Modelling age-related changes in motor competence and physical fitness in high-level youth soccer players: implications for talent identification and development

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Journal Article
Science and Medicine in Football, 2017, 1 (3), pp. 203 - 208
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© 2017, © 2017 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. Purpose: The effectiveness of early talent identification and development programs in soccer is questionable due to the dynamic nature of these processes in young and adolescent players. To date, only a few studies have longitudinally modelled developmental trajectories of functional characteristics in youth soccer players, yet none have captured the entire typical age range of soccer development programs (5–20 years). Furthermore, these studies have often failed to take into account the multidimensional nature of talent identification and development processes. Methods: This study used segmented linear models to map the periods of accelerated and decelerated development of motor competence and physical fitness in a large sample (2228 players with 6120 observations) of high level Belgian youth soccer players between 5–20 years. Results: The segmented models revealed that motor competence showed faster development well before the average estimated Age at Peak Height Velocity. Agility, lower body explosive power, intermittent endurance, and straight line running speed showed continuous development that does not slow down until players are between 15–17 years old. Conclusion: This study highlights the dynamic nature of talent development and provides practical considerations for those involved in talent identification and development programs in youth soccer.
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