Alright, I knew this one might sting a little bit but there's no fixing what nobody is willing to talk about, right? There's probably no fixing this either but there are ways to mitigate the impact. Ways to more efficiently and effectively develop the existing and future potential pro player pool. But it's unlikely for a bunch of reasons. More about that later. Let's pick up where I left off last time.
Okay but what about rosters? Maybe there hasn't been a strong (or even steady) influx of competitive new pro teams but that doesn't mean existing rosters haven't taken advantage of fresh blood. True but in fact it hasn't happened. At World Cup there were six players under the age of 20 rostered on a pro team--including Challengers. There were nine 20 year olds. There are nearly as many pros over 30 as 20 and under combined. The fact is most pro players are in their mid- to late 20's and getting older every year. And that includes the Challengers. That includes pretty much every team you think is some sort of youth movement too like Aftershock. Six of Shock's players are 27 or older. The two youngest are 22 years old. What about the Royalty kids? Only Catt & Hamil at 20 and 19 years of age respectively are under 23 and their roster has two players over 40. Even Vicious when they turned pro only had two teenagers on their roster at that time. (At least according to their current roster.) The inescapable conclusion is that even among the would be Champions the rosters are largely filled with 20-somethings because there are damned few younger pro prospects. And this despite the factoid Xball was supposedly driving the competitive player demo toward a younger and younger player base. So where is that next generation of undeniably talented pro stock?
But age is only an indicator. Looking more closely at the young blood on Champion rosters the majority of them have 2 or more years of pro experience already. That means that either they are contributing now or will soon be replaced (or Daddy owns the team.) That leaves a literal handful of players on rosters in a developmental role and the reality is there are some who won't make it (unless or until the overall level of play begins to decline) and my concern is we are seeing that trend beginning to take hold. [The fact we don't see more young players as rosters continue to age means there aren't equivalent replacement players to be had otherwise they would be getting opportunities because they would be cheaper and have more upside. And it isn't happening.]
Challengers was created (in part) in the hope that by raising the competitive bar that some of the Challengers would develop into legitimate contenders in the Champions. And some of them may yet but their very existence also illustrates the growing breadth and depth of the chasm between the Champions and the best amateurs. With rosters already in a similar age range the Challengers almost certainly are less talented across the board while trying to make up for the experience gap that currently separates them from the Champions. No easy task for the current Challengers but an excellent proving ground for incoming top D1 teams. What remains to be seen is if any of the D1 teams, in the next couple of seasons, distinguish themselves or do they get bogged down in the pack?
(Here's where you try real hard to come up with viable alternative explanations. Hint: there are a couple that aren't complete nonsense.)
But all isn't lost just yet. The losses sustained among the most experienced non-pros in recent years just means a depleted pool of potential pros to pick from in the near term. It's a problem but not the only one. The other issue is the development and training of players generally--and this is where real progress can be made. It is true that players develop individual skill sets faster and more proficiently (generally speaking) than was the case in the past. At the same time the conceptual understanding of the game is generally weak as is the team training. The majority of players new to competitive play in the last 5+ years don't have an adequate foundation in how the game ought to be played or how to function as part of a team because they haven't been part of a program or team that teaches those things. And of course the bulk of all team practice isn't designed to teach and develop those qualities either, it is aimed at learning how to play a specific layout. Pre-Xball up-and-coming players learned today's lost lessons from older players and through experience because the formats of the past, including playing in the woods, required it. The modern game demands speed, quickness, instant reflexes--a whole host of physical tools that were useful in the past but weren't required to be honed to the same degree of precision as today so the focus of development has moved to the physical aspects of playing the game to the detriment of the mental aspects--and, as it's always been, it's the mental game that separates the great from the gifted.