The lack of open amateur sports venues in 2020 has taken its toll on young football players all around the world. But what exactly does this mean for the future of the professional sport?
With phase one of vaccine deployment underway in the UK, and with Canada and Australia hot in pursuit with their rollout programs, it seems we might finally be able to look beyond the masked, hand-sanitised world of now and start thinking once again about the future.
For a lot of people that means looking forward to the return of the realm of sport, which has been a little hard to achieve when even local clubs can barely hold a match without an outbreak.
Athletic teens losing out on their chance
While professional football has been able to go on without an audience thanks in part to lottery funding, school children and teens all over the globe have been unable to frequent their local parks and participate in club practice. With vital training idling the drain amongst the world’s youth, many former footballers and coaches are expressing their concern over the lack of hours on the field and what it means for the next generation of football players.
In an interview with the BBC, Andy Goldie, director of United’s academy expressed his worry for future players, with particular mention to those aged 18-21, stating the “black hole” of players shifting from academies to professional clubs has been striking. Many young athletes have lost the opportunity to start their professional careers as both local and national academies have been required to cut back on both additional teams and travel to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
The Mental Impact
The NHS recently released a study of their findings with young people and mental health, revealing that 2020 has had a major impact on the UK’s youth. Those aged 17-22 were shown to have a dramatic uptick in risk, with 27.2% of young women and 13.3% of young men being identified as having a probable mental disorder. The main cause of stress in young adults has been indicated to be the impact of the novel Coronavirus, with young adults feeling uncertain about the future and what could now be considered the norm in both their education and home life.
Trailing behind where it matters most
By far, one of the hardest-hit youth resources this year has been at the grassroots level, particularly in areas where recreational facilities and events are lacking and sorely needed. As lottery funding and PPE was stepped up to keep the professional world of sport alive, the volunteering side has been hastily thrown together in an almost Papier-mâché style of round the clock crowdfunding, socially distanced organising and often bracing for impact when any governmental announcement came over social media.
Travel restrictions, in particular, have been a major issue, with constraints in place over who can go where and when fewer teams have been able to hold matches further afield. There are also concerns from parents who do not want their child travelling long distances, which impacts on the ability to step up to pro-youth level.
The future of Football as we know it
Tough choices have had to be made throughout the sporting world. When budgets are cut, how do you maintain productivity in an academy? Keeping things at a tight local level makes financial sense, as well as being a huge part of clubs’ identity and place in its community.
While clubs have had to be adaptable, so have kids. Mental resilience is a necessity for a career in football, and this period will certainly have helped to build it. But will the robbery of kids’ time with the ball over the best part of a year prevent the next Billy Gilmour or Robertson emerging?
Those working at clubs and performance schools firmly believe the same volume of talent can break through. But only time will really tell.