Socceroos great Josip Skoko believes NPL clubs should be focused on giving their better junior players the opportunity to play at the highest level as they can, when they are good enough, rather than winning junior NPL competitions.
Skoko, whose sons Luka, 18, and Noa, 15, are part of the North Geelong Warriors NPL set up, has coached juniors for a number of years and is also the club's Technical Director. He believes the Elcho Park based club's strength has been giving talented players a chance to play in a higher age group when they are ready.
"The club has been as good as any club in Victoria in doing this," said Skoko, who played 51 times for Australia. "In the last few years at North, we have really tried to get the younger boys through and get them to play in the higher age groups.
"Where you finish in the under 21s for example, is not a true indication of whether they are a strong group not. They would be playing seniors if they are really strong. Our 19s and 21s will not be the strongest, because we will continually be pushing our best players to a higher level. We will push a few into the seniors."
The Warrior's philosophy has worked well with a number of their senior NPL2 squad made up of players that have come through their NPL junior program.
"Now we have about six who are 18 or 19 who are part of the senior squad with two or three who are regular first XI players," said Skoko. "We have a few more coming through in the under 21s as well. In terms of that pathway we have done very well at the Warriors."
Skoko believes the role of NPL clubs is not to win their respective junior leagues, but to provide the right environment for talented players to flourish, where they can push to play in higher age groups and be given the opportunity to do so.
"We need to put the players in the right areas and give them as many games as they can. We need to keep them challenged. We need to play them up at the right time. There is no point winning leagues when they are not challenged.
"The good clubs won't be winning leagues, they will be pushing them higher so when they are 16 or 17, they can push for seniors.
"Luka and some in his generation were playing in the under 21s two years ago when they were 16. That was a good group. They played a lot of games in that age group and it really helped them along. They are now in the seniors."
Skoko also encouraged young footballers to simply play as much as they can when away from their club, be it on a football field or in the backyard, citing the old theory that players learn best when they are allowed the freedom to be creative in their own environment.
"Luka and Noa have done so much at home in the backyard, not just football but all sports," said Skoko. "This current generation, they do that now more. They have got their hours back up in the backyard.
"The generation coming though in the next 5-10 years will be better technically and smarter players. Clubs can do their part by pushing them along, getting them in the right areas and playing them in the right teams, and importantly getting them playing as many games as they can."
Football Victoria's NPL junior system features a new structure this year, with junior teams being graded after playing a round of games. Three of the Warriors' youth teams made the top grade while the under 17s got into the second grade. The Warriors accumulated 99 points in the grading phase, the highest of any Victorian club.
Skoko was proud of this but insists there are better gauges of success.
He added: "It was pretty good and it shows we are on the right path, it is not everything but we are definitely doing alright at the club."