Ahead of the 2018/19 season, Southern United adopted a 'one environment' approach, with the purpose of merging the ISPS Handa Premiership squad and National Youth league squad together in the same training environment.
The aim of the 'one environment' approach is to create a clearer pathway from the academy to the youth team and onwards into the senior team. With the intention of giving young players the best possible chance of making it into the senior team, there has been a concerted effort in creating a more inclusive and connected environment. This change has enabled youth team players regular opportunities to train with the senior team, allowing them to be exposed to the environment and expectations of senior football. It also gives Senior Head Coach Paul O’Reilly the opportunity to watch the youth players in a senior, as well as youth-team environment.
Football South CEO Chris Wright stated: “We have repeatedly spoken about the importance of developing our own home-grown players and the Southern United Player Pathway is a significant part of our young player’s development in the Southern Region”.
Further, through the consistency of approach that permeates throughout the SU Junior Academy, SU Academy, SU Youths and SU senior team, there exists a more consistent playing style, set of expectations, and information that aims to make the transition easier as players rise through the ranks. This also accounts for the development of the coaching staff, as it looks to prepare the likes of Terry Boylan, Cameron McPhail, Harley Rodeka and Zane Green to progress as coaches within the club.
First-team Head Coach Paul O’Reilly noted, “The one environment approach has contributed to the family feel the club aims for despite the challenges posed by the short duration of the leagues. Therefore, the one environment structure has been of great help for players to develop relationships and make the transition from the youths to seniors more realistic.”
The new approach has already enjoyed notable success on several different fronts. As both teams play on the weekends, there has been an integration of game preparations from 11v11 training and practice matches that both teams have mutually benefited from.
Youth team Head Coach Terry Boylan noted, “The tempo, intensity and competition has improved for the youths, with visible opportunities available to make progress both collectively and individually.”
This season has also seen five youth players make the step up into the first team squad, as Adam Hewson, Rory Findlay, Stewart Catto, Ben Deeley, and Alex Cox have all been involved to various degrees. Moreover, there are now more academy players that make the step into the youth squad at a younger age (i.e. 15, 16 years old), effectively establishing a well-balanced age profile of the youth squad (15-19). This is also in large part due to the successful restructuring of the academy system initiated three years ago.
Naturally, the club are faced with certain challenges subject to further progress. The pre-season preparation for both youths and seniors was challenging, with teams not willing to travel south in pre-season. Conversely, due to budget constraints, travelling to the North Island was not feasible for either teams, and they therefore had limited pre-season games in preparation for the season. Furthermore, the challenge still remains to improve overall accessibility for players outside the Otago region to gain selection for the SU Academy, Youths, and Seniors. While this year has enjoyed notable progress, there is still room for improvement.
Administering, coaching and leading these efforts across all teams accounts for a considerable amount of work, and there is a general need for more staff and greater resources to further develop this. Therefore, a great amount of credit is to be attributed to the coaches, as well as the consistent support of medical care and Sports & Conditioning from a younger age from Integrated Health Otago (IHO) and High Performance Sports New Zealand (HPSNZ) respectively. A big thanks to Paul, Terry, Cam, Harley, Zane, Jim and Deb (IHO), and Megan and Jono (HPSNZ).
Both the youth team and senior team will be in action this weekend. The youth team are in the running to finish top of the league, and host Canterbury United at 1:00 pm on Saturday, 15th December. The senior team host Canterbury United at 2:00 pm on Sunday, 16th December. We hope to see as many of you there!
Updated 05:39 - 13 Dec 2018 by Holly Percival