A Four Dimensional Approach to Developing Youth Players to Gain Elite Status

An Analysis of Soccer

Master's Thesis, 2017

159 Pages, Grade: 9.0/10.0


The Four Dimensions

The Philosophy
Playing Philosophy
The Team
The Player
Coach Development and Expectations

Staff Model
Optimal Learning
Style Contrasts
Guided Discovery
Coaches Feedback

The Relative Age Effect & Maturation
Growth & Maturation

Decision Making
Tact ical


Repet ition

Physical Requirements ...43
Speed and Sprints
Strength & Power
Anaerobic & Intensity
Fundamental Movement Skills/Physical Literacy50
Injury Prevention
FIFA 11+

Growth Mindset
Igni tion
Mental Skills
Mental Toughness
Self-Confidence & Self-Esteem
Goal Setting
Short Term Goals
Long Term Goals
Charac ter
Character Traits
The Role of the Parents
Life Skills
The Role of Education

Deliberate Practice
The ‘Sweet Spot’ (The Role of Myelin)
Deliberate Play
Rond os
Alternative Game Experience
Small Sided Games
Futsal (Pre-Benjamin & Benjamin)


Pre-Benjamin (7-8 year olds)
Tact ical

Benjamin (9-10 year olds)

Alevin (11-12 year olds)

Infantil (13-14 year olds)
Tact ical

Cadet (14-16 year olds)
Tact ical

Juvenile (16-18 year olds)
Tact ical


Scouting, Talent ID & Assessments


This paper will demonstrate a long term athlete development programme based on a four dimensional approach (tactical, technical, physical and psycho-social). A one dimensional approach in isolation would be unrealistic and detrimental to football development. The modern game is rich in intensity, is multi-skilled, a contact sport and requires a quick thought-process. Therefore, a four dimensional approach will be used to combat these main pillars. This approach has been successfully used by Jose Mourinho (Curneen, 2014) and a similar model is used as a basis for England’s EPPP youth model (The FA, 2010). Additionally, Nesti & Sulley’s (2015) study of Academies around the world showed that the most successful academies took into consideration “mentality (psycho-social), technical requirements, tactical acumen and physical parameters,” when compiling their club philosophies.

The information will be based upon a situation of an Academy Manager to develop elite players for the first team. The goal will be to develop at least 3 youth players for the first team every 2 seasons.

The club which this paper is based on will follow the philosophy of developing players for the first team as opposed to a club that is willing to spend money on players who are already established or buying already talented young players from other clubs rather than developing their own.

There are many benefits to developing the clubs core players in lieu of buying players elsewhere. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge & Uli Hoeness (Bayern Munich’s Executive Board Chairman and President respectively) cited in Townsend (2015) that “The best academies in the world train their core players instead of buying new ones.” Firstly, it makes better business sense to develop talent rather than relying on systems from other clubs. Secondly, developing your own players helps them understand the clubs philosophy, culture and playing style which in turn means there is less adaptation required when reaching the first team as opposed to a new player arriving.

Extensive research will be taken from books, academic papers, lectures, my own experiences and other reliable sources to gain maximal knowledge.

Furthermore, each age group will be throughly discussed by analysing the potential benefits and fragilities of each age group, and also looking on how best to deal with these issues to obtain the maximal potential of each player. Finally, the curriculum advances in an age appropriate manner to show a clear progression through the age groups into adulthood.

The Four Dimensions


“Tactics refers to ways of playing (strategies) expressively selected in order to gain an advantage over an opponent” (Hopper & Kruisselbrink, 2002). Tactical understanding can be very complex and needs to be taught progressively over the years (Griffin et al, 1997). For this reason we will start basic tactical awareness from the Pre-Benjamin stage, such as stretching the pitch, standing side on and giving the players basic knowledge on different positions. Furthermore, the paper will go into detail of the importance of sampling different positions at a young age as opposed to being pigeon holed to one position and the formations most beneficial to develop the players through our philosophy.

