Academy manager Darren Edmondson talked to the official website this week about how much he had learned from his first year as head of United’s youth operation and of the club’s under-18 side.
“I have to say, I've learned a lot about myself,” he said. “Coming into the youth game match day environment was difficult at the start because there isn't a crowd watching you, so the element of the buzz you get from that isn't there.
“Having said that, the buzz you really get from this job is what happened when we got the four lads through the system. Seeing their reactions to getting the contract offers was fantastic and I’m looking forward to seeing how they deal with the opportunity they’ve been given.”
“In terms of the results, we had a great start to the season and we were all thinking it was easy!” he commented. “Reality set in when we picked up so many injuries. Having to change the team every week isn't an excuse, but it did have an impact.
“We had to bring under-16s in who were still at school and that meant we couldn’t work on shape and things like that with them. The middle of the season became a bit of a struggle, being honest, but it was kept alive by the FA Cup games.
I think I'm a little bit wiser in terms of how you push a 17-year-old and I’ve learned that bleating from a dug out isn't the way forward ...
“As much as we took great memories from that it has irritated me a little bit because I probably let one or two players get away with things I probably shouldn't have. I think I'm a little bit wiser in terms of how you push a 17-year-old and I’ve learned that bleating from a dug out isn't the way forward.
“I think the key to the good runs we had at the start and end of the season were simply down to the fact we had an almost clean bill of health. When you have everyone available you’re able to work on the training ground and implement strategies and patterns of play. They're very good at taking that on board and that’s when they reap the rewards.”
Speaking more about the lessons he’s learned from the job at hand, he said: “From my own point of view it's been important to get my head round the fact that the development of lads of this age is done in different ways.
“Everybody learns differently, so it's a bit like teaching. When something goes wrong you have to remain mild and calm and think about the reasons why a 16-year-old might be making that mistake. There's a whole lot more that goes into dealing with it compared to when a 28-year-old who should know better makes the same kind of mistake.
“What I've also learned is that if you're going into youth football you have no option but to work at it. My missus was delighted when I told her I was going back to Carlisle United but I think she thought I would be home a lot more, when it's actually worked the other way!
“You have to go to games on Sunday's to watch and monitor players and coaches but I've had to jump in at the deep end. I don't think I was completely aware of the workload attached to it but four boys smiling round a table when they’ve just been told they’re getting an offer is your reward for the work you have to do.”
Part of the work over the summer and into next season has been to implement a restructuring programme as the Academy looks to push on and challenge itself even more in the coming months.
The arrival of Gavin Skelton as Professional Development Phase Coach and the step up to Head of Academy Coaching for Dave Wilkes has been a major part of that restructuring project.
“I've really enjoyed working with Dave [Wilkes] and Chris [Blake], as well as all of the Academy lads,” Edmondson told us. “Overall there does still need to be some more changes made and we need a few more experienced coaches, if we can get them.
“Dave is moving up to take on a really important role and it’s one I know he’s looking forward to getting his teeth in to. Gav is one of those experienced heads I’ve just spoken about and he’s worked a lot with younger players, and on getting them through at various levels.
“Hopefully it will all come together in the manner we think it will and we’ll find that we’ve got more boys on our hands who are able to progress and develop again. That will be my goal again next year - to help players reach their potential so the manager has some real decisions to make.
“I like this football club and I had a lot of good times here. I want as many young men as possible to get the chance to go through what I went through and to learn as much as I did. If the four we all know about now can get into the first team squad and out onto that pitch then I’ll gain a lot of pleasure from that. It’s been a good collective year but we won't rest on that. We’ll continue to try to improve as much as we can.”