One of the tensions of the W-League has always been a need to balance creating a professional and world class team while still attending to one of the league's key objectives; the development of young players.

This balancing act is one that is even more vital in a season where, at its conclusion, players will be selected for the Australian U17 and U20 teams for the AFC championships to be held in the second half of 2017.

Youth eligible players make up 18.3% of the W-League players and from the outset it was evident that some teams more than others have taken an approach to actively promote youth players.

Club# youth eligible% of youth eligible
Adelaide United420.0%
Brisbane Roar210.0%
Canberra United630.0%
Melbourne City315.0%
Melbourne Victory315.0%
Newcastle Jets420.0%
Perth Glory210.0%
Sydney FC315.0%
Western Sydney Wanderers630.0%

Rae Dower's Canberra United and the Western Sydney Wanderers' Rich Byrnes both took the lead with 30% of their squad eligible for youth squads.  The Newcastle Jets through Craig Deans and Adelaide United with Huss Skenderovic both also signaled an early intention to develop youth players with several signed in key positions on the pitch.

However, signing youth players is one thing, providing them with invaluable game time is another.  Taking a look at the playing times of U17 and U20 eligible players tells an interesting story.

Table 1 - U20 eligible players

NameClubAgeGamesMins PlayedAvail mins% of playing time
Annabel MartinMVC185450450100.0
Ellie CarpenterWSW164360360100.0
Jada WhymanWSW174360360100.0
Sophie NenadovicNEW18432836091.1
Remy SiemsenSYD17340145089.1
Clare WheelerNEW18429136080.8
Melindaj BarbieriMVC16535745079.3
Adriana TarantoMVC17641454076.7
Grace MaherCBR17532345071.8
Eliza AmmendoliaWSW17426145058.0
Georgia PlessasWSW18318036050.0
Melina AyresMCY17521345047.3
Grace Abbey*ADL17215936044.2
Rachel LoweWSW16318045040.0
Ashlee BrodiganNEW17417245038.2
Alex Chidiac*ADL17212436034.4
Hannah BaconSYD18310436028.9
Nicki FlanneryCBR17511445025.3
Princess IbiniSYD1645345011.8
Clare HuntCBR172324507.1
Melissa Taranto*MVC171115402.0
Emily Condon*ADL18003600.0
Cortnee Vine*BRI18004500.0
Georgia BoricCBR18003600.0
Brooke MillerNEW18004500.0
Olivia EllisMCY17004500.0
Abbey MeakinsPER17004500.0

Table 2 - U17 eligible players

NameClubAgeGamesMins PlayedAvail mins% of playing time
Emily Hodgson (DF)ADL165450450100.0
Kaitlyn Torpey (DF)BRI16420254037.4
Angelique Hristodoulou (DF)WSW1519045020.0
Karly Roestbakken (FW)CBR1525245011.6
Jacynta Galabadaarachchi (MF)MCY15284501.8
Roisin Connolly (MF)PER16004500.0
Laura Hughes (MF)CBR15004500.0

From the above tables,  Byrnes has followed his words with action as evidenced by all six of the Wanderers youth eligible players logging minutes during this season.  The Wanderers have used their players in 61.2% available playing time which is topped only by the Melbourne Victory with their youth players used in 62.2% of available playing time.

However the percentage of game time tells some only some of the story.  For example, the Wanderers, Newcastle Jets and Canberra United, in particular, have utilised their players in key areas of the pitch - areas where gaining experience is invaluable.

Western Sydney have used Whyman in goals, Carpenter in defence and Lowe up front.  Deans has set up Nenadovic in defence with Wheeler involved in the midfield engine room while Rae Dower has provided minutes to her players in the midfield (Maher) and up front (Flannery and Roestbakken).

Dower, in particular, has entrusted her youth players with significant responsibility with Young Matildas captain Maher taking on the key playmaker role.  In the last match Dower started both Maher and Flannery and, in bold move, subbed in 15 year old Roestbakken for the more experienced Stephanie Ochs.  Dower would be pleased with the output of her youth players with all three scoring this season and two of them (Flannery and Roestbakken) combining for the match winning goal against Melbourne City.

While those three clubs are the more notable ones, most other coaches have provided notable minutes to their players in situations where they have the ability to make in game decisions and learn in game problem solving mechanisms.  Crucially, this experience has not been gained within a vacuum with most of the coaches surrounding youth players with veteran Australian and international players.

This has not been the case all across the board with Perth Glory, who are yet to field any of their youth players, and Melbourne City (16.4%) providing the two lowest percentages of available playing time to their youth players. Both teams also have the lowest number of players within the representative youth teams, perhaps an indicator of the key objectives of the two teams with City on top of the table and Glory currently in the Top 4.

Ultimately, the W-League has just reached the halfway point - that in itself is another discussion point when it comes to opportunities for youth development - and these tables may change as the season progresses.

*   season impacted by long term injury or illness

** players were named in the W-League season guide and does not include short term injury replacements. All minutes are from Opta season statistics