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Trusting in Youth - The Manorcroft Way

As the senior section season comes to a frantic finish we caught up with 1st team and youth team manager Leon Turner to discuss the season so far, from an unsettled pre-season to a difficult start through to light at the end of the tunnel the gaffer reflects ahead of 11 games in 5 weeks.

"Its been one of the toughest starts to the season I think I have ever experienced here and that takes into consideration when we started the team with no players all them years ago! To have 12 players, most of whom were first team players decide to stop playing or leave for pastures new including our captain left us with an incredible uphill task to get through. Credit to the management team, we worked really hard to recruit and we were fortunate to bring in Kuda as an experienced number 9. The irony was that last season we had a great defensive record but struggled to score and then as we headed into the season we turned into Kevin Keegan's Newcastle, basically needing to outscore every team we came across. Of course we were also left with a situation of having to bring in and promote a number of young players, something that we have never been scared to do."

Both the 1st team and Youth team started fairly slowly with both teams having an unnerving knack of giving away goals even when on top of games although the Youth Team despite having far less games turned the corner quickly and its fair to say through October, November, December and January the two teams had hugely contrasting results.

"The hardest thing for the management teams to analyse has been the contrast in mid season form. Essentially both teams are set up to play the same football but because of the difference in football from the teams they play it was a huge effort to dissect the good the bad and the ugly from what we were asking the players to do. Its been a huge test of all the experience and coaching qualifications we hold as a management group and both groups have certainly earned their stripes. For me personally I try to manage in a way of always believing and trusting my players, that has at times proved to be a downfall because I have ultimately made wrong decisions. That's not aimed at saying players that played are to blame, more that at times I feel I've almost set them up to fail at times and that's something I have really focused on for my own personal development through the year, all the players that play for me and the management teams know that we will own anything we think we got wrong, its important players know when you feel you have made a mistake because ultimately we are quick enough as coaches to tell them when we think they have. With the Youth Team I am convinced the excellent attendance at training and the fact we were able to work 11v11 in training most weeks certainly helped us fine tune players individually but importantly to fine tune the understanding of the principles both in and out of possession. This is a luxury we really struggled with in terms of the 1st team and its my opinion as to why the development of both teams has been hugely contrasting."

The Youth Team have been on somewhat of a mid season break with weather and fixture scheduling meaning no game since February whilst the 1st team have made huge strides forward winning 3 of the last 4 drawing the other.

"We have changed our training time for the 1st team and that has reaped rewards, we now have better opportunities to play 11v11 at training and we are beginning to have the opportunity of fine tuning some of the things that weren't working. We have changed what we do defensively to better suit the league we are in and that has definitely had a positive impact. Again that was a challenge for the management team and one we were probably to slow to pick up on. In our defence as a management group its sometimes hard to work out what is going wrong when you have to keep changing the starting 11 and not having challenging training sessions due to low numbers, you become blinded by the fact we were missing this player or that player. Credit to the group because they have been much more consistent in availability and attendance to training and ultimately credit to them, many are young lads 21 or younger and they have had to grow up fast. It shouldn't be underestimated the impact of team morale and bonding, its something we have worked on really hard in the background and again the dressing room is a really good place to be these days, everyone has a voice, importantly everyone is having an input and I have to say we have slowly rekindled the Lemon spirit which has been missing for a few years."

This season has seen 8 current youth team players make appearances, many of them regularly and the squad is made up of a large amount of 'home grown' talent. 26 players used this season are current youth team players of former juniors and on Saturday 30th March away at AFC Spelthorne 9 of the match day 15 players involved were 'home grown'.

"The club's ethos is to Unite, Develop & Progress and so its important that the senior management and senior sides reflect this. As a grassroots club we have two responsibilities in my eyes. 1- to help develop players to the best of their ability, ultimately if we can help produce a pro then that's amazing. 2- Perhaps a more realistic and far more important role for us as a club is to help players develop to be the best they can be and then provide a platform for them to showcase their talent and enjoy their football. We have an incredible senior section management team that watches junior games across the age groups and we identify players we think will progress all the time. We have under 15's currently playing that we are working to help develop with a view to them progressing into the Youth team and ultimately the 1st team. I guess its a huge benefit to the youth team players that so many of the 1st team management are involved with running the youth team. We see first hand the talent they have and Darren and I across a number of years and now the larger management group including Ross, Jonas & Dave have always trusted the younger players to come in and do a job. The youth team is no different, school boy and 1st year players have the same opportunity to get into the side and the youth team is made up of many first years again many coming through last years under 16's."

With the weather causing carnage to the fixture schedule the senior management now faces 11 games in 5 weeks across both sides which for volunteers shouldn't be underestimated.

"The next few weeks will certainly be a test for both management and players, for the youth team players that are regularly involved in the 1st team we will have to manage their minutes and this of course will open opportunities for others which can only be a positive thing for the overall development of the squads. Inevitably injuries and work commitments will throw some curve balls at selection for both teams and so we will have to work through these as they arise. I think the management feel with both sides that we now have all the pieces in place that we need to have a combined push in both leagues to finish as high as we possibly can. The youth team have an outside chance of winning the league and so we will have to balance the need for those that ready to play in the first team with their importance to the youth team and so this is always a challenge for the coaches, but one we relish. After a lowly finish last year and after the start to the season we had if we can push for top six with the first team then that generally will reflect on the improvement we feel we have made. The important thing first team wise is to keep the squad we have now and really look to push on next year, something right now I feel we can do."

Finally the atmosphere for both teams has been amazing both home and away, in no small part due to the 'ultras'.

"The core fan base we have picked up over the past few years have been amazing, they really push the boys on in games and generally that comes from how tight knit the junior section is. We have a responsibility in the senior section to engage, excite and inspire the younger generations and we are trying really hard to do that. I would like to thank all the fans for their amazing support and I must thank the amazing management teams I work with across the two sides, anything achieved would not be possible without Darren, Jonas, Ross, Dave Oscar and Will. We will work hard to finish the season strong with both sides that's for sure. #COYL"

Keep up to date with senior section fixtures via the club's socials and via the team website pages.

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