When it comes to investing in youth, Ipswich Town FC have a long and proud history of punching above their weight. Distinguished alumni include two former England captains (Mick Mills and Terry Butcher), and more recently the likes of Kieron Dyer, Darren Bent, and Connor Wickham, to name but a few.
Their academy maintains a coveted Category One status, awarded only to clubs that meet the highest standards of coaching, training facilities, and player welfare. It’s an outstanding achievement, but they have no intention of resting on their laurels. The club continues to invest heavily in youth, improving their training facilities, and experimenting with new ways to unlock potential.
It was this pursuit of excellence that first brought them to ESA. The coaching team wanted to:
● Engage their young players by introducing a fresh competitive edge to training sessions.
● Give their coaches better tools to communicate ideas, and allow them to set challenges for players that replicate real match situations.
● Accelerate their player’s return from injury, building match fitness without the dangers inherent to full contact training.
We were able to help by introducing them to the ICON. Competing on the preset training programmes like pass maestro, the academy players have been able to benchmark their ability against the rest of the squad. The leaderboard has proved a huge hit, motivating players to get back in and beat their score, before and after training. Meanwhile the coaching team have relished the opportunity to put their player’s technique under the microscope, highlighting weaknesses and suggesting improvements.
Academy chief Lee O'Neill has been delighted with the results:
“It’s totally different to anything we’ve done in the past. We’ve been using the ICON to enhance the coaching programme, in particular the technical development programme. It’s a great way of integrating modern technology into everyday practices. It’s really helped to engage the players' thought process around their technique - passing, receiving, awareness, etc. It’s been really eye opening.”
“Using the ICON they’re able to work on their first touch, their ability to see things over the shoulder, their awareness of what’s around them, their ability to hit a target and their passing skills - they’re all transferable skills to training and the game.”
The coaches have also been getting creative with the ICON set up:
(The panels) can be broken down, taken apart and used independently to produce different drills.... It’s up to the coaches to be creative with it, and find a way of engaging the players that’s a bit different.
The academy team have also been experimenting with using the ICON as a rehabilitation tool, with promising early results:
“We’re experimenting with new ideas around rehabilitation. We have five stages of recovery here, and in particular for stages 4 and 5 we’ve been using the ICON. It’s great for getting a feel of the ball without having to go back into full time training.”
Academy starlet Andre Dozzell (now playing in the Championship at QPR) broke into the first team aged just sixteen, however following some impressive performances and a call up to England youth setup, his fledgling career was dealt a serious blow as he tore his cruciate ligament. Facing a spell on the sidelines, Dozzell was one of the first players to make use of the ICON for rehabilitation:
“It’s been great. Before I got injured I used to use it a lot after training, work on my first touch, reaction times, vision... Years ago an injury like that could end your career, but now there’s so much technology to help us get back to full fitness, and quicker as well.”