Bli inte förblindad av enhörningar och överlevande och vilseledd av ekonomiska krafter

År 2015 släppte Internationella olympiska kommittén (IOK) en rapport som väckte oro över de senaste trenderna inom ungdomsidrott. Uttalandet ifrågasatte giltigheten av traditionella talangutvecklingsmodeller inom ungdomsidrott, samtidigt som det hänvisade till problematiken med tidig specialisering, föräldrapress, coachstilar, mediesensationalism och synen på ungdomar som handelsvaror (Bergeron et al, 2015). Fortsättningsvis  rekommenderade IOK att ramverken för ungdomsutveckling inom idrott måste vara mer flexibla, med en kombination av både bästa träning och erfarenhet som stöds av kvalitetsuppdaterad forskning.

Sökandet efter den alkemiska processen för hur man identifierar och utvecklar professionella idrottare/spelare har beskrivits som den ”heliga gralen” för alla idrottsnationer (Weissenteiner, 2017). Miljöer inom fotboll som framgångsrikt utvecklar profesionella spelare kan avnjuta en ökad finansiell vinst och erkännande. (Henriksen, 2011). Detta sökandet har blivit mer intensiv sedan “Bernard -fallet” 2010, en uppföljning av Bosman -domen från 1995. EU -domstolen beslutade att fotbollsklubbar kan söka ersättning, om unga spelare de har tränat tecknade sitt första proffskontrakt med ett lag i ett annat EU -land. Ungdomsfotboll kunde nu beskrivas som en ekonomisk aktivitet och därmed uppmuntra till utbildningen av unga ”talangfulla” spelare som en form av investering i humankapital (Hendrickx, 2010). Detta har utan tvekan påskyndat ett “talent arm race” och resulterat i en trend att importera och reproducera talangutvecklingsmodeller från “framgångsrika” nationer eller klubbar, samtidigt som det delvis gav kontexten för att ytterligare legitimera och motivera den genomgripande användningen av det som har blivit allmänt känt som ’The Standard Model of Talent Development’ (SMTD).

SMTD (Bailey & Collins, 2013) delar gemensamma egenskaper som nu är centrala principer för talangvecklingsprogram runt om i världen (Güllich, 2014; Rongen et al., 2018). Till exempel, basera identifiering på tidig förmåga eller fysiologiska och/eller antropometriska mätningar; samt uteslutande av spelare från systemet när de går från en nivå (åldersgrupp) till en annan (Bjørndal et al., 2017). Denna pyramid-liknande struktur som är beroende av en stark samordnad central stryrning, saknar både empirisk och konceptuell validitet. (Bjørndal et al., 2017).

Trots dessa insikter är strukturerade spelarutvecklingsmodeller världen runt relativt homogena och vanliga, med många klubbar och organisationer som satsar stort på professionalisering av identifiering och utveckling av talanger (Ford et al., 2012, Williams et al., 2020). Forskning av Ford och kollegor (2020) i 29 av de bäst rankade professionella fotbollsklubbarna från hela världen belyste en relativt hög årlig omsättning av spelare, cirka 29%, genom alla åldersgrupper. Detta visade en pågående svårighet att identifiera unga spelare och behålla dem i systemet, samtidigt som de avslöjade systemens medföljande svårigheter att hantera variationer i prestation och utveckling som är naturligt förekommande aspekter av livet och lärandet inom sport (Adolph, 2019; Balagué et al. , 2017; Button et al., 2020;). Många modeller baserade på denna ‘pyramidform’ misslyckas med att ta hänsyn till komplexiteten och det icke linjära i mänsklig utveckling (Vaughan et al., 2019; Bailey & Collins, 2013), vilket i grunden belyser medföljande problem relaterade till framtida förutsägelser (Finnegan, 2020).

Forskning har belyst dessa medfödda problem relaterade till det förutsägande värdet av framtida prestation genom tidig identifiering (Williams & Reilly, 2000; Bailey & Collins, 2013; Koz, Fraser-Thomas och Baker, 2012). Exempelvis visade studier i Sverige (Lund & Söderström, 2017) och Nederländerna (Bergkamp et al., 2021) hur tränarnas och scouternas talangidentifiering stöds av ett ”intuitivt” tillvägagångssätt (det som känns rätt!). Men det som känns rätt påverkas starkt av deras erfarenhet av tidigare identifieringar, personliga tolkningar av vad elitfotboll innebär och den tränarkultur som de befinner sig i. Dessutom menades att scouter var medvetna om att tidiga prestationsindikatorer ofta är dåliga förutsägare för framtida prestanda.

Dessa subjektiva metoder har kritiserats på grund av det gynnar valet av spelare födda tidigare under (ålderskategori år) (Glamser & Vincent 2004; Helsen et al., 2005), ett fenomen som har kallats Relative Age Effect (RAE). I ungdomsfotboll har det visats hur RAE är mer uttalat i urval för akademin än inom ’grassroots footboll’ (Jackson & Comber, 2020). Förekomsten av RAE inom spelarsutvecklingssystem har förklarats av flera faktorer, såsom mognad, födelsedatum, miljöfaktorer, socioekonomisk klass (Teolda da Costa et al., 2010). Mognadsskillnaderna mellan individer har varit den vanligaste hypotesen. Till exempel, inom ett års åldersspann bland ungdomsfotboll kommer det att finnas en matchning av kronologiska åldrar men inte nödvändigtvis biologiska åldrar (Finnegan, 2020). Kronologiska och biologiska åldrar utvecklas sällan samtidigt i samma takt, vilket antyder att variationen sannolikt kommer att vara större än 12-månader i en åldersgrupp (Vaeyens et al., 2008; Helsen et al., 2005). Eftersom tidigare mognad kan påverka utvecklingen av flera antropometriska och fysiologiska variabler som påverkar valet av “äldre” spelare (Finnegan, 2020), finns det medföljande problem med ramar där varje steg är associerat med en kronologisk ålder. Det har hävdats att barn/ungdomar som missgynnas av födelsedatum eller fysisk mognad kunde blivit lika skickliga senioridrottare om de fick likvärdiga utvecklingsmöjligheter (Doyle & Bottomley, 2018). Trots påståenden från vissa styrande organ, så jämnar RAE inte ut sig i slutändan och ledande europeiska fotbollsklubbar fortsätter att rekrytera fler och fler tidigt födda spelare (Carling et al., 2009; Doyle & Bottomley, 2018).

Dessutom, en avgörande betydelse är hur ofta dessa modeller legitimeras och motiveras genom en ’copy & paste’ talangutvecklingsmall importerade från “framgångsrika” nationer eller klubbar. North och kollegor (2015) varnade i sin UEFA -studie, som undersökte utveckling av spelare och coachning i ungdomsfotboll i sju europeiska länder, mot den okritiska tillämpningen av idéer från andra framgångsrika länder och klubbar. Här hävdades att ett tillvägagångssätt som fungerar i ett sociokulturellt sammanhang kan vara distraherande eller till och med skadligt i ett annat.

Det finns tydlig anledning att tvivla på om dessa modeller av talangutveckling (SMTD) och organisation i många elitidrottsstrukturer har tillräcklig vetenskaplig validitet. Det finns ännu mer anledning att ifrågasätta med det okritiska ”copy and paste” av bästa praxis från framgångsrika länder eller klubbar. Även kravet på kontakttid (Finnegan, 2020), där styrande organ använder jämförelser med andra nationer angående antalet timmar som spenderas i träningar ledda av coacher, är ett mycket begränsat perspektiv av utvecklingen när vi överväger komplexiteten i utvecklingen av talanger inom sport (Güllich, 2014; Suppiah et al., 2015; Vaughan et al., 2019). Dessa meddelanden, som förmodligen är förknippade med den falskt främjade uppfattningen om 10 000 -timmarsregeln, kan på något sätt förklara varför många klubbar, föräldrar och tränare har köpt in sig på den onödiga generalisering som utveckling av expertis har att göra med ackumulerad volym av träning. (Seifert et al. 2019). Det är faktiskt ”illusionen av vetenskaplig trovärdighet och validitet” (skapad av idrottspolitiska beslutsfattare) som ger vissa tvivelaktiga idéer en viss auktoritet inom talangutvecklingsmiljö (Bailey & Collins, 2013, Bjørndal et al., 2017).

För att bättre förstå utveckling i och genom idrott spelar kultur och kontext en stor roll (Araújo et al., 2010; Vaughan et al., 2021; O’Sullivan et al., 2021). Kanske det är dags att undersöka ett sätt att förstå de olika kontextuella komplexiteterna i kulturer, samhällen och situationer för att stödja ett bredare perspektiv på utveckling av spelare/idrottare.

Förslag på hur vi går vidare: Skriv din egen historia?

Idrottsutvecklingsmiljöer, inom ett specifikt land eller en viss klubb, är inte en tomt blad utan socialt, historiskt och kulturellt inflytande (O ’Sullivan et al., 2021; Vaughan et al., 2021). Snarare påverkar sociala och kulturella faktorer kontinuerligt en spelares/idrottares utvecklingsresa. Araujos (2010) arbete med brasiliansk fotboll belyste hur olika typer av tidig specialisering kan existera i olika kulturella sammanhang. I motsats till traditionell praxis från andra sammanhang (t.ex. tidig upprepning av rörelseövningar i strukturerade coach-centrerad träning) utvecklades ett bredare utbud av tidig specialisering, med lite formell coachning, där spelare från tidig ålder specialiserade sig på olika ”bollaktiviteter ‟ (pelada, strandfotboll osv) , som har en direkt överensstämmelse med organiserad fotboll (Côté et al., 2007).

