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ACADEMY: Offering a real pathway

17 February 2015

Dempsey and Symington visit Whitehaven Development Centre

Carlisle United’s blossoming Whitehaven Development Centre received a surprise VIP visit from first team players Kyle Dempsey and Dave Symington last Monday evening as the pair popped in to the Copeland Indoor Bowls and Sports Centre to say hello to the current crop of under-8 and under-9 hopefuls.

Dempsey and Symington, both graduates of the Carlisle United Centre of Excellence system, volunteered their services for the 90-minute training session which gave them the opportunity to talk to the boys about their own experiences of academy football.

“This is how it started for us,” Dempsey said. “It’s great to see how hard these boys work and I think they all took it on board when we reminded them that we were in the same position as they are now a relatively short time ago.”

“It’s great to see the Development Centre in action,” Symington said. “This takes the club into new areas of the county and opens up an opportunity for kids who might not have otherwise been given a chance. They’ve enjoyed having us here tonight and, if it inspires them to work just a little bit harder, it’s been even more worthwhile.”

Now into its third year, the Whitehaven Development Centre boasts a 30% success rate of players who go forward for trial with the Carlisle United academy progressing to sign for one of the Foundation Phase age groups.

“We are a satellite to the main academy and we do look for players we can push through the system,” academy coach Ben Benson explained. “As we all know, we’re now also seeing success with players going all the way through the age groups and on into the first team. That’s massive for the academy coaches because it reaffirms the message that we’re offering players an opportunity, and a real pathway, if they’re good enough.

“West Cumbria has been a hotbed of talent over the years and the most recent examples are Patrick Brough [Silloth], Kyle Dempsey [Maryport] and Dave Symington [Workington]. They’ve all come through the ranks and gone on to make first team appearances.”

“With these young lads, we try to have a theme for every week and the Development Centre is a six-week programme,” he said. “Week one is always sending and receiving, and it builds up to week six where we do finishing practice.

“For this session we will play some internal games by mixing our U8s and U9s, and the lads always enjoy that. We try to add a few little challenges and tweaks in there as well. It’s all very structured and the terminology we use is that it is an academy away from an academy. 

“That was the whole reason behind setting up the Development Centre because we want to give the players academy style coaching with academy style staff. We wanted to do that within an environment they are comfortable with, so that we don’t lose the fun and enjoyment element that goes with it.”

On how the programme is funded, he said: “We initially set this up just over two years ago and it was funded by parents at that stage. The boys came along in whatever kit they had and that meant you’d see them in everything from Manchester United to Newcastle United and Chelsea strips. 

“We now run it in 18 week blocks, which we split into six week chunks. We’re always looking for sponsorship and this is a fantastic opportunity for a company or individual to come in and support an initiative which has a proven track record. We want to make this programme even more effective but, as with everything, we need the resources to do that. That’s why we are so grateful for the sponsorship we’ve had to date.”

The growth of the Whitehaven Development Centre has been helped this season by sponsorship from the Carlisle United Business Club. 

“Thanks to help from the club, and sponsorship from the Business Club, we have come on a long way,” Benson said. “The boys now wear club shirts, with a sponsor logo on it, and it has created a much more professional environment. I can’t begin to explain how important the sponsorship is for us and the fact it came from the Carlisle United Business Club shows the club wants to support youth development, and that’s vital.” 

Business Club member Steve Balmer, from David Allen Wealth Management, said: “The Business Club wanted to back this scheme because Carlisle United is more than a Carlisle based club. It represents the whole of Cumbria. It’s fabulous to be able to see these young lads getting such a high level of guidance and coaching and we’re proud to be part of it.”

Steve Coyles, from Prism Financial Advice, said: “It’s fabulous to see these young lads enjoying the benefits of working with the Development Centre. It’s lovely to see Dave and Kyle here because they’ve been through this for real. It shows the young players that it can be done and, who knows, one day a couple of them could go on to do exactly the same thing.”

And on the success of the Carlisle United Business Club initiative, Garry Smith, from Thomas Graham, said: “It was a slow starter but, now that it’s got going, it’s excellent. If you think about the businesses in Carlisle, we’re all doing our own thing and we’re all independent of each other. 

“The Business Club brings us together, gives us an effective way of networking and opens your eyes to the fact we’re all facing similar challenges. As well as that, we’ve been invited to listen to some fantastic speakers who have raised some excellent issues and points for us to consider. 

“It’s brought the business community together and, now with the sponsorship of the Development Centre, it’s provided a way of helping us to bring the Cumbrian community together as well.”

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