Lead PDP Coach John Bitting reflected on the recent campaign as he discussed the development of MK Dons’ young players, as well as himself as a Head Coach.
MK Dons Under-18s endured a plethora of experience this season, from lifting the EFL Youth Alliance Cup to placing sixth within the EFL Youth Alliance Merit League Two division.
As well as their success whilst under John Bitting, a handful of young Dons were selected to represent other clubs on ‘Work Experience’ terms, which saw the first stint within senior football for many of the young players.
From the Under-18s squad Joel Anker, Tommy Blennerhassett, Charlie Waller, Dani Lucas and Liam Mann all participated within the ‘Work Experience’ journey for their respective clubs. When questioned about these opportunities, the Lead PDP Coach had this to say:
“I think it’s worked really well this year. We realised that getting some of the players out earlier has improved their development, we don’t want them to just be striving and doing really well, we also want them to be stretched and challenged because that’s a part of the accelerated pathway within the club.
“I think it’s been great for our players to start lower and work their way up higher within a senior squad environment. Getting used to not starting every weekend, whereas that’s something that they might be doing whilst with the under-18s.
“If we’re not doing that, we’re not exposing them to different challenges as players, which also gives the younger players a chance to step up and challenge themselves within an older age group. I think it’s been great learning for not just the players, but for us too.”
John Bitting expressed his gratitude to those, who assisted with the development of the young Dons this season “The clubs that have supported us by giving these players those opportunities and experiences has been a massive help, I think that will be something we will build on and work on for the upcoming seasons too.”
Not just the players, but Bitting himself admitted the experienced gained throughout his first full season with the Under-18s, which also saw the coach support the First Team for a short period.
John Bitting was a part of the bench during MK Dons’ Carabao Cup round of 16 clash against Leicester City at Stadium MK, he also supported the team during training sessions throughout the week.
On his own personal development, Bitting said “Having the opportunities to help out with the First Team was excellent for me, it’s not something I’ve experienced often.
“I had the chance to work pitch-side with David Martin alongside the First Team, who made me feel welcome. I was exposed to taking training sessions working with Tom Bromley (Head Strength & Conditioning Coach), to do all of these things has been brilliant for myself.”
Switching focus to the Under-18s squad, the Lead PDP Coach commented “It’s my first full season, a lot of these players I have worked with since they were 12 so to see their journeys and see them grow, not just as players, but as people as well has been excellent.
“Even whilst I was with the First Team, I always had the support from the Academy staff to make sure that the boys were getting what they needed.”
Finally, John shared his perspective on the 2022/23 campaign “From a personal point of view, it’s been challenging, but also fun and exciting. It’s a season that I have been happy with for myself.
“You’ve had Academy players such as Callum Tripp making his debut for the First-Team, Phoenix Scholtz, who was called up to the Northern Ireland Under-18s side, players like Ronnie Sandford getting their Pro Contracts. All these little things are the expectations we have on one another, me, the staff, the players that is what we strive for.
“We want to ensure that the Academy is getting better and better so that we can support the First-Team as much as we possibly can.”