De typer av övningsdesign som utformas, individer som identifieras som talangfulla och karaktärsdrag som utmärker en bra coach, formas kontinuerligt av sociokulturella faktorer (Redelius, 2013; O ’Sullivan et al., 2021). Denna idé belyser i vilken utsträckning lärande och utveckling är inbäddade i ett större sociokulturellt sammanhang. Dessa specifika unika, sociala, kulturella och historiska faktorer inbjuder till potential för många möjliga komplexa, oförutsägbara och illa definierade utmaningar. (Bjørndal et al., 2019; Vaughan et al., 2019). Det kan därför föreslås att spelarutvecklingskontext (klubb, träning, tävling) kan inte ensam redogöra för sina invånares beteende (Rothwell et al., 2020). Om det var det, kunde vi faktiskt bara ”copy & paste” en lånad mall!!!

Inom idrott, liksom andra prestandamiljöer, betyder sammanhang allt. Vi måste skriva vår egen historia! Det som är möjligt i Barcelona eller Amsterdam kanske inte är möjligt eller behövs i Stockholm, Peking eller Dublin. Implikationen är att det inte finns någon ”copy & paste” -mall, spelarutvecklingsmodeller bör utvecklas i interaktion med det specifika sociokulturella sammanhang där individer är inbäddade (Vaughan et al., 2019; O ‘Sullivan et al., 2021). Eftersom det också är uppskattat att inlärning är en icke linjär process-vilket innebär att coachningsmetoder inom idrott ska vara tillmötesgående-är det rimligt att föreslå att idrottsutvecklingsstrukturer och modeller också ska ta hänsyn till denna icke linjärhet.  (Sullivan et al 2021).  

Som specifika unika, sociala, kulturella och historiska faktorer, bjuda in potentialen för en myriad av möjliga komplexa, oförutsägbara och illa definierade utmaningar, måste vi hitta sätt att lyfta fram och utnyttja dessa faktorer (O’Sullivan et al., 2021; Vaughan et al., 2019). Styrande organisationer och klubbar bör utmana sig själva att anta strategier för att vägleda pålitliga sätt att bedriva forskning och utforma praktiska tillämpningar för att stödja utvecklingen av flexibla ramar inom sin egen ekologi, specifikt för deras sociokulturella sammanhang.

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Araújo, D., Fonseca, C., Davids, K., Garganta, J., Volossovitch, A., Brandão, R., & Krebd, R. (2010). The role of ecological constraints on expertise development.

Bailey, R., & Collins, D. (2013). The standard model of talent development and its discontents. Kinesiology Review, 2(4), 248–259.

Balagué, N., Torrents, C., Hristovski, R., & Kelso, J. A. S. (2017). Sport Science Integration. An evolutionary synthesis. European Journal of Sport Science17:1(August), 51–62.

Bergeron, M., Mountjoy, M., Armstrong, N., Chia, M., Cȏté, J., Emery, C., Faigenbaum, A., Hall, G., Kriemler, S., Léglise, M., Malina, R., Pensgaard, A.M., Sanchez, A., Soligard, T., Sundgot-Borgen, J., Mechelen, W.V., Weissensteiner, J., & Engebretsen, L. (2015). International Olympic Committee consensus statement on youth athletic development. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 49, 843 – 851.

Bergkamp, T.L., Frencken, W., Niessen, A., Meijer, R., & Hartigh, R.J. (2021). How Soccer Scouts Identify Talented Players. European journal of sport science, 1-39 .

Bjørndal, C., Ronglan, L.T., & Andersen, S.S. (2016). Talent development as an ecology of games: a case study of Norwegian handball. Sport, Education and Society, 22, 864 – 877.

Bjørndal, C., & Ronglan, L.T. (2019). Engaging with uncertainty in athlete development – orchestrating talent development through incremental leadership. Sport, Education and Society, 26, 104 – 116.

Button, C., Seifert, L., Chow, J.-Y., Araújo, D., & Davids, K. (2020). Dynamics of Skill Acquisition: An Ecological Dynamics rationale (2nd ed.). Champaign, Ill: Human Kinetics.

Carling, C., Gall, F.L., Reilly, T., & Williams, A. (2009). Do anthropometric and fitness characteristics vary according to birth date distribution in elite youth academy soccer players? Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 19.

Côté, J., Baker, J., & Abernethy, B. (2007). Practice and play in the development of sport expertise. In G. Tenenbaum & R. Eklund (Eds.), Handbook of sport psychology (3rd ed., pp. 184–202). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Doyle JR, Bottomley PA (2018) Relative age effect in elite soccer: More early-born players, but no better valued, and no paragon clubs or countries. PLoS ONE 13(2): e0192209. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0192209

Finnegan, L. (2020). ‘The talent is out there’ Talent development in Irish football: an examination of organizational structure and practice

Ford, P., Bordonau, J.L., Bonanno, D., Tavares, J., Groenendijk, C., Fink, C., Gualtieri, D., Gregson, W., Varley, M., Weston, M., Lolli, L., Platt, D., & Salvo, V.D. (2020). A survey of talent identification and development processes in the youth academies of professional soccer clubs from around the world. Journal of Sports Sciences, 38, 1269 – 1278.

Ford, P., Carling, C., Garces, M., Marques, M., Miguel, C., Farrant, A., Stenling, A., Moreno, J., Gall, F.L., Holmström, S., Salmela, J., & Williams, M.A. (2012). The developmental activities of elite soccer players aged under-16 years from Brazil, England, France, Ghana, Mexico, Portugal and Sweden. Journal of Sports Sciences, 30, 1653 – 1663.

Glamser, F., & Vincent, J. (2004). The relative age effect among elite American youth soccer players. Journal of Sport Behaviour27(1), 31–38.

Güllich A. (2014). Selection, de-selection and progression in German football talent promotion. European journal of sport science14(6), 530–537. 

Helsen, W. F., Van Winckel, J., & Williams, A. M. (2005). The relative age effect in youth soccer across Europe. Journal of Sports Science23, 629–636.

Hendrickx, F. (2010). The Bernard-Case and Training Compensation in Professional Football. European Labour Law Journal, 1, 380 – 397.

Henriksen K (2010). The ecology of talent development in sport: a multiple case study of successful athletic talent development environments in Scandinavia. PhD Thesis, Syddansk Universitet. Det Sundhedsvidenskabelige Fakultet.

Jackson, R., & Comber, G. (2020). Hill on a mountaintop: A longitudinal and cross-sectional analysis of the relative age effect in competitive youth football. Journal of Sports Sciences, 38, 1352 – 1358.

Koz, D., Fraser-Thomas, J., & Baker, J. (2012). Accuracy of professional sports drafts in predicting career potential. Scandavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 22, 64-69. doi: 10.1111/j.

North, J., Lara-Bercial, S., Morgan, G., & Rongen, F. (2015). The identification of good practice principles to inform player development and coaching in European youth football. Report commissioned by UEFA’s Research Grant Programme 2013-2014.

O’Sullivan, M., Vaughan, J., Rumbold, J. L., & Davids, K. (2021). The learning in development research framework for sports organizations. Sport, Education and Society, DOI: 10.1080/13573322.2021.1966618

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Rongen, F., McKenna, J., Cobley, S., & Till, K. (2018). Are youth sport talent identification and development systems necessary and healthy? Sports Medicine – Open, 4.

Rothwell, M., Stone, J., & Davids, K. (2020). Investigating the athlete-environment relationship in a form of life: an ethnographic study. Sport Education and Society. Advance online publication.

Soderstrom, N., & Bjork, R.. (2015). Learning Versus Performance: An Integrative Review. Perspectives on psychological science : a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. 10. 176-199. 10.1177/1745691615569000.

Sullivan, M.O., Woods, C., Vaughan, J., & Davids, K. (2021). Towards a contemporary player learning in development framework for sports practitioners. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 174795412110023.

Suppiah, H. T., Low, C. Y., & Chia, M. (2015). Detecting and developing youth athlete potential: different strokes for different folks are warranted. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 49(13), 878–882.

Teolda da Costa, I., Garganta, J., Greco, P.J., Mesquita, I., & Seabra, A. (2010). Influence of relative age effects and quality of tactical behaviour in the performance of youth soccer players. International Journal of Performance Analysis of Sport, 10, 82-97. doi: 10.1080/24748668.2010.11868504

Vaeyens, R., Lenoir, M., Williams, A. & Phillippaerts, R. (2008). Talent identification and development programmes in sports. Sports Medicine, 38, 703-714. doi: 10.2165/00007256- 200838090-00001

Vaughan, J., Mallett, C. J., Davids, K., Potrac, P., & López-felip, M. A. (2019). Developing Creativity to Enhance Human Potential in Sport: A Wicked Transdisciplinary Challenge. Frontiers in Psychology10(September), 116. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02090

Vaughan, J., Mallett, C. J., Potrac, P., López-Felip, M. A., & Davids, K.  (2021). Football, Culture, Skill Development and Sport Coaching: Extending Ecological Approaches in Athlete Development using the Skilled Intentionality Framework. Frontiers in Psychology.

Weissenteiner, J.R. (2017). How contemporary international perspectives have consolidated a best-practice approach for identifying and developing sporting talent. In J. Baker, S. Cobley, J. Schorer, & N. Wattie (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of Talent Identification and Development in Sport (pp. 101-112). Abingdon: Routledge.

Williams, A., Ford, P., & Drust, B. (2020). Talent identification and development in soccer since the millennium. Journal of Sports Sciences, 38, 1199 – 1210.

