Non-league football provides the experience and senior level experience that can show whether a player is ready for the elite level.

Perhaps that’s why EFL clubs in particular have been trusting non-league clubs for years to give their young prodigies the chance to develop their games on boggier pitches and in a different environment.

One such club is Stevenage, who have shown their faith in the non-league clubs in the area, sending players off to a host of clubs at varying levels, such as Step 2 Aveley, and Cheshunt and Kettering Town at Step 3.

For David Hicks and Louie Henry though, it was Potters Bar Town who came calling, who have a particularly strong relationship with the club.

Since the appointment of manager Max Mitchell at Bar in March 2023, seven Boro players have made first team appearances for the club.

That’s one of many examples of clubs with great relationships across the EFL and non-league, and it brings huge benefits for the parent club’s youngsters.

“I was reflecting after the season about how well going on loan went, and it was great to play against older players that have been everywhere in football,” Henry says.

“Playing with the likes of Rickie Hayles, Leigh Rose and Brandon Adams who have been round and done it, so it’s good to be around people who have been in the game at a high standard.”

With familiar faces at the club, Henry says it was a helpful that the players weren’t all new to him, as David Hicks was already at Bar when he arrived.

“It was a very good experience for me,” Henry adds.

Being shown faith at such a young age can do quite a lot for a youthful player’s confidence, and that was clear from the two EFL academy youngsters we spoke to.

Whilst Henry says the faith shown by the manager to pick him made a big difference for him, Hicks says it was smaller details that made big differences, like squad members encouraging him to corners and free kicks.

“Off the field, I’m quite a quiet lad, but when I’m on the pitch, you have to be vocal in midfield, if you shy away from it then people will target you in non-league, I found that out in my first couple of games,” Hicks says.

“The first game I shied away from set pieces and said I didn’t want to take them, because I know how key they are in non-league, but Rose told me take one, we nearly scored from it, and from there I was never taken off them.”

What Hicks says also helped, was stepping away from the slick passing academy style football and into a more direct approach which is often seen in non-league and at every senior level.

“When we played good football, we looked good, but if it was benefitting us to go into the channels or play balls over the top, which we did often, it helped us a lot,” he says.

“It pushed us up the table, and it was the football you need sometimes to win games.”

Non-league throws players into an authentic first team environment, away from academy games watched only by parents.

As Henry says, learning to handle the pressure to deliver for supporters is a massive part of a player’s development, which is why the non-league continues to be so important for aspiring young players.

Hicks’ summary of loans to non-league for EFL academy players was simple, but apt.

“Every player needs to go on loan, going to a men’s team and getting that valuable experience, there’s no way you can go from under 18’s football straight into League One.”