The curriculum will look to develop the tactical dimension in the following ways:

- The style of play
- The formations that will be used
- The positions in which the players will experience


A successful soccer player can only reach the top level if he has high quality technique (Newbery et al, 2014). Technique has a high correlation to tactics; as often as possible a tactical element will accompany technical work (Cammarata, 2016). Players who fail to combine tactical aspects when coaching technique tend to struggle to transfer these techniques into game situations (Hopper & Kruisselbrink, 2002).

The curriculum will look to develop the technical dimension in the following ways:

- Using the correct type of repetition
- How using alternative methods and equipment can assist in the development of technique
- The role that ‘myelin’ has in developing technique


The physical demands of both youth football and adult football alike are multi- dimensional (Viswanath et al, 2016). Studies show that young elite-level football players are generally superior in strength, flexibility, speed, aerobic endurance and anaerobic capacity (Mujika & Castagna, 2016). Even though the demands of youth football are similar to the adult game (Mujika & Castagna, 2016), the timing of which physical attribute should be developed range monumentally. For instance, older youth players transitioning from youth to senior football may benefit from increasing muscle mass to cope with the greater physical demands of open-age football (Viswanath et al, 2016), whilst the youngest of players beginning their journey would need to focus on fundamental movement skills (Balyi & Hamilton, 2004).

There are many issues that need to be addressed in developing physical competencies in youth football such as overuse injuries, burnout (Strudwick & Walker, 2016), growth spurts and adolescents (Micheli, 1983). These issues will be discussed in this paper as well as the solutions to prevent minimal damage to the player and offering the maximal potential to develop football specific fitness and life long sport.

The curriculum will look to develop the physical dimension in the following ways:

- The physical requirements for football
- The fundamental movement skills
- Issues with growth and maturation
- Issues with burnout
- Injury prevention strategies
- The importance of recovery


Psychology is consistently claimed as the most important factor in the transition to professional football (Brown & Potrac, 2009). The objective of the psycho-social dimension is to not only develop the players who are on the verge of the first team but also the players who are in danger of dropping out of the sport all together. As of 2013, 98% of players in UK Academies dropped out of football (Yates, 2013). Although, the primary aim of this study is to increase the success rate of players making it to the first team, it is also vital to either keep the ‘unsuccessful’ players in the game in another capacity (coaching, analyst, physiotherapist etc.) or to give them relevant psychological and social skills to be successful in another domain. Tjomsland and colleagues (2015) states that commitment to a sport is valuable because sports offer “personal growth and development, contributing not only to physical well-being, but also to cognitive, affective, social and moral well- being”.

Moreover, the psycho-social aspect is also imperative from the earliest ages. The children who grow up in stressful environments generally find it harder to concentrate, harder to sit still, harder to rebound from disappointments, and harder to follow directions (Tough, 2013). McCarthy et al (2008) suggested that what children enjoy at an early age, they are more likely to continue doing in the future, whereas the lack of enjoyment is likely to lead them to drop out, particularly in youth soccer. Psychological well-being can be enhanced through teaching players how to deal with the pressures of competitive performance in football. The players will be educated on these skills and recognise how these can assist them in their broader lives (Nesti & Sulley, 2015).

The role of the sport psychologist is important, it will be their job to educate the players on imagery, motivation and coping strategies. Coping strategies are arguably the most important, this will help them during challenging situations such as a loss of form, confidence and injury (ECA Report, 2008).

The curriculum will look to develop the psycho-social dimension in the following ways:

- Igniting the young players passion for the game
- Creating a growth mindset within the players and staff
- Teaching the players psychological skills to ensure mental toughness
- Enlightening the players on the aspect of motivation
- Educating the players on coping strategies and confidence
- Instructing the players on how to set goals
- Developing the individuals character

The Philosophy

Playing Philosophy

The Team

The playing philosophy involves the players obtaining as many meaningful touches as possible. For this reason, we will be looking to play a possession based game building from the goalkeeper, this will be implemented from the youngest age group to the oldest.

