In 2018 education and welfare is indispensable to young players progressing through the Wolves Academy system, according to Nick Loftus.
The head of education and welfare at Compton, Loftus oversees the teaching programme in place for Wolves’ Academy players, preparing them for the future, whether that be a career in the game or further afield.
Wolves provide assistance for players studying for Sats and GCSEs up to degrees for the under-23s, and run programmes alongside training and matches, moulding them into young people ready for the outside world, regardless of the path they take.
“Thinking has changed. Five or ten years ago people were saying education was in case the players don’t make it, but the reality is most of them don’t, so we can’t allow children to just think they’ll be footballers,” said Loftus.
“If they neglect their learning, they’re not going to learn on a football pitch either. It’s about habit-forming and behaviours, and we try to encourage positive behaviour in our young players.
“If you’re a footballer or not, you need to be clever and have the right attitude to everything you do, because the chances are it won’t be football. Even those who have a professional football career, the average career is eight years, so that’s a long time to be retired afterwards.”
Loftus, who has a background in education, joined Wolves in 2004 and has helped transform the Academy’s infrastructure, seeing employee numbers rise from eight to 58, and he and Natalie Deakin are pleased the football club hold education in high regard.
“I oversee the programme which is very involved because in Academy football, working with children and young players, education and welfare should be at the forefront of everything we do.
“We want them to learn as footballers, to be clever, to be problem solvers, to be intelligent players to compete at the highest level. Education has to be seen as important to every member of staff and it’s supported by the club.
“We have a fantastic team of tutors who come in and help players across all ages of the Academy.”
Wolves have players at both Thomas Telford School and Wolverhampton Royal, where they study mainstream topics, allowing Wolves programmes to focus on character-building and personality qualities.
“We think the education support and drive for our players, not just be footballers but to be clever, is important for their success. It’s not just about if they’re good at math or English, it’s about their attitude to learning.
“We have informal education too. The youth team all the way down have life skills input, on things like health, nutrition and mental health.
“It’s about their willingness to problem solve, to challenge themselves to hit higher grades. My role is to oversee the process and to encourage and support staff to value education in the Academy, which I think is in its best ever position.”
While education is a serious area of focus for the Academy, flexibility remains a necessity, with players travelling long distances and putting long hours into training and matches, so that understanding is key to Loftus and his team.
“The schedule depends on the group. We have around 20 or 30 different programmes operating for children 12-16, many of whom spend most of their week at school. When they’re here on a school day they can’t just be running around on the football pitch.
“With the under-18s they do a block of education, but we try to make the education fit into each player’s week in a sensible way. It’s a fluid arrangement between education and football, it can work around games and travel.”
One of the club’s more recent and proud Academy graduates is Danny Batth, who is currently on loan at Middlesbrough, and Loftus points to the defender as the example for future Academy players to follow.
“Danny is a fantastic example for our young players. He’s come through the system here and had a fantastic attitude to learning which has helped him get success. He’s got a degree while he’s been playing, like a few players here.
“Football and education aren’t separate entities, it’s about the person’s attitude. I’m trying to create that culture here and I think people buy into it.”
This article first appeared in the Wolves versus Burnley matchday programme, which is available around Molineux on matchdays for just £3.50, and also featured an in-depth interview with Willy Boly. Back issues are available in the Molineux Megastore and online now.