Alex Blane, development centre manager at Oxford United in the Community, explains how the charity’s thriving youth programme helps support its wider ambitions.

The 2022-23 season was a busy year for our Development Centre with over 250 players representing squads from U7s to U16s playing in a formal environment every week.

Of all the provisions we deliver at Oxford United in the Community, the Development Centre is the only programme that operates on an invitation only basis.

Its purpose is to provide boys and girls aged six to 16 the opportunity to train and play in a team environment where they can improve their technical ability and tactical knowledge of the game.

READ MORE: Taxi driver tells of attack

This is achieved via a 36-week term time training programme which players from our skills centre, holiday camps, after school clubs and in-house school tournaments are invited to join.

It’s another example of how we use the power of the Oxford United badge to help people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to develop new skills and connect with like-minded people.

Last season marked new beginnings for the Development Centre as we launched two new squads – U7s boys and U10s girls – to add to our existing operation.

On the pitch, progress made across all squads from our first fixtures during the October half-term to our final games in May was noticeable. To enhance players’ tactical development, we encouraged them to consider how they can implement in-game strategies into their style of play.

Dominating possession, playing through each third and passing out from the back sit within this development bracket. Not only are these strategies applied in the professional game, but it enhances players’ ability to communicate with one another, work together as a team and problem solve in real time.

These are skills which can be applied not only on the pitch but off it too. Personally, it’s been really rewarding to see our squads strengthen the bonds within by applying this new tactical knowledge.

While the Development Centre is primarily there to work with young players who show a genuine enthusiasm to take their ability to the next level, it also serves two other key purposes.

Oxford Mail:

Firstly, once costs are assigned to providing players with the best resources and support to help their development journey, all remaining funds go back into the charity to support our work to inspire happier, healthier and better-connected communities.

Also, we’re committed to enhancing opportunities for our graduates by providing work experience placements, introductory qualifications and mentoring for those interested in learning more about a specific area of our delivery.

READ MORE: Tyres dumped in flytipping incident 

It also helps identify local talent – boys and girls - for recommendation to the Oxford United Academy, meaning the next star players can be identified while raising funds which are reinvested back into our community.

While it’s important we support players’ development on the pitch, it’s equally key to explore how we can help them off it by allowing them to become immersed in our own environment.

This summer it was our pleasure to work with graduates Tommy White, Jess Biggin and Amelia Davis who got stuck in with assisting our Premier League Kicks, Holiday Camp and Development Centre provisions.

They all displayed a real hands-on approach during their time at the charity and wish them every success as they transition into higher education.

While the Development Centre serves its own purpose, it’s a big driver behind our other provisions which are reliant on the support of our key partners, outstanding fundraisers, volunteers and staff.

With September on the horizon, the new Development Centre campaign is almost upon us.

A big thank you must go to our coaches, players and their parents and carers who make our delivery possible.

Help support trusted local news 

Sign up for a digital subscription now: 

As a digital subscriber you will get: 

  • Unlimited access to the Oxford Mail website 
  • Advert-light access 
  • Reader rewards 
  • Full access to our app 

About the author 

Andy is the Trade and Tourism reporter for the Oxford Mail and you can sign up to his newsletters for free here. 

He joined the team more than 20 years ago and he covers community news across Oxfordshire.

His Trade and Tourism newsletter is released every Saturday morning. 

You can also read his weekly Traffic and Transport newsletter.