Testing in football, essential for elite teams
As you all know, I’m following a minor study at Arnhem named Sport Performance Enhancement. What we do at this minor is trying to recognize talent and then develop a plan to give the followed athletes an advice for the future. But how do you know if someone is a talent? And on what statistics can you base whether someone is a talent or not?
In football, this testing is underestimated. There is composing a gap between the ‘old school’ and the ‘new school’. The old school is holding on to old principles in football. “We did it this way for ages, and it worked, so why shouldn’t it work right now?” The new school recognize the advantages of testing important measurable factors in soccer. This is of course innovating, what gives a conflict with the old school.
My opinion is that testing factors like automaticity, decision making and some physiological parts can really help coaches to develop a learning plan for their athletes. A coach can see with his bare eye that one player has better dribbling skills than another player. But wouldn’t it be nice if there are testing results which confirm the coach his thoughts. A simple dual tasking test can measure (with time as the most important outcome) how skilled a football player is.
For example: Last week we executed some tests at NEC Nijmegen. We tested the U17, U15, U13 and the U11. The test was quite simple actually. The players first needed to run (without ball) through cones, which were placed two metres apart from each other. The time it took the players to run the trial at full speed was measured. After this part was performed, they executed the same trial, but now with a ball. Again time was measured.
There was a difference between the separate times, what indicates how skilled the players are in dribbling. The closer the times were to each other, the more automated dribbling is for the players.
This is an easy example of how testing can help coaches to develop a learning plan for their athletes. Where they can, due to the results, underpin their choices in training.
Another example coaches can use as a result from testing skills at football players. After they tested a certain skill, results are analysed. The results can be used to make a kind of web*, with every player notated as a coloured line. When a player is fully skilled, the web will look like figure 1. But when a player has a lack of a certain skill, there will be missing a part of the web, indicated with the red line in figure 1. This can be shown by the coaches to the athletes, so the athletes know where they need to work on. This is of course less benchmarked, but still a tool for coaches to trigger their player to reach the best from their potential.
These were just two examples of what testing could add to the learning plans of coaches. My opinion is that testing will be essential in the future. There has to be an explanation from coaches why they chose a certain training with scientific underpinning.
There are also some critical points I need to discuss. Testing football is nice, and there can be tested with cones, stopwatches and benches all we like. But in the end, it’s what a player performs at the pitch we care about. It is really hard to test a game-like situation. This is of course also what makes the game of football so beautiful, some parts cannot (yet) be measured. What I want to indicate is that testing and measuring can help coaches to make deficiencies visible. They can use testing as a tool to develop their training.
So my advice to all football clubs would be: Take scientific testing serious! With the right person who tests, and the right tests that are executed, it can be an enrichment for the learning plans and in the end, the youth academy. Scientific testing gives you insight in trainable factors of your talents.
*The first example is based on my own experience at NEC Nijmegen. The second example I gave is based on a lecture that was given by Rhys Carr, in that time active as Lead Academy Sport Scientist at Cardiff City FC.