Under-18s Coach Jason Dodd is looking forward to getting the new season underway with the latest batch of recruits in the Saints Academy.
The youth side will take part in a newly created Southern Regional section of the Barclays Under-18 Premier League, playing over 30 games in the year ahead, so preparation has been key over the summer months as Dodd attempts to settle eleven new scholars into life at the club both on and off the pitch.
Earlier this week, he took the squad to a team-building event in the New Forest, where the youngsters learned how to work together and familiarise themselves with each other ahead of the new campaign.
Dodd described the activities they took part in: “They’ve been grouped into threes and they’re clipping themselves on and moving themselves across apparatus. They’ve also been climbing to the top and heading balls whilst they’re attached to the rest of the team at the bottom.
“It’s all about teamwork and working together.
“We’ve been joined by Malcolm Frame who’s our psychologist, and he arranged it all. It’s been fantastic for us.
“We’ve been back six weeks now, and we’re working really hard. We start our campaign on Saturday, so this is an ideal time to get out, do a bit of team bonding and get the lads together.”
The team building event followed on the back of the squad’s recent trip to Denmark to partake in the GF Cup – an Under-19 tournament that also proved to be a valuable experience for the boys, as they continue to get to know one another.
“A lot of them were in on the day release programme for two or three days as Under-16s, so they were around us on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays,” Dodd highlighted.
“They’ve been getting used to how we train, but now they’re more or less in the pocket with eight or nine hours a day at the training ground, and some of them live with host families as well as their mates, so they should know each other quite well by now.
“We went to Denmark for seven days which was very tough because we were playing in an Under-19 tournament and we were very young, so it took a lot out of us.
“We won one out of four games, but I think it’s more about character. The lads are getting together, learning how to recover and get ready for the next game etc.
“All in all, it’s been tough because of the fantastic work going on at the training ground, we’ve been based at Brockenhurst College, who we’re very thankful to as the facilities there have been great, but it will be nice to get back to Staplewood to be based there and we can work from.
“We were with them 24/7 so they found out about us and likewise, so, on the whole it’s been good and really now, we’re six and a half weeks in, and we just want the season to start.”
The season begins with a game against Everton this weekend, and the Toffees are an opponent that Dodd knows all about, following last season’s FA Youth Cup exit to them at St Mary’s.
“Fortunately, we made up for our Youth Cup defeat with a 3-0 win later in the season and that avenged what was a poor performance from us particularly at home.
“This time we’re at Staplewood where the pitch is just amazing, so we’re really looking forward to it, though Everton are very strong.
“This week, we had three of our boys playing in the Development Squad under Martin Hunter, who says they’re doing fantastic so it means that other young boys have got to step up to the mark now.
“We know it’s going to be tough, but they’ve worked really hard so far, and we need them to carry that work with them into the game on Saturday.”