Jason Wilcox on Developing Youth Players Into Professionals and the Value of a Great Tournament
What is the most important attribute to be a successful coach? According to Man City Academy Director Jason Wilcox, it is empathy.
A highly respected coach, the former Blackburn winger Jason Wilcox was appointed as Manchester City’s Academy Director in 2017. Prior to taking over the prestigious Academy, Wilcox coached the Manchester City U18’s.
Youth Soccer News: Jason Wilcox is the director of one of the world’s most acclaimed youth academies. Wilcox is Manchester City’s Academy Director, and he is responsible for developing professional players for the club’s first team, Manchester City FC — a team that is on top of the English Premier League.
Wilcox is a former professional footballer who joined the Blackburn Rovers at 16-years-old and played in over 300 games, scoring 33 goals. With years of experience on both sides of the white line — as a player and as a coach — Wilcox knows what it takes to develop world-class players.
Read: #MANCITYCUP RETURNS TO SAN DIEGO FOR A FIFTH YEAR and JASON WILCOX ON MAN CITY’S ACADEMY AND DEVELOPING PLAYERS
SoccerToday interview with Manchester City’s Academy Director Jason Wilcox
Diane Scavuzzo: What is new at the Manchester City Academy? How is the season going?
Jason Wilcox: We’re in a pretty good place at the moment, especially as we are not solely focused on teams winning.
Whilst winning is really, really important, it is the individual development of our players which has more emphasis.
For us, success means developing a boy who becomes a pro.
In terms of team success, we’ve had relatively good success, national winners at various age groups.
We’ve had academy players making 13 debuts, and we’ve sold 18-year-old Rabbi Matondo to Schalke. And, we’ve launched a new Performance Lifestyle and Player Support program. So, overall I’m really pleased.
Diane Scavuzzo: When do you focus on winning?
Jason Wilcox: There’s a lot more to success than just winning the U18 league.
We have been looking at how we recognize success —
It is important for our teams to try and win at important times, but the games go on. We’re never going to win the U23 league because our players are two or three years younger than everybody else.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you see your role as developing players for the first team?
Jason Wilcox: Yes, it is developing players of value.
We want everybody who comes through our academy, certainly from the age of 16 onwards, to have a career.
That is just as important as developing a first-team player because we need to be the academy of choice for lots of reasons.
What is important are our players developing into professionals.
Diane Scavuzzo: Manchester City is bringing a team to compete in the upcoming Nexen Manchester City Cup’s International Super Group. Can you tell me why this is an important youth tournament for your youth players?
Jason Wilcox: Competing in the Man City Cup is important for lots of reasons. It gives our boys the opportunity to play in a different country and demonstrate their skills in a top football environment.
#ManCityCup is an exciting opportunity for our players.
It also allows the boys to gain independence, not being around their parents all the time and this experience allows them to see the staff in a different light.
The relationships between our staff and players normally grow in these situations — I think sometimes our staff views them as players only, but behind the player is a person.
Diane Scavuzzo: A kid …
Jason Wilcox: Yes, a child. It is important that we see the person before the player.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do your players think their peers in America are serious competition?
Jason Wilcox: I can only speak on the experience of what I’m seeing in MLS— at the senior level — and also the experiences from our boys in the last three years. Yes, we know the competition at the Nexen Manchester City Cup is serious. And the sport’s gathering momentum in the American market.
The level of competition is really, really high in the USA.
So our boys have found it a real challenge, certainly like you say in the last two or three years that we’ve been over there. Our boys know that when we go to a tournament that we want to win, so are looking forward to the results this year.
Diane Scavuzzo: How competitive is the Manchester City Academy? I would assume that you have hundreds of players trying to get into your academy.
Jason Wilcox: It is extremely competitive. I’d like to think that every boy in the North West wants to come to the Manchester City Academy.
We create a safe environment for the children to express themselves. That’s something that’s really important to me. It’s extremely competitive, but we have development groups, we have development centers.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is the most important criteria for a successful coach?
Jason Wilcox: Empathy.
To have the capability of connecting with a child is a gift.
This is something that I’m always looking for in coaches, and in our staff. They’ve got to enjoy being around children and have empathy.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is the most important attribute of a successful U19’s coach? Is it still empathy?
Jason Wilcox: Yes. Absolutely. There are various attributes that a coach needs to reach a high level and one is empathy.
You can have all the knowledge in the world, but if you can’t connect with people then I’m sorry but you’re not going to be successful.
A coach has to connect with a player to have the ability to transfer knowledge.
I think one of my biggest strengths as a coach was connecting with my players. You know, in terms of getting them to understand exactly what I wanted and how I can help them become better.
Diane Scavuzzo: If you were on the field at Manchester City and you could whisper into the ears of one of your Academy team’s starting eleven, what would you tell them?
Jason Wilcox: Work hard, listen, and enjoy it.
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