Williams, A. M., & Reilly, T. (2000). Talent identification and development in soccer. Journal of Sports Sciences18(9), 657–667. http://doi.org/10.1080/02640410050120041

Woods, C.T., McKeown, I., O’Sullivan, M., Roberston, S., & Davids, K.  (2020)Theory to Practice: Performance Preparation Models in Contemporary High-Level Sport Guided by an Ecological Dynamics Framework. Sports Med – Open 636.

A Cautionary Tale: Don’t be blinded by unicorns and survivors and misled by economic forces

Don’t be blinded by unicorns and survivors and misled by economic forces – Ross Tucker

In 2015, the International Olympic Committee released a consensus statement raising concerns regarding recent trends in youth athlete development. The statement questioned the validity of talent development models in youth sport, while also referring to the problematic nature of early specialisation, parental pressure, coaching styles, media sensationalism, and the view of youth athletes as commodities (Bergeron et al, 2015). Further, the IOC consensus statement recommended that frameworks for youth development need to be more flexible, incorporating a combination of both best practice and experience underpinned by quality up to date research.

The search and pursuit of the alchemic process of how to unearth and develop professional athletes has been described as the’holy grail’ of any sporting nation (Weissenteiner, 2017). In football, environments that successfully develop professional players can enjoy both increased profits and recognition (Henriksen, 2011). This pursuit has gained intensity since the “Bernard case” in 2010, a follow up to the Bosman ruling. The European Court of Justice ruled that football clubs can seek compensation, if young players they trained signed their first professional contract with a team in another EU country. Youth football could now be framed as an economic activity, thus encouraging the training of young ’talented’ players as a form of human capital investment (Hendrickx, 2010). This has arguably accelerated a ’talent arms race’, resulting in incentives to import and reproduce talent development models from ‘successful’ nations or clubs, while partly providing the context to further legitamise and justify the pervasive use of what has become broadly known as the Standard Model of Talent Development (SMTD).

Coined by Bailey and Collins (2013), the SMTD shares common characteristics that are now central tenets of player development programs around the world (Güllich, 2014; Rongen et al., 2018). For example, basing identification on early ability or physiological and/or anthropometrical measures; and the removal of athletes from the system as they progress from one level to the next (Bjørndal et al., 2017). Described as a ‘pyramid’ structure dependent on strong coordinated central governance, this model lacks both empirical and conceptual validity (Bjørndal et al., 2017).

Despite these insights, structured performance pathways across countries are relatively homogenous and commonplace, with many clubs and organisations investing heavily into the professionalisation of the identification and development of talent (Ford et al., 2012, Williams et al., 2020). More recent work carried out by Ford and colleagues (2020) in 29 of the best professional soccer clubs from around the world, highlighted a relatively high annual turnover of players, around 29%, through age groups. This showed an ongoing difficulty in identifying young players and keeping them in the system, while revealing the systems inherent difficulty in coping with fluctuations in performance and development that are naturally occurring aspects of life and learning in sport (Adolph, 2019; Balagué et al., 2017; Button et al., 2020;). Many models based on this ‘pyramid’ shape clearly fail to account for the complexity and nonlinearity of human development (Vaughan et al., 2019; Bailey & Collins, 2013), fundamentally highlighting inherent problems related to the prediction of the future (Finnegan, 2020).

Research has highlighted these inherent problems related to the predictive value of future performance through early identification (Williams & Reilly, 2000; Bailey & Collins, 2013; Koz, Fraser-Thomas, & Baker, 2012). For instance, studies in Sweden (Lund & Söderström, 2017) and the Netherlands (Bergkamp et al., 2021) showed how coaches’ talent identification is underpinned by an ‘intuitive’ approach (what feels right!). But what feels right is greatly influenced by their experience of previous identifications, personal interpretations of what elite football entails, and the coaching culture in which they find themselves. It was further suggested that scouts were aware that early indicators of performance are often poor predictors of future performance.

These subjective methods have been criticised due to a bias towards the selection of players born earlier in the (age category year) (Glamser & Vincent 2004; Helsen et al., 2005), a phenomenon that has been referred to as the Relative Age Effect (RAE). In youth football it has been shown how RAE is more pronounced in selection to the academy than in grassroots football (Jackson & Comber, 2020). The presence of RAE within athlete development systems has been explained by several factors, such as, maturation, date of birth, environmental factors, socioeconomic class (Teolda da Costa et al., 2010). The maturational differences between individuals has been the most common hypothesis. For example, within a one-year age bracket in youth football, there will be a match of chronological ages but not necessarily biological ages (Finnegan, 2020). Chronological and biological ages rarely progress concurrently to the same degree, implying the variance is likely to be greater than the 12-month age band (Vaeyens et al., 2008; Helsen et al., 2005). As earlier maturation can affect the development of several anthropometric and physiological variables biasing the selection of ‘older’ players (Finnegan, 2020), there are inherent problems with frameworks where each stage is associated with a chronological age. It has been argued that children disadvantaged by birth date or physical maturity might have become equally skilled senior athletes if they were afforded equivalent developmental opportunities (Doyle & Bottomley, 2018). Despite claims from some governing bodies, reversals of the RAE rarely exist in a true sense (see here). Yet leading European football clubs continue to recruit more and more early born players (Carling et al., 2009; Doyle & Bottomley, 2018).

Also, of critical importance is how often these models are legitimised and justified through a ‘copy and paste’ template of talent development models imported from ‘successful’ nations or clubs. North and colleagues (2015), in their UEFA study, investigating player development and coaching in youth football in seven European countries, warned against the uncritical application of good practice ideas from other successful countries and clubs. Here it was argued that an approach which works in one sociocultural context may be distracting or even detrimental in another.

There is clear reason to doubt whether these models of talent development and organisation in many elite sporting structures have sufficient scientific validity. There is even further reason to reinforce issues associated with the uncritical “copy and paste” of best practice from successful countries or clubs. Even the clamour for contact time (Finnegan, 2020), where Governing Bodies use comparisons with other nations regarding the number of hours spent in coach led training, is a very narrow lens through which to view development when we consider the complexities involved in developing talent in sport (Güllich, 2014; Suppiah et al., 2015; Vaughan et al., 2019). These messages, arguably associated with the falsely promoted notion of the 10, 000 hour  rule, may go some way to explaining why many clubs, parents and coaches have bought in to the unnecessary generalisation that development of expertise has all to do with accumulated volume of practice (Seifert et al. 2019). Indeed, it is ‘the illusion of scientific credibility and validity (created by sports policy makers) that provides a degree of authority to some dubious ideas’ evident in talent development structures (Bailey & Collins, 2013, Bjørndal et al., 2017).

To better understand player/athlete development in and through sport, culture and context do matter (Araújo et al., 2010; Vaughan et al., 2021; O’Sullivan et al., 2021).  Perhaps it is time to investigate ways to comprehend the distinct contextual complexities of cultures, communities and situations to support a broader perspective on player/athlete development.

Suggestions for moving forward: Write your own story?

Athlete development environments, within a specific country or club, are not blank slates devoid of social, historical and cultural influence (O’ Sullivan et al., 2021; Vaughan et al., 2021). Rather, social and cultural factors continually shape an athlete’s development journey. Araujo’s (2010) work on Brazilian football highlighted how different kinds of early specialisation can exist in different cultural contexts. In contrast with traditional practices from other contexts (e.g., early deliberate practice, precise repetition of movement drills in structured practice tasks), a broader range of early specialisation was developed, with little formal coaching, where players from an early age specialised in “feet-ball activities‟, that have a direct correspondence to organized football (Côté et al., 2007).

The types of practice designed, which individuals are identified as talented and the characteristics that distinguish a good coach, are continually shaped by sociocultural factors (Redelius, 2013; O’ Sullivan et al., 2021). This idea highlights the extent to which learning, and skill development are embedded in a larger sociocultural context. These specific unique social, cultural and historical factors, invite the potential for a myriad of possible complex, unpredictable and ill-defined challenges. (Bjørndal et al., 2019; Vaughan et al., 2019). It can therefore be suggested that the athlete development setting (club, training, competition) alone cannot account for the behaviour of its inhabitants (Rothwell et al., 2020). Indeed, if it was, we could just ‘copy and paste’ a borrowed template.

In sports, like other performance environments, context means everything. We need to write our own story! What is possible in Barcelona or Amsterdam might not be possible, or needed, in Stockholm, Beijing or Dublin. The implication is that there is no ‘copy and paste’ template, athlete development frameworks should evolve in interaction with the specific sociocultural context in which practitioners and individuals are embedded (Vaughan et al., 2019; O’ Sullivan et al., 2021). Also, as it is be appreciated that learning is a non-linear process – implying that coaching methodologies in sport should be accommodative – it is reasonable to suggest that athlete development structures and models should also account for this non-linearity (Sullivan et al 2021). 

As specific unique social, cultural and historical factors, invite the potential for a myriad of possible complex, unpredictable and ill-defined challenges, we need to find ways to highlight and harness these factors (O’Sullivan et al., 2021; Vaughan et al., 2019). Governing bodies, clubs and organisations should challenge themselves to adopt strategies to guide reliable ways of conducting research and designing practical applications to support the evolution of athlete development frameworks within their own ecology, specific to their sociocultural context.

In a recent discussion with my friend and colleague Michael Cooke at Northern Ireland Sport, he asked two questions that are of relevance to this piece.

