Mark Birch smiles as he is reminded that, of all the under-18 players he will be working with at Carlisle United next season, there is one in particular he knows fairly well.

“It was just before it came out in the paper that we decided to tell him,” says the coach, recalling a conversation about his new job with son Charlie, one of the aspiring teenagers in the Blues’ youth set-up.

“He just shook his head, and said, ‘I’m gonna get some stick about this!’”

Birch, the former Blues defender, has risen through the club’s academy ranks to become second in command this summer, promoted to work alongside the returning Eric Kinder. He takes a measured view of the fact he will be, as well as steering the best of United’s youth, also now be working directly with his own flesh and blood.

“At the end of the day, it’s his career,” he says of Charlie, a promising left-sided player who was on the first-team bench last season. “I had my career. Whatever he wants to achieve is solely down to him.

“As his father, you’ll always be proud of him, and I can guide him, like I will any other player. But what I can’t say is, ‘You’ve got to do this…’ Young players have got to want to do it themselves and that’s the way I look at it with Charlie as well.

“To be fair, he’s his own person, and doesn’t rely on me to make him work hard. He knows what he’s got to do.”

Birch will also be motivated to succeed in his new role. The close-season changes at United’s youth department, seeing the departure of academy boss Darren Edmondson, the recruitment of Kinder in his place, and Gavin Skelton leaving his under-18 post to become first-team assistant manager created a route for Birch to step up.

Having worked with the academy for eight years, most recently as foundation lead phase coach, the 42-year-old was invited to make this latest career move. It will see Birch assume Skelton’s role, official title ‘professional development phase coach’ – in old money, trying to see Carlisle’s home-grown players through the last stage of their scholarship, and for some of them to professional, first-team status.

It is a department which, recently, has produced the Leeds-bound Liam McCarron and Jarrad Branthwaite, with Keighran Kerr and Josh Dixon also new pros: examples, Birch says, for others. “Any kids in the academy now can relate to Liam and Jarrad,” he says, “because it wasn’t long ago that they were training on the same area as them, up at Caldew [School in Dalston]. Hopefully kids will look at them and think, ‘I could have an opportunity here. The next one could be me’.

“That’s what you want. Players seeing that end goal, that it’s possible.”

United have to stress this as much as they can in an ever more difficult era for youth development at their level. The Elite Player Performance Plan has removed some of the barriers to big clubs taking young talent. More teenagers are being signed and placed in heavily-stocked ‘development squads’, instead of progressing through their local sides.

Birch sees this as a challenge United must approach with a positive face. “It’s healthy competition,” he says. “It just makes us have to be better at what we do. We can’t sit back and think we’ve got a divine right to sign [players] – we have to make our product as good as what the big clubs have got.

“We can’t throw loads of kit at them, or top-quality Category One facilities [United’s academy is rated Category Three], but we can do the best we can, give them good coaching and make them feel part of the club.

“Over the last couple of years we’ve won a lot of battles with the bigger clubs.”

It comes down, Birch adds, to perception, and opportunity. “With a club like Carlisle, the pathway from academy football to first-team level is relatively short,” he says, perhaps thinking of McCarron, who was in the side at 17 last season and made 20 appearances.

“If it’s one of the bigger clubs, you get to under-18s, then you’ve got under-23s, then at some clubs you’ve got to break into the first team with what are world-class players. At Carlisle, if you discipline yourself well enough and prepare properly, and you’ve got that bit of ability as well, the pathway is relatively short, and hopefully we could be the kind of club that give young players that opportunity.”

Birch himself got his opportunity at Carlisle at the start of the millennium, a £10,000 signing from Northwich Victoria in 2000: a rare transfer fee paid during a troubled period in United's late-Knighton years. He made more than 100 first-team appearances in defence, a committed player under a diverse pair of managers – Ian Atkins, Roddy Collins – before a five-year spell at Gretna, and then some non-league days.

Carlisle clearly exerted a pull on the Staffordshire native. “When I moved up [to live] here in 2001, with a two-year contract, I was thinking, ‘I’ll be back in Stoke before I know it’,” he says. “Now I’m sitting here 18 years later, taking up a role that’s a great opportunity for myself. In football when you stand still it’s quite a dangerous thing to do. I think I’m ready for it. Even though you might be doing one job and loving it, you’ve always got to look to progress.”

Kinder officially starts work today, having completed his assistant manager duties at Exeter. As in any senior football department, good teamwork will be essential, as well as the right aspiration.

“The players have to want to do it themselves,” Birch says. “As much as coaches can help them, you want players coming in hungry to reach their own goals. It’s a group [of under-18s] I know a lot about, having watched them come all the way through the academy from under-10s onwards. In the past they have worked hard and they’re gonna have to continue working hard, because nothing’s a given in football.

“They are on the ladder, beneath the first team, and they have to be respectful to everybody and get used to the environment. If you work hard, and have got natural ability, you’ve got a chance. If you think natural ability can take you to the end line…at this level, it’s not gonna get you there.”