Hartlepool United’s youth team players are working hard on their fitness and in the online classroom during lockdown to continue their development.
With the assistance of Hartlepool College of Further Education, the young footballers are impressing coaches, teachers and mentors with their approach.
The impact of Covid-19 has made it much harder for the young Pools squad to train together and play matches.
That has been a greater frustration given this is the first academic year when the College has supported the club after a halt in funding for the academy placed the future of the Under-18s in serious doubt.
But under the watchful eye of Ian McGuckin, the College’s Head of High Performance Coaching, and Ian Clark, its High Performance Coordinator, the teenagers are shining brightly while still wearing the Hartlepool United crest.
Mr McGuckin, who was the youth team coach at Victoria Park for three years before the change last summer, is leading the players through sessions centred on fitness and tactics, while Mr Clark is guiding them through a full extended diploma in sport.
Mr Clark said: “A lot has been said about mental health in children of late and it’s been great to see them engaging with me in lessons and handing in work.
“They are missing the interaction of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on the training pitch, but Ian McGuckin has come up with programmes to help them and they are all enjoying it and performing well in those.
“We don’t know when they will be back training, who knows. The aim is to keep them motivated. Ian McGuckin is interacting with them. Lockdown life hasn’t been too bad for these lads because of the innovations in coaching and learning we have shown.”
Mr McGuckin has organised strength and conditioning sessions, he is monitoring their fitness levels during half term too.
He works with the youth team on a Monday, Tuesday and Friday morning, plus all day on a Wednesday. They then have classroom sessions with Mr Clark on the afternoons and for four hours on a Thursday.
Sunderland’s first team coach Andrew Taylor has delivered a motivational session on competition.
The schedule is very similar to what it would have been as a paid scholar at Hartlepool United last season.
Mr McGuckin said: “Obviously we can’t train so we have gone back on observations, last week we looked at how central defenders can defend effectively.
“We’d set a webinar up and they would go through what they think the attributes are that a modern-day centre-back requires. It’s about getting them to think about things.
“It’s getting these lads to open up and speak, present too, having the confidence, and building up their social skills.
“The tactics board opens up dialogues and discussion. We tie it to principles of play, philosophies, drip feeding and not overloading them.
“We are not sure how long this situation will last but we will continue to work hard remotely before we can get back on the training pitch.”
Hartlepool College of Further Education is still recruiting for the new cohort of footballers to represent Hartlepool United from September aged 16-19.
As well as Mr McGuckin identifying those who have been released by clubs such as Middlesbrough, Newcastle and Sunderland, they are open to applications too.
He said: “We have been proactive. The recruitment is driving on. There is a clear pathway there, there are opportunities to train with the first team. It’s not just a PowerPoint, it’s a fact because we have had a player like Oliver Cann already do that.
“We haven’t been able to follow a normal recruitment drive, like advertise and hold trials. We have had to do the groundwork in other ways.
“It’s the same recruitment process the club would have had. We identify players and offer a proposal. We would like to have a bigger cohort going forward.
“We would like to double what we have now and then the year after that look to have 17s and 18s. We would like to develop things.”
*For further information about any of the courses on offer at Hartlepool College check out https://www.hartlepoolfe.ac.uk/