x 3, Salford x 3, West Cumbria x 3, Widnes x 2, North East x 2, Castleford x 2, Wakefield x1, Halifax x 1
I look forward to learning more and more about the work being carried out, looking to expand the game and leave no stone unturned to find the best talent for rugby league.