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Youth in Sport

These past few weeks have been about making a comeback. None more so than in the Sports I love, Motorsport and Football.

Formula 1 has already welcomed a great back to its grid in the shape of Michael Schumacher, two years ago. Recently Formula 1 welcomed the return of Kimi Raikkonen and Pedro de la Rosa. There are still some unknowns to be answered when it comes to F1’s old boys of Rubens Barrichello and Jarno Trulli.

In Football, Thierry Henry graces the Emirates pitch and Paul Scholes embraces the Theatre of Dreams once again, while Robbie Keane turns up at Aston Villa.

This led me to the question of – why? Why is that we are seeing these older drivers, older players and even retired sportsmen being brought back out of their cosy arm chairs. We live in age where the pinnacle of sport is pushing every boundary possible. That statement I would agree with on a physical level but on a mental level, I think we are just at the tip of the iceberg.

Recently one of England’s most loved and adored Cricketers, Freddie Flintoff, made an incredible documentary on depression in sport. Depression is often looked at in different ways but many people but it’s the person inside us that takes the most convincing. Nobody wants to appear weak or vulnerable in any situation, especially on a sporting and national scale. There is no hiding the fact that when you are a professional sportsman you take on more than just playing the sport you loved as a child. Sports men and women have to overcome a whole raft of pressures that can take its toll and can lead to depression. It is too easy to say just go talk to someone or “man up”. We have to realise that this is fundamental and these people need the support and guidance of all around them.

The youth of today are faced with increasing pressures of gazing media eyes, public interrogation and who is the latest person they are dating. No longer are the days where you can be 18 years old, play in the youth team and progress to the first team without anyone noticing. Young South American starlets are snapped up as early as 14/15 by clubs in Europe with the prospect of being “the next Lionel Messi”.

The same applies in Motorsport. Unless you have a contract when karting, it is very unlikely you are going to progress through the ranks without substantial cash investment behind you. The Motorsport industry is trying to change this philosophy and promote youngsters to just go along and enjoy the sport for what it is, fun.

Week-in, week-out, I often see young protagonists sitting on the bench for top line Football clubs waiting for their chance. Season-by-season I see the lower formula categories with teenagers that have phenomenal speed that could be utilised. So why is it we still have to revert back to the “old guard”?

Sport goes with the nature of modern life, especially in Britain. We have become more conservative and reserved, quicker to protect ourselves than consider others. We live in a culture whereby we make sure number one is looked after first than consider the consequences it may have on others. Formula 1 and Football teams are more likely to protect their investment of millions of pounds, dollars, euros than leave it to some young un-tested hot shot. The investment also needs sustainability and longevity though.

So much so that we look to those that have established themselves in the past to help a club or team to become stable rather than move forward. You are never going to move forward if you are standing still. I for one do not like this outlook. This again reflects society in being selfish and wanting everything now than building youth and consistency for that future. I would prefer to see the youth been given the chance to learn, build and develop. The only way they will learn is by playing or driving regularly so that they become familiar with their surroundings and become better athletes. The pressure put on youngsters to perform so early on is staggering when in reality they are growing as people.

I have no problem with youth being mixed with experience, but there is a difference between experience and retired. Hispania Racing Team (HRT) has recruited Pedro de la Rosa for the 2012 season. On the front it looks like they are trying to mix youth with experience. Vitaly Petrov has just led Renault for the entire year after Kubica’s accident while seeing two different drivers alongside him. Petrov was thrown in at the deep end and I am sure that a years’ experience in being a team leader would have helped him as a driver and a person. Currently Petrov has no drive for 2012 and I find that a shame considering he would be significantly more eager, keen and quicker than de la Rosa and can build with him for the future.

Buemi and Alguersuari have been dropped from Toro Rosso to be replaced by two drivers of a similar age. Both drivers are still in their very early twenties and even with three years’ experience under their belt they are still developing. Personally I would have at least kept Alguersuari who was improving race-by-race at the end of 2011.

In complete contrast we have a club like Barcelona and the driver development system of Nissan. The GT Academy that is run on Gran Turismo 5 for Playstation is an incredible route way in to Motorsport for any youngster. Just this weekend, Nissan had four GT Academy winners in a Nissan GTR at the Dubai 24 hours claiming a podium in class. That is an incredible accomplishment for those young men along with an outstanding commitment from Nissan.

La Masia, the home of young, talented football players of Football Club Barcelona. Nurtured and schooled all in one environment. Brought up with their friends around them playing the game they love and developing from childhood in to adulthood while becoming some of the world’s greatest footballers. Barcelona is a team that took Lionel Messi out of his native land, knowing how tough it would be for a young man. They invested in bringing his entire family to Catalonia along with paying for his growth hormones. Barcelona knew they found someone special and did everything they could to make him feel happy and wanted. Pep Guardiola continues to believe in his youth and just this week fielded players such as Cuenca and Sergi Roberto. The latter scoring two goals in four games and this is a youth player from Barcelona ‘B’.

We live in two very different cultures and they provide with two very different outcomes. But it teams like Barcelona and motor companies like Nissan that make me feel and believe that the sporting youth of our world is not lost and that there are people willing to give youngsters a chance. Unless youth is given a chance how do we expect them to get better and improve? University students walk about with plush degrees but cannot get a job.

Give the youth of today a chance… they may just surprise you.

Follow me on Twitter: Nico888

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