Tigers Academy Manager Dave Wilks discusses the importance and success of the Good To Great programme, which sees the club work with schools in Leicestershire and the Tigers region to afford opportunities to current and prospective members of the Under-18 squad on and off the pitch to maximise their development.
They say you should never work with children or animals.
However, in recent seasons, Leicester Tigers have seen the combination of both record three successive Under-18 League titles.
And one of the men at the helm of the club’s Academy programme, Tigers academy manager Dave Wilks, says that a combined effort of many club staff and the strong bonds with Good To Great schools have helped to drive success on the pitch for the Cubs.
The Good To Great programme is a partnership between the Tigers Academy and local schools to help provide support to the highest potential rugby players in the region in the form of strength and conditioning, medical and analysis.
The schools, which include Denstone College, Oakham, Stamford and Langley Schools as well as our AASE partner Brooksby Melton College and, most recently, Uppingham School, offer members of the club’s academy and prospective Tigers a competitive playing programme throughout the autumn term, ahead of the Under-18 League season.
Wilks, who has overseen the club’s three-repeat in the League, says that the mutually-beneficial partnership has played a key role in the successful campaigns.
“The Good To Great programme has only been strengthened in recent seasons and we’re fortunate to have the relationships we do with each of the organisations,” says Wilks.
“While the benefit on the pitch comes in the form of these young men being exposed to a great standard of rugby for their schools or colleges, which only intensifies the competition for places in our Academy side, it’s the opportunities they are afforded off the pitch which have helped them develop too.
“This programme allows them the chance to get a top quality, vast education experience to develop from within.”
And, while Tigers are benefiting from the programme on the pitch, so too are the schools with some of England’s brightest young talents turning out for them in their own competitions.
“The captains and leaders within the schools team are mostly Tigers players, which is great for their development as young men,” Wilks adds.
“Another school we work closely with is Rugby School and this season, their captain and Head Boy were both members of the Tigers Academy.”
Keeping young men on task is no easy feat but, according to Wilks, the sensible and flexible approach of both club and schools allows these potential Leicester stars the best opportunity to prosper – on and off the pitch.
“We are so lucky to have access to the lads twice a week, with the partner schools helping to transport them to Oval Park and our coaches working on a rota to visit them as part of their continuous review and training programmes,” Wilks says.
“But, what is instilled in them early on – from both club and school – is a need to work hard towards finding the right balance and making the most of the chance they have been given.
“We’re fortunate to have this working relationship with each school and these young men are developing well because of it, among the other professional things they are exposed to at Tigers.”
The Tigers Academy are also not content with three back-to-back titles.
Starting next season, the club will implement a revised pathway with changes from Under-14 to Under-18 levels and include new festivals for players to show coaches what they are capable of as prospective Tigers.
There are also plans in place to see a new, regional competition for Under-16 players, a regular Under-17 Tigers Academy side and the introduction of a schools competition which Wilks says “underpins” the hard work going on at the club.
“It’s all part of what we doing and what we want to be able to offer,” he says.
“All of this work underpins the current academy programme, including touring opportunities and the chance to represent Tigers in the Premiership Under-18 League.
“We are also very proud of the fixture each season on offer for these young men at Welford Road, where so many Tigers greats have represented Leicester, and their chance to run out there together.”
And, while enjoyable, success on the pitch is just a jewel in the crown according to Wilks, who says that the development of players and young men to be successful at Tigers is the ultimate goal.
“Ultimately, we want to see as many players as is possible, each season, step up to senior rugby at the club,” says Wilks.
“Their success on the pitch is fantastic for them and creates life-long memories and friendships, but it’s about offering Geordan [Murphy] and his coaching team the best players and people to select from to play for Leicester Tigers.
“The proof is there for any young player in Leicestershire that it can be done from the Tigers Academy to Premiership, European and international honours.
“Manu Tuilagi, Ben and Tom Youngs, George Ford, Dan Cole are just a few of those to do it and their achievements for Leicester and in the game will, hopefully, be emulated in years to come by the young men starting their professional journeys out of the Tigers Academy now and in the future.”