  • What opportunities does your culture/ context afford that could support the healthy development and performance of young people as they grow?
  • What are the unique aspects of your sport/ country/ culture that transcend the ‘copy and paste’ culture

Many thanks to Michael Cooke and Andrew Kirkland for being critical friends during the process of writing this piece

On a separate note: I have re-launched my record label. The first offering is the digital release of a collection of tracks previously only released (between 1999-2002) on vinyl and CD.

Have a listen…….and maybe buy the collection.

https://themightyquark.bandcamp.com/album/the-mighty-quark-presents-the-king-syndrome-sound

References

Adolph, K. E. (2019). An Ecological Approach to Learning in ( Not and ) Development. Human Development, 63, 180–201. https://doi.org/10.1159/000503823

Araújo, D., Fonseca, C., Davids, K., Garganta, J., Volossovitch, A., Brandão, R., & Krebd, R. (2010). The role of ecological constraints on expertise development.

Bailey, R., & Collins, D. (2013). The standard model of talent development and its discontents. Kinesiology Review, 2(4), 248–259.

Balagué, N., Torrents, C., Hristovski, R., & Kelso, J. A. S. (2017). Sport Science Integration. An evolutionary synthesis. European Journal of Sport Science, 17:1(August), 51–62.

Bergeron, M., Mountjoy, M., Armstrong, N., Chia, M., Cȏté, J., Emery, C., Faigenbaum, A., Hall, G., Kriemler, S., Léglise, M., Malina, R., Pensgaard, A.M., Sanchez, A., Soligard, T., Sundgot-Borgen, J., Mechelen, W.V., Weissensteiner, J., & Engebretsen, L. (2015). International Olympic Committee consensus statement on youth athletic development. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 49, 843 – 851.

Bergkamp, T.L., Frencken, W., Niessen, A., Meijer, R., & Hartigh, R.J. (2021). How Soccer Scouts Identify Talented Players. European journal of sport science, 1-39 .

Bjørndal, C., Ronglan, L.T., & Andersen, S.S. (2016). Talent development as an ecology of games: a case study of Norwegian handball. Sport, Education and Society, 22, 864 – 877.

Bjørndal, C., & Ronglan, L.T. (2019). Engaging with uncertainty in athlete development – orchestrating talent development through incremental leadership. Sport, Education and Society, 26, 104 – 116.

Button, C., Seifert, L., Chow, J.-Y., Araújo, D., & Davids, K. (2020). Dynamics of Skill Acquisition: An Ecological Dynamics rationale (2nd ed.). Champaign, Ill: Human Kinetics.

Carling, C., Gall, F.L., Reilly, T., & Williams, A. (2009). Do anthropometric and fitness characteristics vary according to birth date distribution in elite youth academy soccer players? Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 19.

Côté, J., Baker, J., & Abernethy, B. (2007). Practice and play in the development of sport expertise. In G. Tenenbaum & R. Eklund (Eds.), Handbook of sport psychology (3rd ed., pp. 184–202). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Doyle JR, Bottomley PA (2018) Relative age effect in elite soccer: More early-born players, but no better valued, and no paragon clubs or countries. PLoS ONE 13(2): e0192209. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0192209

Finnegan, L. (2020). ‘The talent is out there’ Talent development in Irish football: an examination of organizational structure and practice

Ford, P., Bordonau, J.L., Bonanno, D., Tavares, J., Groenendijk, C., Fink, C., Gualtieri, D., Gregson, W., Varley, M., Weston, M., Lolli, L., Platt, D., & Salvo, V.D. (2020). A survey of talent identification and development processes in the youth academies of professional soccer clubs from around the world. Journal of Sports Sciences, 38, 1269 – 1278.

Ford, P., Carling, C., Garces, M., Marques, M., Miguel, C., Farrant, A., Stenling, A., Moreno, J., Gall, F.L., Holmström, S., Salmela, J., & Williams, M.A. (2012). The developmental activities of elite soccer players aged under-16 years from Brazil, England, France, Ghana, Mexico, Portugal and Sweden. Journal of Sports Sciences, 30, 1653 – 1663.

Glamser, F., & Vincent, J. (2004). The relative age effect among elite American youth soccer players. Journal of Sport Behaviour, 27(1), 31–38.

Güllich A. (2014). Selection, de-selection and progression in German football talent promotion. European journal of sport science14(6), 530–537. 

Helsen, W. F., Van Winckel, J., & Williams, A. M. (2005). The relative age effect in youth soccer across Europe. Journal of Sports Science, 23, 629–636.

Hendrickx, F. (2010). The Bernard-Case and Training Compensation in Professional Football. European Labour Law Journal, 1, 380 – 397.

Henriksen K (2010). The ecology of talent development in sport: a multiple case study of successful athletic talent development environments in Scandinavia. PhD Thesis, Syddansk Universitet. Det Sundhedsvidenskabelige Fakultet.

Jackson, R., & Comber, G. (2020). Hill on a mountaintop: A longitudinal and cross-sectional analysis of the relative age effect in competitive youth football. Journal of Sports Sciences, 38, 1352 – 1358.

Koz, D., Fraser-Thomas, J., & Baker, J. (2012). Accuracy of professional sports drafts in predicting career potential. Scandavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 22, 64-69. doi: 10.1111/j.

North, J., Lara-Bercial, S., Morgan, G., & Rongen, F. (2015). The identification of good practice principles to inform player development and coaching in European youth football. Report commissioned by UEFA’s Research Grant Programme 2013-2014.

O’Sullivan, M., Vaughan, J., Rumbold, J. L., & Davids, K. (2021, in press). The learning in development research framework for sports organisations.

Redelius, K. (2013) Att vilja och kunna fortsätta – Om idrottens utformning och tillgänglighet (s. 19-40), i Spela vidare: en antologi om vad som får unga att fortsätta idrotta, Stockholm: Centrum för idrottsforskning.

Rongen, F., McKenna, J., Cobley, S., & Till, K. (2018). Are youth sport talent identification and development systems necessary and healthy? Sports Medicine – Open, 4.

Rothwell, M., Stone, J., & Davids, K. (2020). Investigating the athlete-environment relationship in a form of life: an ethnographic study. Sport Education and Society. Advance online publication.

Soderstrom, N., & Bjork, R.. (2015). Learning Versus Performance: An Integrative Review. Perspectives on psychological science : a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. 10. 176-199. 10.1177/1745691615569000.

Sullivan, M.O., Woods, C., Vaughan, J., & Davids, K. (2021). Towards a contemporary player learning in development framework for sports practitioners. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 174795412110023.

Suppiah, H. T., Low, C. Y., & Chia, M. (2015). Detecting and developing youth athlete potential: different strokes for different folks are warranted. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 49(13), 878–882.

Teolda da Costa, I., Garganta, J., Greco, P.J., Mesquita, I., & Seabra, A. (2010). Influence of relative age effects and quality of tactical behaviour in the performance of youth soccer players. International Journal of Performance Analysis of Sport, 10, 82-97. doi: 10.1080/24748668.2010.11868504

Vaeyens, R., Lenoir, M., Williams, A. & Phillippaerts, R. (2008). Talent identification and development programmes in sports. Sports Medicine, 38, 703-714. doi: 10.2165/00007256- 200838090-00001

Vaughan, J., Mallett, C. J., Davids, K., Potrac, P., & López-felip, M. A. (2019). Developing Creativity to Enhance Human Potential in Sport: A Wicked Transdisciplinary Challenge. Frontiers in Psychology10(September), 116. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02090

Vaughan, J., Mallett, C. J., Potrac, P., López-Felip, M. A., & Davids, K.  (2021). Football, Culture, Skill Development and Sport Coaching: Extending Ecological Approaches in Athlete Development using the Skilled Intentionality Framework. Frontiers in Psychology.

Weissenteiner, J.R. (2017). How contemporary international perspectives have consolidated a best-practice approach for identifying and developing sporting talent. In J. Baker, S. Cobley, J. Schorer, & N. Wattie (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of Talent Identification and Development in Sport (pp. 101-112). Abingdon: Routledge.

Williams, A., Ford, P., & Drust, B. (2020). Talent identification and development in soccer since the millennium. Journal of Sports Sciences, 38, 1199 – 1210.

Williams, A. M., & Reilly, T. (2000). Talent identification and development in soccer. Journal of Sports Sciences, 18(9), 657–667. http://doi.org/10.1080/02640410050120041

Woods, C.T., McKeown, I., O’Sullivan, M., Roberston, S., & Davids, K.  (2020)Theory to Practice: Performance Preparation Models in Contemporary High-Level Sport Guided by an Ecological Dynamics Framework. Sports Med – Open 636.

A Player Learning in Development Framework

A Player Learning in Development Framework

We recently published a paper in the International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching. The paper is open access and can be downloaded from here: 

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/17479541211002335

In this paper we propose that a constraints-led approach (CLA), predicated on the theory of ecological dynamics, utilising Adolph’s (2019) notion of learning IN development, provides a viable framework for capturing the non-linearity of learning, development and performance in sport. We highlight some of the misinterpretations and misunderstandings of the CLA in coach education and practice. Further, we provide a user-friendly framework that demonstrates the benefits of the CLA. Throughput the paper we offer deeply contextualized ‘real world’ examples to support our argument.

