Mike Petke has stated that young players must earn their playing time. The Real Salt Lake head coach is right, but there is an extent to that truth.
Real Salt Lake head coach Mike Petke is not one known for keeping his mouth closed. He is not afraid to let his opinion known, no matter its controversy. Just ask the many referees that he has publicly barked at throughout his time in MLS.
And again, after the much-questioned decision to drop Justen Glad in the MLS Playoffs in which the defender did not start any of the postseason matchups after making 50 consecutive starts prior, Petke was not quiet on his motivations.
Speaking this week about the role of youth, how the young players can break into the starting XI and the regular first-team rotation, and whether it is his job to develop young players, Petke made it quite clear what the young prospects at Real Salt Lake must do:
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"“I can’t imagine any of them being surprised at the number of games that they’ve gotten. Some of them might think they deserved to get more, but it goes down to not just playing on a Saturday, playing Monday through Friday, attitude, work rate, being a part of the culture, doing the right things <…> They have to earn that position. This is professional sports. The goal is to improve hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly.”"
It is certainly not the popular stance. There is a glorified adoration of young potential that thrusts any remotely gifted talents into the limelight whether they deserve it or not. Sometimes, it stifles them, frightens them, bludgeons them into submitting. And other time, their talent was never such that they deserved it in the first place. This is what Petke is confronting.
And to that extent, he is correct. Everyone, in any walk of life, must ‘earn that position’. It is the nature of the modern world, that people must prove themselves worthy of a job or role or position. They must prove their value. That hardline approach is Petke espouses here.
But there is an extent to its validity. It is difficult to expect young players to impress and earn their opportunities if they are not given the opportunities to do so in the first place. You are asking players to prove their worth without ever giving them the opportunity to do so.
It was not too many years ago that I was looking for my first job. I sent resumes and letters out to local coffee shops, bars, restaurants, pubs. I was looking for anything. Almost all of them asked for experience. But how can you get that experience if you are not given the chance to earn it? Petke’s hard-nosed stance here takes a similar vein.
Now, Petke is obviously not ridding young players of all of their opportunities. He speaks himself about the routine of Monday through Friday, of being able to impress in attitude, and not just the matches on the weekend. But there is still a missing element here. No one can replicate the pressure, the momentous nature of the occasion, the atmosphere of an MLS match in training. You must be given the chance to play in that environment to prove that you can flourish in such an environment. And that requires a risk on the part of the head coach.
Does this mean that Petke is suddenly a poor coach, a nasty, distanced senior-centred manager who has no awareness of the development of players? No. That is not what he has said. But asking for proof without providing the chance to be given any seems like a logical fallacy. Petke, on this one, is only half-right.