THEY say that you need 10,000 hours of practice to become a professional sportsman and get to the top of your game, so starting young to clock them up certainly helps.

The commitment of the Dragons Under-18s over the course of the season has been huge, so it was superb to see them reap the rewards when lifting the Regional Age-Grade Championship trophy last week.

The boys prepare physically in the gym and on the field three times a week, and that's just with us in Ystrad Mynach, not including any of the other teams they may be a part of at club or school level.

It is tough and sacrifices have to be made, but it stresses the importance of building an athlete's mental toughness and durability to cope with the demands of professional sport.

It is the job of the academy and coaches to help develop the 'all round pro'.

I've been part of the coaching team along with former Dragons prop Sam Hobbs, academy management Matt O'Brien and James Chapron and Newport High School's Gareth Lewis.

The commitment of the coaches, players and their parents has been massive and it will have felt worth it after beating the Scarlets to stay unbeaten and win the championship with a game to spare.

I think we'd all be honest and admit that when the group first came in last summer we realised that we had a bit of a project on our hands.

I'm not sure they looked like a Championship-winning team early on but all credit to the boys, they are good lads, very coachable and have been like sponges.

They have learnt a lot and it's been amazing to see how they have developed physically and mentally; they are a receptive, mature bunch and have gone from boys into young men.

There is training on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights with the boys having the demands of school and other hobbies to add to the hours of rugby throughout the week.

That's almost the way it has to be now, putting in the time to maximise your development and allowing you to put your hand up.

The boys have made huge strides and I am sure a few of them will be lining up for the Dragons in not so distant future, and hopefully Wales as well.

That commitment has been mirrored by Hobbsy, who is the forwards coach preparing sessions every week while also playing for Merthyr.

This has been a great learning curve for me working with these guys, challenging each other with ideas and philosophies with the aim of providing the best service for the future Dragons, as this is the best business model given the turbulent financial climate that we are in.

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Seeing the likes of James Benjamin, Hallam Amos and Jack Dixon among many that I have coached in previous years go on to represent the Dragons shows that the system can work for those who possess the raw talent and the right attitude.

These are also invaluable years for me too, as it provides a good foundation for understanding and getting my own coaching identity while coming to the end of my career.

It's part of the transition process to educate myself and prepare for the future, although I've got a year or two left in me yet!

I think that we are all mindful that professional sport can be fickle and you never know when it could be your last game, so being proactive is vital.

I've done bits and bobs with the districts, age-grade teams and Newport in the Premiership but over the last year I've learnt so much from watching and working with OB and Chappy, looking at the style of coaching they adopt.

As an attached coach you know your place in the pecking order but it's been good to have a firm role with defence and offer an insight into your specific field.

It's always rewarding to see the results and it's testament how good the boys have been to be seven from seven.

But it's not job complete – there is a final game at RGC this Sunday.

To finish the championship unbeaten would be amazing and hopefully they will have the resilience to finish with a win.

We had a good group last year and lost but fingers crossed this time it will be a more pleasant bus journey back.

I'll be in Italy this weekend rather than up north when we try to get that PRO14 away monkey off our back against Benetton.

They are a team that we can take inspiration from – they have gone from being real strugglers to now being in the play-off spots.

They are a difficult team to beat on their own patch and now pick up wins on the road as well. We have to take a leaf out of their book and be more resilient.

Benetton are a tough team and the challenge is always big up front, but there is more to them than a set piece and they have more offloads than any other team in the league.

Hopefully we can show a bit more ourselves with ball in hand and we can take encouragement from our first try in Edinburgh last week, which was superbly created and finished by Tyler Morgan.

We will need more of that, plus real resilience for the full 80 minutes, to end the away hoodoo.