Wolves under-8s were given the surprise of their lives when they experienced an unforgettable interaction with the first-team squad earlier this week.
The pre-academy youngsters were welcomed into the first-team facility at Compton Park where they met Hugo Bueno and sporting director Matt Hobbs.
They were then given the opportunity to watch the remainder of training before manager Gary O’Neil called the players down onto the pitch.
Much to their amazement, O’Neil had set up a five-a-side game for the under-8s to take on their heroes as the likes of Maximilian Kilman, Jose Sa, Matheus Cunha, Pablo Sarabia and Pedro Neto were primed and ready to line up against them.
While going head-to-head, the first-team players interacted with the academy stars before posing for photos once referee O’Neil had brought proceedings to an end.
Pre-academy & development centre recruitment officer, Calvin Smith, has explained why opportunities to interact with the first-team are so important for the youngsters who are at the very start of their journeys in football.
“One thing we look to do each year is get the under-8s to interact with the first-team, however that looks,” Smith said. “From a recruitment point of view, it gives these boys the best experiences and that’s what pre-academy is about.
“We try and instil that ‘one pack’ mentality and these boys are at the start of their journey so if they can play and interact with their idols, it makes it more realistic and reachable. The fact that the first-team building is only 100 yards away from where the seven and eight-year-olds train is fantastic.”
Smith says that the players were unaware of what was coming their way until they were told right at the end of their training session, before heading down to O’Neil and co five minutes later.
“They didn’t know they were going,” Smith continued. “We didn’t tell them until the end of our training session so when I sat them down to say they were going to meet the first-team, they couldn’t believe it.
“They wanted to know who they were meeting, who was going to be there - is Gary O’Neil there, is Cunha there? As soon as I told them they couldn’t wait to get over there and interact with their idols.
“The players were like big kids which was fantastic for our boys because that’s what they want. They were sliding around the pitch, screaming when they scored, celebrating when the younger ones scored and having chats with them during the game.
“The interactions were fantastic and Gary O’Neil himself called the boys down and said they were going to be playing against the big kids which is great because it just makes it all relatable. Gary was high-fiving all of the boys and made everyone feel really comfortable. Matt Hobbs also introduced himself to everyone and shook their hand, again reiterating that ‘one pack’ mentality from the youngest players to the sporting director.”
Reflecting on the experience as a whole, Smith concluded by commenting on the importance of providing players within the pre-academy with experiences that cost very little, but remain with them for years to come.
“What’s important for these players is that the journey from under-8s all the way up to the first-team is full of ups and downs.
“Things like this will never be taken away from them and it will live in their memory forever. It didn’t cost a penny, it was free and those 15 minutes of interaction with the first-team meant more than we could imagine.”