Wimbledon want their young players to know there is more to life than football

Wimbledon are encouraging more clubs to develop young players with skills “larger than football”.

As part of UK Coaching Week, the Sky Bet League Two club’s academy are working with UK Coaching to develop players on and off the field by helping to shape individuals holistically, away from the game.

There are estimated to be around 10,000 young footballers who play football at academy level but only a handful of those make it into the professional game.

Wimbledon academy manager Michael Hamilton told the PA news agency: “If they are lucky enough to be a footballer, excellent. But football careers are very short careers so we try and give them the tools that help them go and succeed with important life skills.

Wimbledon academy manager Michael Hamilton highlights the importance of holistic style of coaching (AFC Wimbledon)

“The rewards and success is going to be huge, being a professional footballer. So many are chasing that goal, however the numbers who want to become pro footballers are in their millions.”

The London club use different development programmes to ensure players are ready for more in life than just football, including matches which empower the players to lead themselves. A practical ‘camp’ is also held for young players to learn key life skills like cooking, cleaning and how to manage themselves independently.

Wimbledon are teaching players with skills away from the pitch (AFC Wimbledon)

“I remember taking the 18s once and we were losing at half-time. I went in to the dressing room and the boys said ‘Michael can you leave?’.

“I went downstairs after 10 minutes and they’ve written what went wrong, what they need to do next, what is unacceptable. That, to me, is the most powerful thing because it is a life skill.

“We have a development award which is named after one of our founders of the academy, Nigel Higgs, basically embracing and rewarding trainers for everything apart from football.”

Former Manchester City youngster Jeremy Wisten died in 2020 after being released by the club following a battle with a knee injury.

Manchester City v Bayern Munich – UEFA Champions League – Quarter Final – First Leg – Etihad Stadium
Former Manchester City youngster Jeremy Wisten took his own life in 2020 after being released following a battle with a knee injury (Nick Potts/PA)

Hamilton added: “Very sad. I don’t shy away from the fact and we are very realistic with the boys – that’s why we feel our values are so important.

“I want everyone to become professional footballers but my job is to give you the best development programme, knowing you are loved. Hopefully by the end of it, it all works out, realise your dream. If you don’t, and there’s a high chance it won’t, it’s not personal.

“Very few boys or very few parents sit there and go ‘I think you’re right, my boy isn’t good enough’. 99% of them say ‘you’ve got this wrong’ and that’s fine, we want them to think that, and prove us wrong.

“They see Kobbie Mainoo at 18 playing in the Premier League, they see those types of stories and want to become those next ones.”

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