Some main points

  • As it is appreciated that learning is a non-linear process – implying that coaching methodologies in sport should be accommodative – it is reasonable to suggest that player development pathways should also account for this non-linearity. 
  • Contemporary non-linear pedagogical frameworks, such as the constraints-led approach (CLA), have emerged to theoretically guide practitioners through this challenge 
  • Uptake effects have not been helped by some misinterpretations of the CLA in practice and coach education.
  • When used appropriately the CLA highlights the nature of the continuous complex and dynamic non-linear interactions between a performer (individual), task, and environment. Termed as constraints (Individual, environment, task), these interconnected system features guide or channel the direction and rate of development by providing the boundaries within which learning happens. A key point here is that constraints do not determine an individual’s learning and performance behaviors, but continually interact to guide and shape them.
  • The term “non-linear” refers to the notion that small changes in system properties (e.g. the physical, psychological and emotional characteristics of an individual; a team’s practice conditions) can lead to large changes in emergent behavior and vice-versa. 
  • Critically, while the CLA helps conceptualize how skills emerge, it does not provide a framework for how to design appropriate learning environments in team sports. Principles of a non-linear pedagogy can address this limitation, supporting practitioners to harness CLA methods in a range of practice task designs. 
  • Knowledge about and Knowledge of the environment: Knowledge about is typically developed through verbal responses to questions or coach-provided declarative instruction, may be useful when describing performance ex situ. However, while young players may display knowledge about the game when verbalizing responses to questions posed from a coach or educator, it does not necessarily imply that they can actually perform these actions in the game. Knowledge of the environment is reflective of embodied-embedded knowledge developed by, and exemplified in, activities (e.g., movements, behaviors, performances) that enhance the coupling between perception and action.
  • An important contention of this paper, though, is that practice tasks need to be designed by coaches with an extensive knowledge about the game, as this knowledge about collective and individual performance can inform practice designs to support the development of a performer’s knowledge of (in) the game.
  • The Foundations for Task Design Model captures the main principles of non-linear pedagogy to support the design of football specific tasks in training.
  • The purpose of the Player Learning in Development Framework is twofold; first, to help practitioners conceptualize the inherent non-linearity and highly personal nature of learning in order to inform player development pathways, and second, to show how to integrate a CLA in practice task design. 
  • The 3 phases of the Player Learning in Development Framework is a cycle that aims to guide practitioners towards a more flexible and adaptable approach to planning, where, through the implementation and refinement of task designs, they can continually assess and evaluate each individual’s needs (within a team) over various timescales of development. 

Playlists

It’s time for better questions: Living up to the idea of as many as possible, as long as good as good as possible.

It’s time for better questions: Living up to the idea of as many as possible, as long as good as good as possible

There is an ongoing discussion within youth football around the subject of ability grouping. The practice of early selection and de-selection of children through ages and stages are now central tenets of player development programs around the world (Güllich, 2014; Rongen et al., 2018) and have become a common point of departure for these discussions. Often pyramid like in structure, these type of development programs have been termed by Bailey and Collins (2013) as the Standard Model of Talent Development. Lacking in both empirical and conceptual validity this model is based on the presumption that development and performance in sport are conceptually linear and predictable (Bjørndal, Ronglan & Andersen, 2017). 

Language precedes culture 

More recently these models have come under media scrutiny (Shannon, 17 November 2020) highlighting how there are many social norms and organisational pressures present within the facets of professional football that impinge on child youth football. For example, the use of words such as ‘elite’ in reference to children and youth has added to the development of a sensationalist artificial mythology in and around the culture of child youth sports programs (Kirkland, O’Sullivan, 2018).

Similar concerns were raised by the International Olympic Committee in a consensus statement on youth athlete development in 2015, highlighting possible negative influences on health and well-being. It was suggested that the ‘culture’ of youth sports in general, has become disproportionately both adult and media centered, viewing youth athletes as commodities promoting a sensationalism that has an influential grip on adult expectations (Bergeron et al., 2015).

Indeed, language plays an important role as does acknowledging that learning and development cannot be fully understood without taking in to consideration the environmental, historical, and socio- cultural constraints that can influence learning and development. For example, many resilient beliefs and even the attributes and skills appreciated in young players are culturally embedded in traditional pedagogical approaches, organisational settings and structural mechanisms founded upon specific socio-cultural and historical constraints (Woods et al, 2020). There is a need to investigate which specific sociocultural constraints on behaviours that we need to amplify and which ones we need to dampen (Vaughan et al., 2019)?

In Sweden, the well-worn cliché “lika barn leka bäst” (children that are alike play best together) is something that I hear regularly in connection with ability grouping in child-youth sport. This for me highlights an important aspect of any youth player development program, how performance can be an unreliable index in relation to learning (Söderstrom & Bjork, 2015). 

The debate here though less polarized is still at time driven by anecdotal evidence with certain individuals referring to the players that ‘they’ have created!

Here, the idea of survivorship bias is something that is worth reflecting over

“You’ve been blinded by the unicorns and survivors, and misled by economic forces” – Ross Tucker (twitter)

Time for better questions- The learner and the learning process 

For a more nuanced approach and in order to place the child/youth/player at the center of this discussion from a long-term learning perspective, we need to turn the question around. 

When I am asked about ability grouping/selection-deselection (yes or no?), I now answer with another question.

What is your understanding of the learner and the learning process?

What is your understanding of human learning and development in a youth football context?

Re-conceptualising youth development

AIK Youth Football, took the decision in 2017 to reposition itself within the world of youth football (see here). This decision was underpinned by a long-term strategy; (i) promote the wellbeing of children; (ii) follow relevant guideline documents (e.g. UN Convention on the Rights of the Child); (iii) increase the development and promotion of players to our respective senior teams, as well as increase the number of players in the U16-U19 age groups. 

A research and development (R&D) department has been embedded in the club’s daily activities since 2017 to support AIK youth football in its endeavor. Its stance and work can be summed up as follows –

While it is understood that human learning is nonlinear in nature, implying that coaching methodologies should account for such nonlinearity, it should also be recognized that there is a need for our player development structures and models to account for this nonlinearity

If we really want to support the well-being and foster more and better players, then it is important to consider the complexity and non-linearity of human development. This requires an understanding of what learning and development is and what factors that can influence it?

Learning IN Development

The concept of Learning in development (Adolph, 2019) can help coaches, parents and organisations understand how different factors influence learning throughout development, helping us to gain an understanding of the non-linear and individualized nature of players learning in development.

  • Development describes the continuous changes (physical, psychological, skilled, social, cultural) in individual-environmental relationships.
  • Learning takes place in the midst of these developmental changes. Learning is what the player does about these changes.

As coaches, parents, clubs and governing bodies, we need to find a balance in our between both supporting and challenging young players during their learning IN development.

What specific soicocultural constraints on behaviours do we need to amplify and what do we need to dampen?

The aim with this piece is to stimulate a broad and informed debate within youth sport by emphasising the complexity and non-linearity of human development and the need to understand the dynamic interrelations between various components, if we are to truly live up to the idea of ‘as many as possible, as long as possible, as good as possible’

Perhaps it’s time for better questions?

References

Adolph, K. E. (2019). An ecological approach to learning in (not and) development. Human Development63, 180–201. 

Bailey, R., & Collins, D. (2013). The standard model of talent development and its discontents. Kinesiology Review, 2(4), 248–259.

Bergeron, M. F., Mountjoy, M., Armstrong, N., Chia, M., Côté, J., Emery, C. A., Faigenbaum, A., Hall, G., Jr, Kriemler, S., Léglise, M., Malina, R. M., Pensgaard, A. M., Sanchez, A., Soligard, T., Sundgot-Borgen, J., van Mechelen, W., Weissensteiner, J. R., & Engebretsen, L. (2015). International Olympic Committee consensus statement on youth athletic development. British journal of sports medicine49(13), 843–851. 

Bjørndal, C.T. Ronglan, L.T., & Andersen, S.A. (2017). The diversity of developmental paths among youth athletes: A 3-year longitudinal study of Norwegian handball players. Talent development & Excellence, 8(2), 20-32.

Chow, J. Y. (2013). Nonlinear learning underpinning pedagogy: Evidence, challenges, and implications. Quest, 65(4), 469-484.

Güllich A. (2014). Selection, de-selection and progression in German football talent promotion. European journal of sport science14(6), 530–537. 

Kirkland & O’Sullivan (2018). There Is No Such Thing as an International Elite Under-9 Soccer Player. Sports science and medicine. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6243622/

Rongen, F., McKenna, J., Cobley, S., & Till, K. (2018). Are youth sport talent identification and development systems necessary and healthy? Sports Medicine – Open, 4.

Shannon (2020). Why Ruud Dokter’s ‘elite player pathway’ plan is not good for Irish football. Irish Examiner. Retrieved from https://www.irishexaminer.com/opinion/columnists/arid-40083608.html

Soderstrom, N., & Bjork, R.. (2015). Learning Versus Performance: An Integrative Review. Perspectives on psychological science : a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. 10. 176-199. 10.1177/1745691615569000.

Vaughan, J., Mallett, C. J., Davids, K., Potrac, P., & López-felip, M. A. (2019). Developing Creativity to Enhance Human Potential in Sport: A Wicked Transdisciplinary Challenge. Frontiers in Psychology10(September), 1–16. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02090

Woods, C.T., McKeown, I., O’Sullivan, M., Roberston, S., & Davids, K.  (2020)Theory to Practice: Performance Preparation Models in Contemporary High-Level Sport Guided by an Ecological Dynamics Framework. Sports Med – Open 636 . 

Two new papers published

I am delighted to have published two papers together with some inspiring colleagues over the summer.

Theory to practice; performance preparation models in contemporary high-level sport guided by an Ecological Dynamics framework  is published in sports medicine.

Conceptualizing Physical Literacy within an Ecological Dynamics Framework is published in Quest.

Theory to Practice: Performance Preparation Models in Contemporary High-Level Sport Guided by an Ecological Dynamics Framework

This paper was written together with some colleagues in the UK and Australia and is partly a collaboration with Port Adelaide FC (Aussie rules) and AIK Research & Development department (Stockholm).

