Derby County Football Club Women

F.I.T Mentality key to Under 14’s Season so far

Today we look to our Under 14 side who are playing their first season in the Central Warwickshire Girls League and are learning their craft with a particular emphasis on FIT, broken down by Fitness, Intensity and Teamwork.

We spoke with Derby County Women Academy Director Dave Cholerton who gives an overview of the U14’s this season before speaking to Coach Matt Wheatcroft, looking back at the season to date and talk progress and what is to come.


The season began on a positive note for the Under 14’s as they played a strong Hilton Harriers side in the Cup Final, emerging with a victory in a game that was re-arranged from last season and for Academy Director Dave Cholerton, this has proved to be a catalyst for the season.

Cholerton said “The u14 opened their season with a cup final that should have been played last season and subsequently began their league campaign with their first season in the Warwickshire League picking up where they left off.

“This team play with great intensity and we’re really pleased their development in the first part of the season and the challenges they are facing on a regular basis are giving the girls the development they will need and putting them ahead of the curve.”

“I think this squad have many of the attributes you are hoping to see in players and they will be one to watch for the future of the club if they continue their upward path. I think the mantra they have and is worked on by the coaches has given the girls a very good start this season.”

Speaking to DCFCW Media, Coach Matt Wheatcroft looked back to that Cup Final Win at the start of the season as pivitol.

Wheatcroft said “The cup final was our first game of the new season after being in lockdown for months. In all fairness to the Derbyshire Girls Football League they announced early into the first lockdown that they would still play out the cup finals and gave all the teams still involved in the cup a light at the end of the tunnel during the first lockdown and something to focus on and work hard towards.

“We knew we had the fitness side of the game covered, but with it being our first game in months, it was also clear none of the girls from either team was going to be match sharp. Before the game it felt different because we had not played for so long and suddenly, we had a cup final to play. 

“You could tell the girls was excited, a big crowd had gathered to watch, and you could tell they were nervous and normally this is not an issue for us. The game was to played against a really good and competitive Hilton Harriers who are a year older than us, so they had some big, strong & fast girls in their team.

“Early on, we didn’t really get going and we gave Hilton an early lead which gave them a clear boost to their team moral and we helped them settle their nerves quickly.We managed to get a goal back within 5 minutes to level for 1-1 and this helped ease the Derby nerves a little.

“However, no sooner had we got the goal back we conceded another scrappy goal and Hilton and we went 2-1 down. Again, you could see Hilton grow in confidence and they started to boss the game somewhat and this continued most of the way through the first half. We had number of chances to equalise but could not get the rub of the green to get that much needed goal.

“We got the equaliser and our heads went back up and the game changed in an instant. We settled and take hold of the game in the way we normally play football, and it was like the switch has been turned on for us and we managed to go into the break 5-2 up.

“An early goal for Hilton in the second-half could have changed the game once again but for me as a coach, the attitude of the girls at this stage was brilliant and Credit to the girls they knew this was a good goal and not much anyone could have done about it, and it never phased them once.

“Our girls had their game face on, and it was game on and you could see the Derby team was not going to be give up and our fitness started to show as we came into our own in the second half making the final score 11-4 to Derby.

“However, for the first game back in months we could not have asked any more of the girls, we knew we was not ever going to be 100% perfect, certainly not match sharp and mistakes would happen and this was no different for Hilton as well. However, it was clear our girls shown great character make sure this game was never in doubt.”

Wheatcroft is also a big believer in the ethos they are trying to set across the squad and ensuring that they play as a team, go above and beyond with their fitness which allows them to play at a high intensity has ensure that there 1st season in a new league has so far gone to plan.

“As a team we have a great bunch of girls and I can honestly say they all get on so well and I think this makes a big difference. We have a sense of togetherness; we have no ego’s and we simply play for and each other – we certainly are a TEAM.

“Likewise, and I will say this for the record we have a fantastic set of parents and because there is no ego’s in this team not only do all the players get on, but so do the parents. Having personally been around grassroots football for many years, this does make a massive difference and from my point of view as a coach makes life a hell of a lot easier to just worry about the football and the players needs only.

“Starting this season has been tough and strange because of lockdown, pre-season when we came out of the first lockdown consisted of staying initially in small bubbles which is hard when you are trying to coach an entire team and then some normality came eventually in terms of getting back together as a group and this gave us about 5 weeks to get the girls in shape before the start of the new season.

“Fitness is key when it comes to football and if the players can get around the pitch for the entire game it makes football much easier to play, understand and coach.

“As Dave has already mentioned our teams plays with great intensity and this simply because we train how we play in a match and it is nonstop football for the girls in training. We do demand a lot from he girls in the training sessions as a coaching team, but this pays dividend later and it’s clear our players and parents buy in to why we do this and it’s clear benefits this brings come match day.

“Our style of coaching is to let the team keep the ball rolling as much as possible, basic, and simple instructions initially and get them having a go. Some players will pick it up first time and others it takes longer to understand what we want from them. This is normal and just how different players learn the game.

“However, what we try to do is speak to the team as individuals during the training session to ensure they individually get the help they need to improve their own game and make the session better for the team.

“Likewise, we talk to them in units for example goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders, wingers and attackers. This allows the training session to flow, we aren’t stopping the entire game to address everyone all the time which only slows the session down and makes the players who are getting it bored, so we try to avoid this. The feedback we do offer is targeted and the information we feedback to certain players we keep informative, simple and concise. 

“This allows the team to know the style of play we are looking to achieve, they know their roles as a unit and more so as individuals and to me this is the reason why we have had a great start to the season.

“We talk to the girls like adults, it’s clear they are turning into women now and they are all intelligent people, so we treat them with respect. We like to have fun and the banter will always flow, but the players know when it’s time to switch on and either listen or get stuck in and on with the training session. 

“We don’t treat these players like kids and just keep telling them what to do, we like them to figure it out for themselves, have a go and then we try to step in to help and give advice on how they can improve themselves and in all fairness they either know the answer themselves when asked or they need a bit of help to get to the right answer and they are away themselves.

“This helps the players to understand the game better, what is expected of them individually, as a unit and as a team. They know their own jobs and they know what we expect of their teammates so they can play better as a team as a result. 

“Our girls are extremely fit because we demand game conditions and intensity within the training sessions and as mentioned the ball pretty much never stops. Don’t get me wrong we aren’t perfect all the time, far from it and sometimes we do have to stop as a group and talk it through and start again, but we do try to keep it simple as mentioned.

“If the girls don’t get the drill, style of play or tactics we are trying to put in place, we don’t just give up we keep doing it week after week until they get it. The girls know this, and they know it’s in their interest to get it right so we can move on.

“Football is a very simple game, if you make it so and fitness is the first key to keeping it simple and second is a clear understanding of what is expected in the first place.”