Chesterfield’s head of academy coaching, Matt Whitehouse, says that foundations are in place for the academy to have an even more successful campaign than last season.
Six academy graduates - including Ricky German, Joe Rowley and Charlie Wakefield - signed professional contracts with the Spireites last season, capping off an impressive year, that also included overseas tournament victories for the U11 and U14 sides.
Now in his fifth season with the club, Whitehouse has previously combined his role with coaching and developing the U12-16 age groups, but now he’s focusing on the programme as a whole and believes that it will produce the goods across the board.
He said: “I’ve been doing this role as a dual role for the last three years, but now I’ve taken the role (head of academy coaching) on predominately, to make sure I can do it as well as I can.
“Darren Molloy is moving on to the youth development from U12 - U16 and now I’m the head of coaching, which involves working with the other coaches individually, helping their development and making sure that the coaching programme is working to its best.
“I’ve been working with the U16s and we’ve been focused on producing as many scholars as we can - which we’ve done a really good job of - but now I’m in a job where I can oversee the U9 to U16 programme, and see how it’s working on a daily basis.
“Instead of me coaching, then getting people to cover my sessions, I can be more hands on with it all the way through, working with coaches, and players to make sure that the development of the players is in line with our philosophy and ensuring everything is working as effectively as it can.”
With the likes of Rowley and Wakefield working their way through the academy ranks, Whitehouse is confident that the bar can be raised higher, with more players working their way through the system.
“Our ambition is to be the best Category Three academy in the region if not the country,” he explained. “Last year our U16s got to the semi-finals of the regional national competition which shows that we’re doing good things.
“The hope is that we become an academy that people look at and think ‘wow, they’re doing something really good,’ in a similar way to MK Dons and the players like Dele Ali coming through there, we want to do the same thing.
“We’re a club that should be using youth as its model and promoting it, hopefully those players don’t just come in through the first team here and succeed but move on and find success at higher levels.
“Last season was brilliant and I think it’s showing that every season we’ve got better.
“In all of the tournaments and festivals we’ve been to, we’ve done really well, so it shows that from when I first came in in 2013 to where we are now, it’s a completely different academy: we’ve professionalised it, our standards have risen and in our opinion we are one of the best in the region – if not the best – and these tournaments have shown that we have some really talented players, playing some good football.”
So apart from producing more future first-team players, what would the head of academy coaching like to see continue?
“We’re really good at what we do, we like to promote the idea of team play we want to produce some good individuals but we want a good atmosphere,” Whitehouse said.
“We talk about Chesterfield being a family club, a part of the community so we want to replicate that in our academy as well.
“There’s a nice, tight-knit feel about it and a closeness, and we do hear from the players how well they enjoy the environment we have compared to other places.
“That’s not to say what they’re doing is wrong, but it means that our ethos is coming through quite well, so it’s a lot about positive coaching, a positive environment that players can enjoy and also our standards are high - we have to make sure they know what’s expected of them.”
The academy’s success of course is down to a huge team effort and Whitehouse was quick to praise the work of his colleagues.
He added: “The recruitment team has done brilliantly in bringing players in and our programme is really helping those players progress.
“I almost see my fifth year as the start of everything because we’ve laid down the foundations, and now it’s about pushing it on more.
“We’ve got great staff and new ideas coming in, so I feel like we’re in a position to push our standards up yet again, so hopefully this year will be even better than last year.”