You can get access to the article here

https://sportsmedicine-open.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40798-020-00268-5

Carl Woods (twitter) excellent work at Port Adelaide is  featured in the article and is a powerful example of how they are utilising an ecological dynamics approach in high performance Australian Rules Football. While the work being done at AIK youth football (8-12) can provide some insights how adopting and ecological dynamics perspective is helping the club to re-conceptualise youth player development.

The paper gives some insights in to practice environments that are

  • utilising empirical and experiential knowledge sources within a Department of Methodology to inform present and future practice
  • repositioning the coaches role to one of an environment designer, who facilitates athlete- environment interactions
  • embedding a constraints led approach

we also look at how

  • coaching skill was being developed and shaped by the landscape of traditional coaching practices and coach education programmes,
  •  attributes and skills appreciated in players were culturally embedded in traditional pedagogical approaches, organisational settings and structural mechanisms founded upon specific socio-cultural and historical constraints.
  • training designs  have typically been underpinned by a culturally dominant planning paradigm pervasive in traditional educational approaches (e.g. coach determines in advance the specific theme, presents predetermined coaching points and controls the sequence and duration for each part of the session)

 

Screenshot 2020-08-22 at 19.36.04

“Do players have the freedom to explore solutions to problems designed? Youth players should not be ‘props’ in some type of coach-conducted orchestration, where players learned to play an idealised model of the game as opposed to functioning in the game itself, limiting player autonomy and self-regulating tendencies” (Woods, C.T., McKeown, I., O’Sullivan, M. et al. Theory to Practice: Performance Preparation Models in Contemporary High-Level Sport Guided by an Ecological Dynamics Framework. Sports Med – Open 6, 36 (2020).

 

 

Conceptualizing physical literacy within and Ecological Dynamics framework

“The shared intentionality across sporting and physical activity landscapes should be about supporting self-regulation, thus supporting the individuals’ continued physical literacy across a lifespan.”

Article can be sourced from here:

https://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/RPWZT9CRJGN6JNX5U9CC/full?target=10.1080/00336297.2020.1799828

 

This paper has an interesting history. In March 2019 I presented together with colleagues James Vaughan (twitter) and Jean Cote (twitter) at a Riksidrottsförbundet (Swedish Sports Confederation) conference in Stockholm. There was a lot of talk about physical literacy, from measuring it, to how it should be central to school physical education, to even commercial organisations selling physical literacy as a product. What I realised was that there was no clear consensus of what Physical Literacy actually is and how it can be implemented. I had some great conversations with James and Jean about this that inspired me to dig a bit deeper.

I originally wrote a blog about this rather promiscuous (thanks Richard) concept called Physical Literacy  and just before the summer together with some great colleagues we put together this paper.

The abstract will give some insights with the intentions of the article.

 

Screenshot 2020-08-22 at 18.54.45

We look in to

  • the definitional vagueness
  • problem with how it is being promoted through national governing bodies
  • the problem with the idea of Fundamental Movement Skills and how physical literacy is measured
  • how  the lack of a theoretical framework underpinning the concept has been an issue

We recommended a way forward for the concept by utilising the Ecological Dynamics framework

These are the concussing remarks:

Screenshot 2020-08-22 at 19.44.25

 

As a complimentary to this paper, I highly recommend listening to James Rudd (twitter) on the Perception Action Podcast (see here)

 

Re-conceptualizing Player Development at AIK Youth Football (MSA Ireland Presentation)

As part of a series of webinars for Movement & Skill Acquisition Ireland (Twitter), Dennis Hörtin (twitter) and I recently had the honor of presenting the work being carried out at AIK youth football in Sweden. You can check out the presentation here, with a really interesting Q&A.

The presentation focused on AIK youth football and their decision to remove its early selection model (see here), with a particular focus on the 8-12 age groups that are immediately affected by this decision. We delve in to the work of the AIK Research & Development department and offered some pedagogical principles to guide practice task design.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROoNlKwmWkk&feature=youtu.be

I have taken the liberty to add some extra notes to the presentation based on the numerous conversations and the great feedback we had after the presentation. Again, it needs to be made clear, this is no silver bullet.

Building a player development framework

Frameworks for youth player development need to be flexible (Bergeron et al., 2015), dynamic and adaptable to both, the cultural context, and that of the individual (Meyers et al., 2013; Vaughan et al., 2019). In other words, a player development framework needs to evolve in, interaction with the sociocultural context in which we are embedded. Avoid copy and paste!

“The problem is, when you copy a Dutch model or a Dutch way in to another country, it will not work. Our infrastructure is so unique for example”.  – Jan Verbeek (KNVB)on the Learning in Development Podcast (See here)

Inherent barriers to changing practice in sports organizations, shaped by socio- cultural-historical constraints reveal a trajectory, a path dependency (see here), which is often difficult to change (Kiely, 2017, Rothwell, Davids & Stone, 2018; Ross, Gupta, & Sanders, 2018).

We need to investigate form of life to understand these socio-cultural- historical constraints and to create our own knowledge about the means of transforming ways of action to develop a flexible player development framework.

 Form of life (What the AIK Research & Development department are continually investigating).

Form of life (Wittgenstein, 1953), describes the behaviors, attitudes, values, beliefs, practices and customs that shape the culture, philosophy, and climate of societies, institutions, sports organizations and player development programs in different societies (Rothwell, Davids & Stone, 2018). Karin Redelius (2013) captures the influence of form of life in Swedish youth sport, when she suggested that culture in a particular club or sports organization can be understood as partly a result of a historical process influenced by the development of society and the views of individual leaders, influencing type of practice design, who is considered talented, what distinguishes a good leader and what is considered success.

AIK Base

Working within a unified conceptual framework encouraged the coordination of shared principles and language that informed the ‘AIK Base’ framework, forming a coherent foundation for the club’s practice design and education programs.

Screenshot 2020-05-27 at 18.57.25

Figure 1 AIK Base: AIK Research & Development

Practice task design

Coaches should see themselves as learning designers and what they do in practice is underpinned by a theoretical framework (at AIK we use ecological dynamics) as this will give them principles to guide their practice. This emphasizes the idea that young players are still on a learning journey. So, as Jason DeVos suggested in the Learning in Development podcast, “instead of player development pathway we should say player development journey”.

Regarding coach interventions and session objectives:

  • We encourage coaches to move away from theme-based sessions and design practice around  principles of play

In Possession: Search Discover Exploit gaps and space.

Recovering the Ball: Minimize opportunities for opponents to utilize space and gaps. Win the ball.

Coaches can check their design and reflect using the following diagram.

  • Ball-opponent-direction
  • Consequence (e.g. lose the ball, if you don’t win it back, opponents can score)
  • Information in practice task design should be representative of the game or aspects of the game

3fbb22ad-1199-4c4b-a487-70ae9fdc7c25

Figure 2 AIK Research & Development

We start where people are at not where we want them to be. The above ideas may help explain the principles of nonlinear pedagogy to parent coaches

  • Representative learning design,
  • Task simplification instead of task reduction. Modify the task while insuring that functional information -movement couplings are maintained
  • Repetition without repetition (movement variation)
  • The manipulation of constraints: Adjust task constraints (pitch size, number of players, starting positions, ball feed, rules)
  • Promote an external focus of attention: Reduce conscious and explicit control of movement (instructions should promote an external focus of attention to help players learn to learn how to exploit information)

Coaches and players are architects of a learning experience.

  • If the design is rich in representative information and tailored to the age and capacities of the young players then the first feedback should come from the design directly to the children. It is their behavior that the coach observes, and that determines the necessary interventions. However, if a coach must step in too often and explicitly instruct, then the coach needs to re-examine their design.

A key point is to use game forms in training sessions that “directly talk to the players”. This means that feedback is directly “coming from the game forms”, so that the coach has to give less feedback from the outside and providing instructions that reduce the player’s breadth of attention.(Daniel Memmert, Footblogball, 2015)

A great point brought up by Andrew Abraham (Twitter), was that all coach interventions have the potential to disempower the young players. This is something that needs to be considered carefully.

  • For me guided discovery is as much about the design as the questions and task manipulations. This is often forgotten. Interventions should help players focus their attention and intentions towards developing understanding in (Understanding of the game does not imply understanding inthe game)

Practical example

  • It is quite common that opportunities to design practice are constrained by environmental factors such as available pitch space, amount of goals on pitch. For example, AIK 8 and 9 -year-olds play 5 a side competitive games and the 10 and 11 year-olds play 7 a side. Due to the limited amount of pitches availabe in the municipality we can have up to 8 teams on a full-size pitch with only four available 5 a side and 7 a side goals. This is a common issue in Stockholm and indeed in many large urban cities.

Taking this in to consideration I would like to give an example of how a coach can design practice with limited field space and material.

You can check a video of these session designs in the presentation for MSA Ireland (see here)

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Screenshot 2020-05-27 at 13.46.35

references 

Bergeron MF, Mountjoy M, Armstrong N, Chia M, Coˆ te ́ J, Emery CA, Faigenbaum A, Hall G Jr, Kriemler S, Le ́ glise M, Malina RM, Pensgaard AM, Sanchez A, Soligard T, Sundgot-Borgen J, van Mechelen WV, Weissensteiner JR, and Engebretsen L.International Olympic Committee consensus statement on youth athletic development. Br J Sports Med 49: 843– 851.

Kiely, John. (2017). Periodization Theory: Confronting an Inconvenient Truth. Sports Medicine. 48. 10.1007/s40279-017-0823-y.

