Matt Smith says his Leicester Tigers Academy squad have been bolstered by an intensive week of military-style pre-season preparations.
A full complement of Academy players accompanied their senior colleagues to the Gibraltar Army Base in Aldershot this week for a number of sessions designed to build team bonds and leadership skills ahead of the 2019/20 Under-18 League campaign.
“It’s been brilliant,” said Tigers Academy head coach Smith. “The big thing we’ve been trying to get out of the guys is making them feel part of the group, and all the leadership stuff has been really beneficial for the lads.
“Some of the quieter lads have really come out of the shells, which has been really good to see, and the tasks have enabled the coaches to see who the natural leaders are in the group.
“Speaking to the instructors, picking up different ideas about leadership and how they’re driving standards; all those little things, it’s good to get out of the rugby bubble and pick a totally different group of peoples’ brains.
“If our guys are going to learn how to play rugby, they need to learn how to lead as well.”
And while the side will be aiming for a third straight title when their league campaign kicks off in December, Smith says developing talent for the first team is the true goal for his set-up.
He continued: “We want to get the Academy and first team a lot more aligned, making the lads feel part of the club and helping them to see the bigger picture.
“Watching the senior backs train out here [in Aldershot], every single back, apart from two of them, have come through the Academy.
“Some of the Academy lads were playing with some of these guys last year, and for them to sit down and watch that, and have that visual experience to show that they can progress, is just brilliant.”
An Academy product himself, 228-appearance Smith recognises the value of homegrown talent as the backbone of a strong senior squad.
“In my experience, that’s when the club has been most successful,” he explained. “It’s nice to see the guys we were working with last year progressing and not looking out of place, driving standards and really stepping it up; it gives you a really good feeling.
“I’m probably getting more out of coaching at the minute than I did from a playing point of view.”
But, watching on from the sidelines in baking heat, does Smith miss pre-season prep?
“I never really enjoyed training, so I can’t say I’m missing being out there at the moment,” he laughed.
“Maybe when the games come around it’ll probably hit home, but some of the fitness stuff – especially the contact sessions – you’ve just got to get through it.
“Anyone that says they enjoy it are probably telling fibs.”