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Title: A multidisciplinary investigation into the talent identification and development process in an English football academy
Author: Kelly, Adam Leigh
ISNI:       0000 0004 7653 6629
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2018
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Introduction: The purpose of a player development pathway is to realise the most effective methods to support young individuals to maximise their potential (MacNamara & Collins, 2015). Within a modern football academy setting, the essential developmental characteristics are often termed environmental, psychological, sociological, physiological, technical, and tactical attributes (Sarmento et al., 2018). Although these factors have been explained to independently facilitate the acquisition of expert performance, fully-integrated multidisciplinary evidence from an English context is unknown. Therefore, the aim of this study was two-fold; firstly, to analyse these respective features to determine what outcomes support greater age-specific performance within the Foundation Development Phase (FDP; under-9 to 11s) and Youth Development Phase (YDP; under-12 to 16s) at an English professional football academy. Following this investigation, this thesis examined what characteristics facilitated age-specific development across two football seasons within the same group. Methods: During the first season, a total of 98 outfield academy players (FDP n=40; YDP n=58) participated. Two professional coaches from each age group (n=14) ranked their players from top to bottom in relation to current ability from a holistic perspective. This created a linear classification with a group of ‘high-performers’ (top third) and ‘low-performers’ (bottom third) within both the FDP and YDP. Results were standardised using z-scores and the assumptions were tested using a two-tailed independent samples t-test. A total of 87 outfield players who progressed into the second season were further analysed within their respective phase (FDP n=36; YDP n=51). A combination of 34 holistic factors, that discriminated high- and low-performers in the initial investigation, were measured at two time points across two football seasons with the Participation History Questionnaire (PHQ), Psychological Characteristics for Developing Excellence Questionnaire (PCDEQ), socio-economic status, growth and maturation data, physical performance, technical tests, match analysis statistics, perceptual-cognitive expertise (PCE), and game test situations. Development was measured by comparing the delta change between the overall player profile scores from two seasonal reports. Stepwise regression analyses were conducted to assess the predictive capability of these variables on overall development. Results: Multiple factors from environmental, psychological, sociological, physiological, technical, and tactical examinations significantly discriminated high- and low-performers, within both the FDP and YDP. Following these initial findings, developmental results illustrated significant technical and tactical characteristics within the FDP, whilst significant environmental, physiological, technical, and tactical attributes were observed within the YDP. When focussing on these factors combined, total touches change (p=0.023), taking advantage of openings quality (p=0.003), and PCE ‘post’ score change (p=0.029) explained a combined 11.5% of the variance within the FDP. Within the YDP, PCE ‘at’ score (p=0.21), total sports played change (p=0.008), and total match-play hours (p=0.009) explained a combined 34.1% of the variance. Discussion: Identifying talented players as young as 8 years of age is a complex and holistic process. Thus, academy coaches and practitioners must understand the significant features, such as practice history and multi-sport engagement, psychological characteristics, socio-economic factors, physical performance abilities, technical attributes, and tactical decision making when identifying and recruiting individuals. From a talent development viewpoint, results from the FDP support the importance of technical and tactical development during middle childhood compared to other influential factors. From a YDP perspective, results support the significance of the environment players are exposed to, whilst also illustrating the importance of PCE as a key ingredient within adolescence, to support greater overall development. Therefore, professional football academies are encouraged to deliver technical and tactical specific developmental activities within the FDP, whilst offering a substantial games programme, alongside other opportunities to participate in multi-sport activities across both age phases, to support superior development. Further evidence is needed within an English context, through collaboration with other academy environments, to support these findings, whilst greater longitudinal data is also required to understand which of these characteristics are necessary to ultimately achieve senior professional status.
Supervisor: Wilson, Mark ; Williams, Craig Sponsor: University of Exeter ; Open Innovation Platform ; Exeter City Football Club
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Football ; Talent Identification ; Talent Development ; Academy ; Coaching