Redelius, K. (2013) Att vilja och kunna fortsätta – Om idrottens utformning och tillgänglighet (s. 19-40), i Spela vidare: en antologi om vad som får unga att fortsätta idrotta, Stockholm: Centrum för idrottsforskning.

Ross, E., Gupta, L., & Sanders, L. (2018). When research leads to learning, but not action in high performance sport. Progress in Brain Research Sport and the Brain: The Science of Preparing, Enduring and Winning, Part C,201–217. doi: 10.1016/bs.pbr.2018.08.001′

Rothwell, Martyn & Davids, Keith & Stone, Joe. (2018). Harnessing Socio-cultural Constraints on Athlete Development to Create a Form of Life. Journal of Expertise.

Vaughan, J., Mallett, C. J., Davids, K., Potrac, P., & López-felip, M. A. (2019). Developing Creativity to Enhance Human Potential in Sport: A Wicked Transdisciplinary Challenge. Frontiers in Psychology, 10(September), 1–16. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02090

Wittgenstein, L. (1953). Philosophical investigations. Oxford, UK: Blackwell

It’s difficult to change the system if you are only talking to part of the system (How do we make each other better?)

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For the 5th guest discussion on our Learning in Development podcast we invited in Dr. Jennifer Turnnidge from Queens University, Kingston. Ontario.

Jennifer did her doctorate degree in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen’s University under the supervision of Jean Côté. In addition to her doctoral work, she also completed her Undergraduate (2009) and Master’s (2011) degrees at Queen’s. Broadly, her program of research explores how coach-athlete and peer relationships can promote positive development in sport. Specifically, she examines how coaches’ leadership behaviours can influence the quality of youth’s sport experiences. Outside of her role as a researcher and a student, Jennifer loves to spend time with her family and friends.

iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/se/podcast/how-do-we-make-each-other-better/id1507378548?i=1000473034597&l=en

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/episode/42VJefYAUUiwrP1YPxW79J

While the aim of this series of podcasts is not to present the ‘silver bullet’ answers, it is hoped that after listening we will all leave these discussions with better questions (I know that I certainly have).

Insights

How can we use research to improve the sporting experience for people?

We should be embedding collaborations between researchers and practice in national governing bodies, sports organisations or clubs in representative environments (coach education, day to day club activities)

This approach invites a possibility for rich shared experiences and discussions that can further inform the research.

Research can inform practice and practice can inform research – Its bi-directional, reciprocal and dynamic. We need to create opportunities for this.

Can we create environments for children to play for ‘play’s sake’?

We often focus on the long-term outcomes of sport. We also need to focus on the immediate experience, the meaning and value of what is happening to them (the children) now.

Sports development comes back to the day to day experiences

Who are we organising sport for?

How can we improve the immediate experience?

What are the barriers to change?

Do we need to reconceptualise child youth sport as something that is participated in away from organised sport?

How can we encourage a diversity of experiences?

How do we design in opportunities for these experiences?

What do children ‘not’ miss about organised sport?

Are we really paying attention to what matters?

Reccomended reading: The play deficit – Peter Gray (see here)

 

It’s difficult to change the system if you are only talking to part of the system

 We need to deliberately engage more with parents

 We need to provide parents with good examples of what good youth sport looks like. The examples we have now tend to come from the professional level. For example, adult driven examples of what good coaching looks like.

The coach is part of the activity

We need to educate coaches about the important role they have

Coaches can better define their objectives if they are underpinned by the quality of their interactions. For example, objectives for a practice can be co-designed with the young players

A good youth coach can find the link between the behaviours they see and the outcomes that the players are hoping to achieve?

RIP Millie Small

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Different cultures, similar issues

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The 4th guest discussion on our Learning in Development podcast brought together two national federations from different sides of the globe to discuss how they are looking to evolve player development and coach education. We also discussed the culturally pervasive beliefs that underpin the values, belief, ideas and behaviors (form of life) in and around child-youth football.

 

From the Dutch football federation (KNVB) we have Jorg van der Breggen (twitter) and Jan Verbeek – KNVB

From the Canadian Soccer Association, we have Director of Development Jason De Vos (twitter)

You can listen to the discussion here:

iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/se/podcast/different-cultures-similar-issues/id1507378548?i=1000472307211&l=en

Spotify:https://open.spotify.com/episode/4IaLMq2Btbjw14GKun4sDK?si=-uZvHDqvSpqX3BIlujfVLQ

While the aim of this series of podcasts is not to present the ‘silver bullet’ answers, it is hoped that after listening we will all leave these discussions with better questions (I know that I certainly have).

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Insights

There are many positives for youth football when you consider the geography of the Netherlands. With a population of 17 million and 3,000 clubs in such a small country, there are opportunities everywhere for children to play football locally. A football club is often just a bike ride away.

The biggest challenge Canada Soccer faces is the vast scale of the country. Football, how it looks and the culture of the game can be very different on one side of the country when compared to the other side. It has been common for young children to travel 6 hours or more in a car just to take part in a football tournament.

It is the role of a national federation to be progressive and to continuously ask questions about their current practice and structures.

Despite having different football cultures, both federations are basically investigating and assessing the same thing, youth football. For example, they are both asking, how do we structure youth football to meet the needs of the young players? Are the systems already in place respecting the nonlinearity of player development?

Investigating this is a delicate process as is how we act on the information we collect and the knowledge we create. Are we going to regulate the system with restrictions, or are we going to build it on relationships with people through education?

It is a common mistake to assume that success at senior national level directly reflects the state of youth football in that country at that time. While a system may seem effective, as you may be getting players through that can perform at the top level, it does not imply that it is efficient. For example, an inefficiency in the system may be seen in the relative age effect. As a federation we need to ask how we can work with these inefficiencies?

Words like ‘production line of talent’,’ football factory’ are highly problematic. This can shape form of life (e.g., the conversation, values, beliefs, behaviors and ideas) in and around youth football and make for a resilient culture.

It seems that there is one common model- in practice The Standard Model of Talent Development (see here). It gives the illusion that it is working as players come through the system. But does this model adhere and respect principles that underpin the nonlinearity of human and therefore player development?

The KNVB “Equal Opportunities Project” is investigating this system, the selection and deselection of players at a very young age. This system has many assumptions that need to be challenged and there is much room for improvement.

 

Children compete, adults compare

In both countries many adults have assumed that by not publishing league tables with the youngest age groups we are stopping children from competing.

We had an adult competition model super imposed on to children’s football

We don’t need to teach kids how to compete: The idea not publishing league tables or not having promotion and regulation with 9 and 10 -years old’s, will not stop children from competing

The new game formats at the foundation phase that KNVB are promoting are in line with the vision of Johan Cruyff. In many ways it goes back to street football. Cruyff was quite ahead of his time without knowing it. His ideas and the ideas been promoted within KNVB align pretty well the concepts of Representative Learning Design (see here) and Ecological Dynamics (see here)

 

Do not copy and paste

If you try and copy and paste someone else’s ideas, it just won’t work!

 “If I had a dollar for every person that told me that you just need to copy what Germany does, Belgium does, what Iceland does, then I would be able to retire right now” – Jason DeVos (Canadian Soccer Association)

“The problem is, when you copy a Dutch model or a Dutch way in to another country, it will not work. Our infrastructure is so unique for example”.  – Jan Verbeek (KNVB)

You have to have a deep understanding of your own national culture

 

Coach Education

We need to ask why are we delivering our coach education programs in the manner we are?

The traditional evaluation systems used in coach education need to be questioned

Move coach education away from the standardised approach. Start with a conversation and some self-reflections and base the course around the individual’s needs.

Coach education programmes should have the same individualised approach towards coaches as we should have with players.

 

To change what we do, to better serve what they need

We are not in the football business, we are in the relationship business.

You can put the best structure in place, but it’s down to creating environments for kids to fall in love with football

Our job is to understand how we can try and help and support people and Covid-19 has really shown how important this is.

The challenge is, how can we change what we do, to better serve what they (the young players) need?

We start where people are at, not where we want them to be

 

 

 

 

Are we paying attention to what matters, or are we paying attention to what we can measure?

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The 3rd guest discussion on our Learning in Development podcast was a real challenging one as it involved guests with a broad range of experiences, from a broad range of disciplines. We used the Menotti quote, “Those who only know about football, don’t know about football” that featured in a previous discussion with Jordi and Isaac from FC Barcelona (see here), as our point of departure.

Tony Strudwick: Welsh national football team coach, Head of performance at Sheffield Wednesday, former head of development at Manchester United

Martyn Rothwell: PhD researcher and lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University with a focus on performance analysis, skill acquisition and talent development. Background in rugby league as a coach educator and player developer.

Dennis Hörtin: Head of education and Research and Development at AIK youth football

You can listen to the discussion here:

iTunes:

https://podcasts.apple.com/se/podcast/those-who-only-know-about-football-dont-know-about-football/id1507378548?i=1000471574165&l=en

Spotify:

https://open.spotify.com/episode/0mOqkDFl7jPwErqFWRk7aU?si=HPZC5WgoSCWCkAZf-PlRXA

While the aim of this series of podcasts is not to present the ‘silver bullet’ answers, it is hoped that after listening we will all leave these discussions with better questions (I know that I certainly have).

 

Insights

There is a lot to be said for looking at the micro questions through the lens of macro aspects

We must recognise complexity of the holistic environment that supports the young player to understand what learning in development actually is and what it can look like

A wider picture of society and people are extremely valuable. Look at the wider aspects- For example the social media world for kids today is one of instant gratification. This also influences parents. So, what is understood as good practice at a club both on and off the pitch and what it should look like, can be influenced by this.

