AS part of the EFL’s Youth Development Week, we are showcasing some of the brilliant work being done in Burton Albion’s Academy.
And as part of the Academy’s aim of producing better players and people, a number of current and former professionals can be seen around the Pirelli Stadium in a coaching capacity - including some with close Brewers connections.
Take, for example, Brewers captain John Brayford. After suffering a hamstring injury in October, Brayford spent one day a week coaching in the Under-12s, Under-13s and Under-14s age groups.
Himself a product of our youth system, Brayford’s presence within the Academy once a week will have been a valuable insight for our younger players - as will that of another Academy product, Tom Hewlett, who has spent some of his own recovery time with the younger groups.
“It’s been great to have those two with us,” said Academy Manager Dan Robinson.
“Bray has worked with all ages, coaching the U12s, U13s and U14s, doing a little bit while he was injured earlier on in the season, coming in once a week.
“Tom Hewlett, while he’s been recovering, has been training with them.
“Both are from the Academy and (are developing that) understanding being a coach as opposed to being a player, while absorbing that experience having been part of the Burton Albion Academy.”
But that coaching experience also extends to former Brewers and some without a playing connection to the club, too.
“Of course we also have Shaun Barker too, previously we’ve had Stephen Bywater coming in and doing bits,” said Robinson.
“Keith Gilroy has been our Head of Coaching for a few years now. Courtney Pitt is working with everyone and has been with us a while and Aaron Webster is with our U14s as well as being our Player Care Representative.
“Damien McCrory is working with us across the youth phase, and Jamie Ward is working with us while he goes through his badges. Stephen Ward, former Premier League player and Irish international, is working with our foundation phase.
“We’ve got Karl Hawley, who played in the Championship, who has been here for a number of years now. Throughout the age groups of the Academy we’ve got that former playing experience.
“Jamie is helping with the Professional Development Phase (U18s), helping our forwards. Damien works with our U13s and U14s and Michael Johnson has worked across all ages.
And those staff who have been at the Academy even longer - such as the likes of Sam Rose, Dave Freeman (former Nottingham Forest player), Dave Roberts and more - are continuing to put the work in to develop young players and future professional footballers.
Getting that balance right is key, Robinson says, as those benefits felt by the players also extend to those on the sidelines.
“We’ve got a wide variety of staff - some have been in the building for a number of years, working hard at developing players ready for the first team,” said Robinson.
“The balance between coaching experience, playing experience, through the age groups. The players are supported really well in that space.
“When you’re looking at the whole picture, keeping sessions close to what they’re likely to experience as they progress is important.
“That realism is probably the key and they bring that from their playing experience.
“There’s a lot of process we have to go through, lots of planning and preparation which is helping them with their careers, we see it as a huge benefit across the age groups.”