Liverpool’s U18s boss Marc Bridge-Wilkinson, now in his sixth year at the club, discussed the Academy’s principles for individual player development, and here are some of the highlights.
On moments of change:
“We’re looking to try to see elite behaviours in terms of the performances on the pitch but also their attitude and their character on it and around it. It’s great when you sit back at the end of a day and you see that a boy has taken on board a piece of information.
“It might not be that you’ve given it that day, it might be something you’ve been working on for a period of time. But there are times when you see that there’s a change in mindset, there’s a change in the way they think, there’s a change in the way they adjust to the moment in the game, where they’ve shown the ability to learn and take the information on board, they’ve shown the ability to actually go and have a go, whether it works or it doesn’t work.
“But in that moment they’ve shown the fact they’re willing to listen, they’re willing to learn and they’re willing to have a go. And those moments can be quite special because that’s a moment of change. And when boys are willing to be open and they’re willing to change and they’re willing to take on board information, then they’re going to improve.
“As a development coach in an academy setting, those moments are quite special.”
On how coaches from the youth level to the first team balance club and individual styles:
“The easiest way to put it is that Alex [Inglethorpe] and the people at the club have set out this philosophy of developing through the Academy, which is brilliant,” he details. “And I’d like to think perhaps that was the reason why I was recruited – because my ideas are very similar.
“I would imagine the majority of the coaches within the building, there’ll be differences of course, but have all got similar viewpoints on development, similar viewpoints on the game and what’s needed for young players to develop into, hopefully, Champions League football players.
“And although we have this big, shared idea and philosophy, each individual brings something slightly different. So yeah, I think it is shared but there will be small details that maybe one coach might think slightly differently.
“But the broader overview will be quite similar in terms of most of the coaches, if not all of them.”
On his personal goals for the players’ development:
“The goals, quite simply, are to help the players improve.
“To make sure players are being pushed and tested. And to make sure we’re giving them every opportunity to get better. That takes its form on the pitch obviously in technical drills, tactical little things or in games – that’s the big one obviously.
“But it also takes place off the pitch around developing standards and making sure the boys understand the responsibility they’ve got to the badge and to the crest they’re wearing. Because they are in such a fortunate position, like we are as staff, to be wearing the Liverpool crest that we have to make sure we’re doing everything in our power to keep that.
“It’s a big responsibility and part of them growing up is to understand that they have a responsibility to the club to make sure they are doing everything in their power to make sure they do well and they try to do well and they try to improve.”
On taking a balanced view towards “mistakes”:
“...every goal that is conceded in the majority of games, you could break it down and say there’s a mistake here, there’s a mistake there. Football is a game of mistakes.
“So it’s not always about highlighting where there’s an error or what’s gone wrong. It’s also about highlighting good performance, elite performance, elite behaviours.
“Our kind of role is to give them a diet of both. ‘Yes, this is something we can improve on, this is something that realistically we want to get better at. We’re aware of that. But actually, this is something you do really well. So look at the position, look at the situation you’ve got yourself into, look at how you’ve found yourself getting out of this situation.’
“So, yes, we’ll highlight areas where we can improve, of course, but also we’ve got to highlight areas of elite performance and highlight areas where boys are succeeding and boys are doing things that are very, very good.
“It’s just got to be a balanced view. We can’t give them everything that’s brilliant because that’s not real – we can’t just say, ‘Oh you were great, this was brilliant, we scored a last-minute winner and everything was great.’
“But likewise, if we were to lose the game it can’t be all negative. So we’d like to think – along with Jenks [Tim Jenkins, U18 individual coach/head of analysis], who works really closely with me, and Jenks is brilliant on all the analysis side of it – we give them a really balanced view. ‘These are things that we do well, these are areas where we can do a little bit better.’
“Then from there, we start saying, ‘Look, how can we do better? This is an individual thing and a collective thing. How can we do better? What can we do? Let’s think about how we do that or this? Likewise, this has gone really well – how can we do this more often? How can we get into a position where you can showcase this ability or this part of your game more?’
“It’s got to be balanced, it can’t be just related to the emotion of the game, not yet anyway.”