After another successful season for Wolves Academy, plaudits went out to coaches and players for feeding bodies into Nuno Espirito Santo’s first-team, but behind-the-scenes Jen Rice was vital to keeping the operation running smoothly.
In her role as Academy operations manager, Rice ensures everything is in place for the Academy players to develop, looking after various important areas including catering, transport and matchday stewarding.
Her role is widespread across the Academy from the under-8s getting a first taste of football to under-23s who are harbouring ambitions of stepping into the first-team, like Morgan Gibbs-White and Bright Enobakhare have done recently.
Their progress gives motivation for Academy staff including Rice. She receives satisfaction for helping them on their journey to the first-team and hopes for many more success stories in the future.
“I’ve watched a lot of players go through,” she explained. “I’ve watched Danny Batth since he was a first-year scholar and Morgan Gibbs-White since the age of eight, and they’ve gone all the way through which is great.
“The parents are putting their boys in our hands with regards to their training because they spend so much of their time with us. They need to know how their boys are getting on and get a realistic idea of their progress, and when it works out it’s a great feeling.”
Constantly with an eye on the future, Rice and the Academy welcomed a fresh batch of young players to the football club over the summer, but it’s not only the pitch where the staff responsibilities lie.
“Players are coming here to play football, but they’re also dedicating their life to the football club and the area. In some cases they’ve moved for different parts of the country, or even the world, so this area is completely new to them.
“It’s our job to make them feel as settled as possible straight away. That involves sorting them homes, where we have a pool of dedicated families to live with, as well as schools and bank accounts for example.”
Much of Rice’s work is building towards a matchday – the first of which takes place today for the under-18s – and she believes a can-do attitude amongst her stewards at a game is vital for spreading the Wolves spirit.
“Matchdays feel like a celebration of the week’s training, watching the players in the game and whether they do well or not, it’s about developing them. It’s very satisfying when it all pans out. It can be a bit of a pressure cooker but as long as you keep a cool head you’ll be alright.
“We adopt a family-friendly approach for the Academy games. Our stewards are all very approachable, obviously they’re strict who they let in because of safeguarding, but the parents get on with them well, they chat to everybody.”
Rice has been at Wolves for ten years now and the developments over that period have been vast. Promotion to the Premier League over the summer has simply increased the expectation upon the Wolves Academy further.
“Since I’ve been here we’ve gone from the Academy being an office of seven full time members of staff to about 40, which we’re at now. The facilities have changed a lot, we’ve probably outgrown them a little bit now.
“Being in the Premier League helps our recruitment a whole lot but also raises the bar for the Academy players to break into the first-team. We’ve got to compete with the big signings coming in, so we’ve got to up our game and make sure our boys get a look in.”
Rice will hope all the hard work which goes on at the Wolves Academy will be repaid with another successful season, as the youth set-up at Compton Park continues to go from strength to strength.
This article first appeared in the Wolves versus Everton matchday programme, which is available around Molineux on matchdays for just £3.50, and also featured content with Matt Murray, John Richards and Ruben Neves. Back issues are available in the Molineux Megastore and online now.