Under-18 head coach Steve Davis is pushing his young players to the limit as they look to get back to their best following the Christmas break.
As is common following time off, some of the players returned to training 10 days ago at the peak of their condition, while others came back having dropped off the pace, so the first fortnight of Davis’ job has been to get all of his squad firing on the same levels ahead of the second half of their U18 Premier League North campaign.
On the under-18s returning to football
“We started back on 4th January and some players were with us, while those who went abroad to their families have to isolate and then be tested before they can join back up with us, and some of those still haven’t started training yet.
“There were also other local lads who joined the bubble of the first-team, so they were training with the first-team to cover under-23 players over the Christmas period who had gone home, or to make up the numbers because of the injuries.
“Some of those are still covering now, and it’s been good for them as they had a lot of opportunities over Christmas to train with the first-team and have got a lot of experience, and it has kept them fit during the festive period and have come back in good shape.”
On players having to catch up
“Some will need more intense sessions to get them back to fitness, but some have done quite a lot over Christmas, so haven’t dropped off as much.
“All of the players were given a two-week programme to do while they were at home and have had to record that on Stava to give evidence of their work, and some have done it all, some haven’t done enough, and those who have done 100 per cent of the work will get straight into training and won’t need top-ups, but the ones who haven’t done it will do a mini pre-season with the sports science team to get them back up to the level they need to be at.
“But it’s only been a two-week break really, so they’re not going to lose too much fitness, and although they will lose some conditioning, we need to help them build back up.”
On joining up with the under-23s
“Now we’re in a situation when everyone is starting to come back, but the under-23s currently have a very small group because of having seven with the first-team, and some are yet to return from abroad due to having to isolate, similar to some of my boys in the under-18s.
“With that, we linked together, made one bubble and one group and have been training with the age groups together to try and get all the players going again, shake the cobwebs off and prepare well for the upcoming fixtures.”
On Covid impacting match preparation
“The main problem has been the fact we’ve not been able to play friendlies, with the ones we were due to play being called off, so it’s unlikely we’ll be able to arrange one before we play Burnley on the 23rd.
“By this time, they would’ve had more than a month of not playing, which is not ideal preparation, but because of the restrictions, we have no options really.
“There’s lots of things we can do internally to get the players ready, building up the intensity in training gradually because we can’t go full out in the first few days, limiting the days off and more time focusing on the football and the endurance work, getting the intensity as high as possible.”
On getting his players match-fit
“We’re trying to push them that little bit further than we would usually do, but within a very controlled way, but we need to push them again so they can reach that match intensity that they need when the Burnley match arrives.
“That’s something we try to do with the under-18s, we try to match the intensity of the game within the training programme, so it will be very hard within some parts of the session, but that intensity is a target for us.”