What’s the worst that can happen?
Risk is one of the many excuses for failing to grant opportunities to young players in the first team. With ever increasing stakes, coaches often prefer the perceived reliability of experience at the expense of blocking the talent pathway. With average tenure hovering a little over 12 months, coaches are naturally inclined to focus on the short term often at the expense of granting opportunities to young prospects.
There are two things here. The first is the misconception that playing youth players is a material risk. The data suggests that when teams have given greater opportunities to youth players, the impact on results has been negligible on average. In other words, giving youth a chance is not correlated – positively or negatively – with success. Reducing the perception of risk is one way to unblock the pathway to the first team.
The second is around impetus. Clubs that successfully create an environment where coaches are either empowered, encouraged or forced to give the kids a chance are well-placed to successfully develop their own future stars. This doesn’t mean that you can simply play any young player at any old time, but through taking a strategic approach to creating opportunity, we can give ourselves a better chance of success. This may be through cultural change, positive incentives that reward coaches for playing young players or enforced restrictions, such as limiting squad sizes for example.
Schalke in 2010-11 (highlighted above) are one of a number of examples of successfully integrating youth players into the first team. Players like Julian Draxler, Joel Matip, Lewis Holtby and Kyriakos Papadopoulos helped the club climb from 14th in 2010-11 to 3rd in 2011-12. This is not to say that these players were the reason for climbing the table – there were likely a number of factors at play – but playing them certainly didn’t hinder Schalke’s performance.
With the relative cost of developed rather than acquired talent, the rewards are there for clubs who have young talent and the impetus to grant them an opportunity.