New Football Academy for 14th graders

Waikato’s best young 13-14 year-old footballers are being offered a unique opportunity within their own province to accelerate development and reach their full potential as footballers.

As part of their brief as Melville United’s new first team and football development coaches, Sam Wilkinson and Michael Mayne are launching a new academy programme at Gower Park, starting in February.

The Melville United Football Academy is designed as an elite programme which will work on the principle of having the best local players training and playing with each other, with the inaugural 2017 intake restricted to the 14th grade age group.

An information evening is scheduled for 7pm, Tuesday, November 29 at the Gower Park clubrooms off Alison St, while the first of three “taster sessions” will start as early as November 4.

Wilkinson, who has worked professionally at West Bromwich Albion in England as U-14 coach and more recently at Birmingham City FC as full time U-16 coach, said entry into the programme would be by selection only, given it was designed for players who have already demonstrated an ability to perform and develop at an advanced level.

“Michael and I will be delivering the coaching element of the academy so we can control the level and the quality,” Wilkinson said.

“As well as addressing tactical development and physical development within a full coaching curriculum, we will be offering individual learning plans, player reports, video analysis, and of course, game days.

“Activities and programmes on the training side will be quite unlike anything else going on in the region.”

The academy will officially start on February 14, with two trainings a week in the first term, but with schedules varying later in the season to allow it to dovetail with players’ federation commitments.

“For us there has to be consistent contact with the players throughout the year, there has to be an end product,” Mayne said.

“In a lot of academies they do one or two sessions a week – but then players go back to a club where a different coach takes the team at the weekend and continuity of the work is lost. This doesn’t happen in top academies.

“That’s where we are different. The boys will train with us twice a week and then we will personally coach them at the weekend.”

Wilkinson said they were eyeing an initial intake of 16 players.

“We will have to be quite selective,” he said. “We are mindful of not diluting the quality of player. We would rather keep it small and keep the ability level high.”

Wilkinson said 14th grade was selected as their academy starting point, because any younger and there were often issues about players committing solely to football.


“Research on early specialisation shows it can often be detrimental, but at an age where boys are starting high school they are ready to make such a commitment and take their development a little more seriously.”

Mayne said the ultimate goal was to cover other age groups.

“We want to fill the youth space at the club with quality but we don’t want to water it down too early. We want to make sure the model and the product we are offering is the best it can be and build on that by 1-2 age groups per year.”

Wilkinson said they were looking to develop players capable of playing professionally and internationally, while also creating a supply line for the club’s first team.

“I know the skill and ability levels of the kids in England from working with them. If Kiwi kids get exposed to the right environment and the right development, there is absolutely no reason why they can’t be successful professionally.

“We hope to replicate what a player may experience if he did go and trial in England or Europe, in nurturing a group who can drive each other on and stretch each other constantly.”

Mayne and Wilkinson will make a full presentation at the information evening, where they will also address the academy cost structure, which works out at less than $10 a session.

Melville chairman Bruce Holloway said the academy initiative was a key consideration in appointing Mayne and Wilkinson.

“In terms of experience and qualifications, you wouldn’t find two coaches with such a background working at the 14-year-old age group level anywhere else in this region,” he said.

Meanwhile players or parents can register their initial interest for the MUFC Academy or other development programmes via the “development’ tab on this website or through this LINK.

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