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Talent detection and development in soccer - academic reference

In general, the present literature and data in the field of talent detection, talent development and dominant psychological factors of soccer players are still at its onset (Morris, 2000). The studies have varied from methods and factors assessed, but none have to date come to show one specific valid way of measuring the psychological traits needed in top elite performance (Morris, 2000; Riley et al., 2000).


Riley and colleagues (2000) contributed to the current work of soccer players, with their multidisciplinary study. This approach included an extended view of talent detection by embracing both physiological, psychological, anthropometric and performance measures in elite and sub-elite groups (Riley et al., 2000). The data derived from Riley and colleagues (2000) conclude that the distinction between the two groups where optimized, when the results were compromised in a holistic way. The data showed that the most diverging results indicating superiority in the elite group and the detection of talent was agility, sprint time, ego orientation and anticipation skill (Ibid; 695).





This data is derived from youth players at the age of 15-16 years, which could be the incitement for further study. This is because these results do not take the youth players’ maturity into account even though the players’ age and body composition is alike. Further research should thus aim to prove whether these results are due to the psychological factor of maturity and whether the exposed systematic training plays a role (Ibid.). This perspective would also contribute to the debate between Anders Ericssons deliberate practice and Jean Cotés deliberate play, where the discussion between early and late specialisation appears (Durand-Bush et al., 2001).


To meet these aspects, future research should take form as a longitudinal study. This would enable the conclusion of whether the empirical determinants of elite youth players, e.g. agility, spring, ego orientation and anticipation of skill would continue into the adult career, so there can be concluded that they play an important role in the detection of a talent. Likewise the longitudinal study could show if there exist similarities between the youth groups’ characteristics, with characteristics observed with the same group as adults. From here it would be possible to suggest which traits future researchers should look for and how to assess them, e.g. psychological traits in young talented soccer players.


Morris and colleagues (2000) states that there exists inconsistency between the psychological factors different studies have found, even when the 16 Personality Factor Questionnaire and the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire are used (Morries et al., 2000).

Further many of the current results are derived from cross-sectional studies, as was the case with Riley and colleagues (2000) abovementioned study (Riley et al., 2000). The assumption is that the indicators of elite adult sports performance are similar to the ones talent detectors need to look for in talented young players (Morris, 2000). But Morris (2000) conclude due to the limited evidence that psychological characteristics of adult performers do not seem to be gainful to develop at juniors at the ages of e.g. 10-15 years. Thus in a broader perspective, future research need to figure out which psychological aspects that are important to asses and also how they should be assessed (Morris, 2000).


While the current research have tried to explain characteristics and traits in top performance, youth players and adult players, the Danish researcher Kristoffer Henriksen have applied a different approach towards talent development. Instead of looking at the players attributes, Henriksens research (2011) looked at all the environments affecting the player, a theory know as the holistic-ecological approach (Henriksen, 2011). He includes the milieu in which the player interacts, as the dominant factors. His research contributes to the current talent development discussion, where the focus not only relies on the player, but also at the milieus influencing the player. Henriksens (2011) data are gathered from three successful Scandinavian talent developments milieus. This data concludes that the talent development milieus needs supportive training groups, close role models, knowledge sharing, training that creates a broad basis and focus on the long-term development (Henriksen, 2011;167).

In the subject of talent development is the Swedish researcher Anders Ericssons deliberate practice and the Canadian Jean Cotés deliberate play worth mentioning (Durand-Bush et al., 2001).


The big debate is if, as Ericsson recommends, that youth players should be specialized as early as possible to enable the 10.000 hours of required practice to achieve elite performance (Ibid.). At this counterpoint is Cotés deliberate play that recommends a late specialization as a way of developing a talent and a way for entrance in elite sports (Coté et al., 2007). Both directions have shown ways to develop a talent, but to make a final concluding theory for the best possible way to develop a talent is still problematic. The development depends greatly on which region and culture the talent is located in (Coté et al., 2007; Durand-Bush et al., 2001)


In regards of talent detection, the current Danish leading soccer team FC Midtjylland have launched a very innovative perspective for players and talent detection (tv3sport.dk). FC Midtjylland has implemented the use of “big data” which is constructed by the betting company Smartodds (Smartodds.co.uk). Smartodds has over 70 analysts employed to collect data from players all over the world (Ibid.). FC Midtjylland is using this statistically data in addition with their scouts to evaluate if a) a player is ready to elite soccer or not and b) if a foreign player have the needed skill to perform in Denmark. FC Midtjyllands chairman of the board Rasmus Ankersen is cited in a Danish interview to say; that future player evaluations and talent detection will depend 60 % on the scouts opinions and 40 % on the statistically data from big data (tv3sport.dk).


This approach is still at its onset and does not hold any scientifically evidence, but it adds a new perspective to the view of talent detection.

As argued above talent detection and talent development takes different approaches, due to the lack of empirically evidence that concludes a final way of approaching this subject (Morris, 2000). Due to the above, this study group acknowledge the benefits that the application of the statistics may add. But instead of relying on systematic analysis and statistically data, future research should still aim to locate which characteristics and psychological traits that arise in the players.


This data would bring a deeper understanding of the variation between players that succeed in youth and in elite sports. From here it would in time be possible to further conclude a sum of traits, players all over the world need to possess e.g. coping with anxiety and working with effort to reach a goal. Likewise it enables the talent developers to work more empirically on the specific traits, which are needed to be trained in the youth years.


Researched and written by sport psychologist and mental trainer Henrik Hjarsbæk





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