Question to reflect on: If we accept that the modern skill set for a modern coach has changed (due to changes in the game and society), what are the requirements for coaches to deliver these holistic programmes that we feel are necessary?

Form of Life

Form of life describes everyday practices, customs, beliefs of a group of people (Wittgenstein, 1953)

How does form of life influence athletes, coaches etc? For example, the cultural context invites many of the coaches behaviours that we see today

Much of the research has mainly focused on the individual characteristics of the athlete (organismic asymmetry) and not necessarily the environment. This has been problematic.

 We need to be aware of the phenomena are we trying to understand? Does it operate under principles of complexity or principles of more mechanistic, linear domains and practices?

There has been a dominant mechanistic, linear approach, a recipe approach to coaching, coach education and player development. For example, this idea of an optimal movement template, the right way to perform a technique is a good example. (see path dependency).

This highlights how the wider socio-cultural influences player and coach development.

These culturally resilient beliefs filter down to shape parental beliefs, what coaching and practice should look like and what talent development looks like down to the daily, weekly and monthly training cycles and how they should look. (For further reading- The present is not a clean slate).

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There is no valid model of a human system but the system itself

Don’t look for a template, blueprint or curriculum to adopt straight in to your club or governing body. Focus your attention on what is actually going on, pay attention to the environment, the players, their parents, the wider aspects and then make informed decisions

Fixed template coaching has been central to coach education and player development. These generic linear pathways, in the current landscape, need to be re-addressed.

Step based and stage based curriculms that are common in clubs and governing bodies are limiting. They are driven by our desire for certainty and they are not necessarily sensitive to  the nonlinearity of human development. They draw our attention away from individuals and their interactions.

Anything (i.e., a plan, a curriculum) that distracts our attention from paying attention to the interactions of individuals and understanding that wider context inhibits us, and isn’t helping us.

Are we paying attention to what matters or are we paying attention to the data, what we are measuring or the plan or curriculum?

The world is its own best model

 

Drowning by numbers?

Is the desire to measure, underpinned by quantitative analysis, taking us away from being ‘present’?

There is no value placing a GPS monitor on a 12-year old

Data is great, it should guide us but should not be the driving principles behind youth player development and even at the top professional level.

The Illusion of professionalism in youth football through the collection ‘adult type’ performance measures. This takes us away from being present.

 

Language

By looking at the micro level and the words that are used, you can enable cultural change by encouraging a small-changes in language. Culture catches up with language.  Micro changes in language can actually shape conversations and assumptions and potentially can help cultural change. Are you producing players or fostering young people that play football?

 

Academia and applied practice

There is a need for more applied ‘real world’ research. This is a real challenge for academia and applied practice

The work that goes on in academia doesn’t always fit the narrative of what clubs are looking for. Those ideas that have almost been propagated and stayed within coach development and coach education have been the pop-science ideas like, 10,000 hours and learning styles. They survived due to the lack of opportunities for them to be academically scrutinised.

Someone employed in a club as part of a research and development department can help tie the ideas of academia and practice where experiential knowledge of coaches is integrated with theory and empirical data.

For our paper on embedding a Department of Methodology (research and development) in a sports club see here

RIP Dave Bacuzzi

Children Compete, Adults Compare

 

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The 2nd guest discussion on our Learning in Development podcast shone a light on various aspects of child-youth sport. We discussed some aspects that need to be amplified and others that need to be dampened.

It is important to understand that this is not a discussion about how coaches design their sessions. It is  about the culturally pervasive beliefs in child youth football that influence how it is structured , how learning in development is viewed and understood; and how this apparent inertia can be investigated and challenged?

Bastiaan Riemersma (twitter),Head of Youth Development at Dutch premier league club Willem II, (most known for fostering Virgil van Dijk and Frankie DeJong) shared his views on learning in development for young football players and gave some insights in to the present discussions in and around Dutch youth soccer.

Michiel de Hoog (twitter) is a journalist. In recent years being investigating culture and practice in youth sport around the world, with a particular focus on youth football. Michiel shared some revealing insights from his work. His investigations in to youth sport can be viewed in De Correspondent

You can listen to the discussion here:

iTunes

https://podcasts.apple.com/se/podcast/learning-in-development/id1507378548?l=en&i=1000471395882

Spotify

https://open.spotify.com/episode/6VLwADcNx8Pfup79KzrdSx?si=HPZC5WgoSCWCkAZf-PlRXA

While the aim of this series of podcasts is not to present the ‘silver bullet’ answers, it is hoped that after listening we will all leave these discussions with better questions (I know that I certainly have).

It should be noted that the title Children compete, adults compare is something that I borrowed from Jamie Williams(twitter)

 

Insights from the discussion

As Willem II is not such a big club with a lot of financial resources they have to do things differently when it comes to player development. The club focuses on serving the local community and does not take in young players that live more than 25 kilometers away. Having patience and a sense of culture is so important. The culture is reflected in the daily behaviours of the coaches, the parents and the players. It is important that this is consistent.

Willem II try to keep their system open as long as possible for as many as possible. The club carries out a selection at 13 but the idea is to try and keep the group as big as possible until 16.

Buying young players is not developing players. Budgets available in certain big clubs means that they can buy the best young players in the country or even Europe. This is not developing your own players. There is a big difference between developing players and identifying players

A national or district football associations competitive structure can hinder clubs that are looking to implement evidence-based approaches underpinned by empirical and experiential knowledge. This may be in conflict with the club’s philosophy.

 

Select the coaches

Select coaches that believe in the idea of learning in development. If you have coaches that believe in the idea of talent then it will be difficult to change the system.

We have a way of playing and training that focusses on the idea that it is fun to play our way.

A good youth coach can work with all players not just the players who are the best performers just now

Work with the culture- You can influence the culture by how you react to winning or losing, how a you react when someone makes a mistake

We can talk all we want about to how we play and train, our methodology. You can find a lot of this information on the internet, that is not a secret anymore. How do we deal with set-backs? How do coaches speak to each other? How do coaches speak to the children? How do you speak to the parents?

Wellbeing of children is one of the main aims at Willem II. Each of our players can chose a coach at the club to become their mentor. This is not specifically for football reasons but to have someone to reach out to, and talk to about ‘life’.

While our mandate may be to develop players, our duty of care is towards developing people.

 

We don’t cover the weather, we cover the climate (De Correspondentmotto)

Many present systems, models and ideas in youth football are seemingly promoting certain expectations with parents, coaches and clubs regarding what child youth football is, how it should be structured and what learning in development looks like. This limiting their ability to think critically, act differentlybreak routines and try new ways

It’s hard to change even the smallest of assumptions in youth football, even the idea of not seeing it as just a miniature version of the adult game.

There are growing and influential voices in Dutch football that are thinking critically and questioning the status quo. Some discussions that would never even be considered a few years back are now surfacing.

The assumption that early performance is an indicator of late performance is being challenged. However, there is a tendency towards ‘survivorship bias’ (see here) when arguments are presented in favour of the early selection and deselection of children.

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KNVB (Dutch Football Association) are listening. For instance, the RAE (Relative Age Effect) has played a big influence on player development in Dutch football and this is something that KNVB are looking in to.

This quote by Laura Finnegan (twitter) from her excellent report on the Relative Age Effect in UEFA u17 Championships 2019 (read more here) is worth reflecting on.

“The Netherlands displayed one of the largest recorded percentages of quarter 1 births seen in youth football research, with 62% of their players being born in the first 3 months of the year”.

 

Clubs act out of fear. “If we don’t do it, someone else will do it..” – Aloys Wijnker

There are some interesting developments happening in the Netherlands.

Aloys Wijnker who will soon become the new head of talent development at KNVB was recently interviewed by Michiel (see here).One of the things Wijnker questions about football is the idea that adult men can earn their money by evaluating the football ability of seven- and eight-year-old’s.

This issue is further highlighted by AZ Alkmaar youth talent developerBart Heuvingh (Heuvingh on Twitter.),who spoke from experience and in reference to his own research work: “The predictive value of performance at that age (7 years old) is next to nothing”- 

The message is clear from Wijnker – “Forget about scouting that small group of youngest children; pay more attention to a larger group of children; and only invest in the best when they are older”.

In stark contrast: There was an open talent day at Ajax in Novermber 2019 where 3-year old kids were being evaluated by professional scouts.

The KNVB (Dutch football federation) have received criticism from some of the bigger clubs and commercial media for opening up a discussion around these issues. For example, not publishing league tables in children’s football was met with the argument that Dutch football is in danger of surrendering the will to win and lose in children’s football. Kids compete, adults compare.

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 Virgil van Dijk and Frenkie DeJong

 They were not the best players when they were younger. Virgil van Dijk was regularly on the bench until he was 13. Frenkie De Jong was a small child.

Bastiaan mentioned that he had some games of Frenkie playing for Willem II against PSV U16 and Frenkie only touched the ball twice in one half”

There is a document at Willem on the development of Virgil van Dyke when he was a 12-year-old. The document refers to an evaluation and forecast on van Dykes future. The coach said that he could maybe reach the 2nd team of Willem II. This document can be shown to young players at the club now as it says a lot

They both loved playing on the street. They played for hours with their friends. The reason why Frenkie DeJong chose to stay with Willem II for so long (until 17), and not go to a bigger academy club, was to play with his friends.

We cannot predict the future, so instead of talking about the future, keep the system open. It is difficult. There is a game on Saturday and we are back to comparing children.