THIS season, under 18s players Callum Hawkins, Max Smith, James Harrison and Reece Hutchinson have all spent time out on-loan, as have young professionals Marcus Dinanga, Ben Fox, Jayden Cotterill and Jack Hallahan.
Goalkeeper Hawkins has established himself as a first-team regular while at Gresley FC. He has played 16 times in all competitions and feels that playing with experienced players during a high-pressure environment has helped his game.
He said: “I have really enjoyed the experience, it has been a learning curve. To walk into a club and be their first choice, and to learn about the more physical side of the game and a different style of football, which can be more direct on occasions, has been good.
The assistant manager at the Moat Ground is Academy Head of Coaching Hannah Dingley, and Hawkins admits that playing under a coach that knows his game has helped him to perform at a high level this season.
He said: “It helped when I was getting to know everybody because I had somebody there to talk to when I first got there. Playing under their coaching staff, with the experience that they have in football is good because they can give me tips to make me a better player.
Dingley has been thrilled with the development and quality that Callum has shown so far this season and praised the attitude of the young goalkeeper.
She said: “Callum has done really well, he came into the Gresley side during a difficult time and we were struggling. It was a really difficult situation for him to come into and he has been outstanding.
“He played his first game against top-of-the-league Basford and had an absolute worldie and he has kicked-on from there.”
Professional Development Phase Lead Coach, Sam Rose, provided an insight in to the benefits of the loan strategy for both the players and the Academy.
He said "Through either work experience as part of their apprenticeship or via youth loans, players have opportunity for extension and challenge, as both players and people. The lads get to experience exposure to aspects of senior football that youth football can't provide. Playing in front of a crowd of supporters and experiencing atmosphere and pressure are definite positives from a player development perspective.
“The 'no nonsense' approach to football at step 4 level for example, at what is a very competitive standard, is a difficult but valuable learning opportunity for the players and asks a lot of them. It can be a real eye opener and gives them perspective. It also asks them to show maturity and affords them some ownership. Players certainly aren't given a place in any starting 11 at this level, they have to earn it."
"Through the loan strategy, we have another tool to 'bridge-the-gap' between the Academy and First Team. It's particularly important too for the likes of Jayden and Jack for them to get regular and challenging games whilst training day to day at the club. We monitor the players through the Academy Recruitment and Scouting team, attending games and staying in contact with coaches and managers.
“The Academy is in a really good place and this is another example of us striving to be forward thinking and provide the best possible support for our players. The strategy, from an Academy point of view is still very much in its infancy, but its benefits have been clear to see and we will be working to continue to develop relationships with local clubs."