Only about 0.5% of academies’ players reach their club’s first team. Football clubs would benefit to a great extent by predicting their young player’s likelihood of success at a professional level. But is it already possible? And if it is, how?
Let’s start with some questions. Why is this figure so low? Why won’t most of an academy’s players, despite massive investment by football clubs, achieve a decent career at the professional level?
The reason is simple. The more one attempts to identify talents at a young age, the less their future adult skills are predictable. Growth and maturation occur in-between and cards keep being reshuffled continuously. More than that, studies show that the most skilled players during teenagehood turn out to perform worse than others at adulthood.
I’ll repeat it again as this might sound unbelievable. We are talking about those teenagers who reach maturity before others, who jump higher and run faster. Well, those teenagers show worse adult performance than teenagers reaching maturity at a later age. A scientific study run by a team of European researchers have shown that teenagers reaching maturity later than others were more likely to play in one of the Big Five’s 1st division clubs (La Liga, Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A or Ligue 1) at 22 years old, or in a national team.
THE LIMITS OF TRADITIONAL SCOUTING
But that’s not all. Biases related to traditional scouting methods are directly observable through a relative age effect. The relative age effect is the observation that the majority of professional footballers are born in the first six months of the year. This finding runs across the five major European championships.
Let’s imagine that young players’ month of birth does not bear any sort of importance. We then should find equivalent proportions of professional players born across different months of the year. But it is not the case. The relative age effect is the outcome of talent identification at teenagehood based on physical, morphological and technical criteria… At a period of life when a few months difference has a tremendous importance on performance. The result? The professional players of your squad were the best among others when identified and selected… at 14 years old!
To sort these scouting and recruitment biases out, methods like bio-banding and the ordered shirts technique have been developed. These methods can be efficient to counteract some traditional scouting biases, but require substantial organization involving several clubs.
So what solutions should you adopt, if physical, technical and morphological skills are not reliable criteria of assessment in young footballers? Let’s take cognitive and mental skills into consideration.
SCOUTING: A ROLE FOR COGNITIVE & MENTAL SKILLS
The benefits associated with psychological assessments of footballers is that they are more reliable than physical assessments. Cognitive and mental skills may vary between teenagehood and adulthood. But often, between-player differences are stable over time. In other terms, a player who is more creative than the average at 14 years old is likely to also be more creative than the average adult.
Thus, cognitive and mental skills are good targets of predictive recruitment. Scientific studies’ findings, by the way, went beyond expectations. Typically, these studies assess psychological dimensions in young players between 12 and 16 years old. They then follow the same players’ performance and career in academies and in the professional world.
Results? Some psychological dimensions, as assessed during teenagehood, predict performance at a professional level, such as number of goals scored or number of matches played in the first national division. The outcome of psychometric assessments is then sufficient to predict a young player’s likelihood of success at the professional level. Autonomy, creativity, individual commitment, competitiveness are part of the cognitive and mental skill set that predicts adult performance.
IDENTIFYING FUTURE TALENTS WITH PREDICTA FOOTBALL
Taking advantage of these scientific findings, we have created PREDICTA FOOTBALL, which is the 1st science-based talent identification tool for predictive recruitment. This tool consists of young footballers’ psychometric assessments. Players first complete a set of psychological and cognitive trials. Individual scores are then analyzed using home made algorithms. Finally, players are ranked based on their computed likelihood to succeed at the professional level in the future.
The aim of PREDICTA FOOTBALL is to identify future talents before they become obvious to your competitors. We consequently help professional clubs to make the best decisions related to which players to invest in.
Does that mean that traditional scouting and recruitment methods are outdated? Not exactly. The factors determining young footballers’ future performance are manifold. Why invest in a young player with excellent psychometric scores, but who misses half his/her passes? Conversely, what about a young player who shows perfect ball control yet attains poor psychometric and cognitive scores?
In both cases, what matters is the combination of multiple assessments (technical, physical, psychological…). This allows you to make a decision with more certainty and accuracy than with a unique source of data. To conclude, psychometric and cognitive assessments should be used in association with more traditional scouting assessments (morphology, technique, tactical skills…).
Nowadays, the competition to identify young football talents turns international and intense. Traditional scouting and recruitment methods are biased and reach some limits. Predictive recruitment tools based on rigorous scientific studies, like PREDICTA FOOTBALL, are the best allies for clubs to identify tomorrow’s talents with scientific accuracy and before others, to make more certain and efficient investments, and to identify hidden talents before they become obvious to all!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
A former academic and behavioural sciences expert, Dr Morgan David is the founder and director of ANALYTICA, a consultancy agency based in the UK and in France. ANALYTICA uses the way our brain works to design better products and better services in the realm of innovation, marketing and communication. ANALYTICA created CogniSales, a neuromarketing sales service, CogniMenu, the first new-generation menu engineering service, and PREDICTA FOOTBALL, a science-based talent identification tool for predictive recruitment in sports.