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The Young Generation: How the Chelsea Academy is adapting during the lockdown

In light of social distancing rules and the shutdown of operations at our Cobham training ground, the official Chelsea website takes a look at how our Academy is keeping maintaining contact with players and keeping a focus on development during the coronavirus pandemic.

With over 180 players across 10 different age groups, along with more than 65 full-time staff, the youth development programme at Chelsea is a vast operation. Contact between staff and players is vital so the transfer to a remote way of working has been challenging but has also presented new opportunities.

Before the disperse of the Academy last month, head of youth development Neil Bath addressed staff to highlight the ways in which a high-performing environment could be maintained remotely. Here, we take a look at some of the key areas…

Maintaining fitness from home

The lack of group training at Cobham and weekend fixtures means our young players have had to find other ways to keep active. Coaches have created online homework plans for boys in our Under-9 to Under-13 age groups, where players and parents can download a work sheet containing exercises to complete, all of which are easily done from the safety of their own homes.

The challenges include ball manipulation, juggling tasks, core and dribbling skills to keep players sharp during this period. Short videos of drills easily completed at home have also been made available online and shared with players, encouraging them to keep training using everyday objects such as walls for rebounds, items of clothing as cones, footballs and tennis balls.

For those with still more energy to burn, the Chelsea Challenge daily videos have been useful too.

Jack Christopher, head of Academy sport science and physical fitness, detailed how players in the older age groups are keeping sharp during the isolation period, with only one outdoor exercise per day permitted.

‘We’ve contacted all the players to find out what equipment they have at home and how much space they have to work in,’ explained Christopher. ‘We quickly realised there was quite a big variation in what everyone had so we then had to put together a broad document which we will revisit and revise after two weeks, that has everything from some running-based drills, bike sessions, boxing sessions and gym HIIT sessions.

‘Hopefully with that document we have covered all areas so that the boys can then identify which works best for them with the equipment they have available, rather than us giving them a strict schedule of what to do and when – there’s a little bit more freedom for them to pick and choose.

‘We’ve also given them some specific gym work to maintain the strength and injury prevention exercises they have been doing all season using WhatsApp videos. I have personally filmed one for the boys to recreate and Martin Baker, the youth team physio, has recently posted his attempt.

‘Finally there is a questionnaire we have created which assesses how much work the players have done each day, but it also assesses things such as their mood, sleep and how they feel generally. This is just to keep an eye out for anyone who may not be feeling their best during this period - that way we know when we might need to make specific contact with a player.’

Eating well with a changing diet

It’s inevitable that the diet of some players will change while they are away from Cobham. Whereas usually, players in the older age groups will eat two meals a day at the training ground, they are now either cooking for themselves or eating as part of their household.

Christopher recognises this and briefly explains how the sports science department monitor each player.

‘From a nutrition perspective, as part of our regular player phone calls, we try to make sure players are able to get hold of enough food, he says. ‘As a department, we have given them advice about how to eat well and maintain optimum immune function during this period.

‘We have also been encouraging players to think about how to adjust the types of food they are eating as they won’t be doing as many activities as they would on a normal day in the Academy.’

Communication with parents/players

All lead phase coaches make regular contact with Academy players and parents of their respective age groups via phone or video call, in order to check on their well-being and provide support where necessary.

Bath himself is also in regular contact with those connected to the Academy via newsletters shared by online means or text messaging to those who aren’t online. These have featured ideas from various support departments such as Medical, Psychology, Physical Fitness, Player Care, Education and Coaching. Tips included keeping to a regular schedule as well as paying particular attention to nutrition, exercise, study and sleep.

Staff have been able to communicate online with players and parents through interactive ways using things such as videos, questionnaires and presentations. However, the site is not just limited to heavy communication.

Recently, a video made up of Academy coaches taking part in the ‘stay at home’ social media challenge was posted on the website challenging players of their age groups to take part, which is just one example of the way staff are providing some light relief to players stuck at home.

Home schooling

Although schools across the country have been closed by the UK Government, the Chelsea Academy is still remotely functioning as best as possible in terms of the education provision offered to players.

Google classrooms/sheets containing academic materials have been created and circulated to our Under-16s who are in full-time education and were due to sit GCSE exams this summer prior to exam cancellations.

Non-compulsory online clubs and courses such as film and books clubs, as well as introductory languages lessons in Spanish and French, have been offered. The latter have even been extended to staff who would like to use this time to learn a new language.

Our first-year scholars who are due to sit their exams next summer are continuing their studies through online resources. Meanwhile, older players such as goalkeeper Karlo Ziger are using this period to complete coursework, in this case in a Physical Education qualification.

Players are encouraged to coordinate their education time with Academy tutors themselves to best fit their studies around home training programmes.

Stay high-performing

The key throughout this strange period is for the Academy to remain as high-performing as possible, while also ensuring the health and well-being of players, parents and staff remains the priority.

Staff have been committed to providing a variety of activities and inputs to help players remain physically active and emotionally connected. The bottom line is to keep things as regular as possible, maintaining activity levels, quality sleep, study and social interactions.

The message has been the same as that repeated daily by the Government – by working together and staying connected, these difficult days will pass and the footballs will soon be out at Cobham once again.

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