This focus helps to develop players’ confidence to accept possession in different areas (constricted and open), and it gives them the opportunity to better their decision making in a variety of situations (Nesti & Sulley, 2015). Possession football will be seen as the teams best form of defence and attack.

Out of possession players will be expected to win the ball back as early as possible, with the mindset being “the reason we defend is so we can attack.”

The Player


The player will:

- Be able to make quick decisions on and off the ball
- Understand personal playing role
- Be able to play in a variety of positions
- Understands defending and attacking principles
- Anticipates the game within 2/3 moves prior
- Understand how to gain a personal tactical advantage
- Display good spatial awareness and can find space even in the most congested areas


The player will:

- Be comfortable using both feet.
- Be comfortable using a range of passes to retain possession
- Be comfortable dribbling the ball with and without pressure
- Have basic technique and ball skills.
- Possess clean ball contact skills when passing, receiving, shooting and traveling with the ball.
- Be able to beat players 1v1 or by combining with other players
- Be creative and unpredictable in the right areas of the pitch
- Have the ability to perform techniques accurately, consistently, and at game speed.


The player will:

- Have competent fundamental movement skills (Agility, Balance, Co-ordination, Speed/ Strength)
- Have the appropriate level of endurance to meet the demands of the game
- Have competency in performing movements related to the game
- Be able to play at an intense speed
- Be able to perform explosive movements and recover quickly


The player will:

- Be growth mindset orientated
- Be coachable and eager to learn
- Be polite and respectful
- Be self disciplined and have a level of conscientiousness
- Be self-motivated and eager
- Have a winning mentality and a ‘never say die’ attitude
- Have good resilience when dealing with defeats, set-backs and errors

Coach Development and Expectations

High expectations will be placed on all staff in the academy. Coaches in particular will be expected to constantly stay up to date with recent literature within the four dimensions. This promotes the clubs growth mindset approach from the coaches to the players. The club will conduct regular CPD opportunities such as guest speakers, visits abroad and viewing coaching from various other sports. The aim is to create a culture of sharing ideas and good practice, whilst constantly challenging each others approaches to assist in the growth of the club and individual (Nesti & Sulley, 2015).

The coaches will be expected to not only coach the players, but every person that is responsible for the players development, such as parents, other coaches and other members of staff (Nesti & Sulley, 2015).

Monthly meetings will be held to discuss aspects that have been positive throughout the month and what can be improved in order to achieve the relevant goals set by the club and individual.

The coaches will be allowed to plan their own sessions, ensuring that they are developing the correct topic of the week, the club will also have a library of sessions should they need it. It is important that the coaches are constantly observed by other coaches and given feedback in order to constantly improve. They will be highly encouraged to constantly self reflect and will be given Gibbs (1988) reflection model as a guide, the coaches will be expected to show at least 3 reflections per season to the club. Gibbs’ reflection model consists of 6 stages for the coaches to think about:

1. Description (What happened?): The coach will speak about aspects that were important to reflect on during the session
2. Feelings (What were you thinking or feeling?): What was the coach feeling during this incident/aspect.
3. Evaluation(Whatwasgood/badaboutthesituation?)
4. Analyses (What sense can you make of the situation?): The coach considers what might have helped or hindered the event.
5. Conclusion(Whatelsecouldyouhavedone?):Thecoachdiscusses whattheyhave learned from the experience.
6. Action Plan (If the situation arose again, what would you do?) (Dye, 2011)

Staff Model

The staff model will look to emulate the English Premier Leagues EPPP Model for Category 1 clubs. As well as individual coaches, there are also specialist age group coaches (Foundation, Youth Development and Professional Development). Furthermore, position specific coaches are included, these coaches will work with the older age group players once they start specialising in a position. The goalkeeper coaches on the other hand will work with every age group. The different coaches main objective will be to develop the players technical and tactical ability, the match analysis team also helps with these aspects. The main responsibility for developing the physical side will be the physiotherapist team, strength and conditioning coach and the sports scientists. The psychological aspect is of course the responsibility of the coaches, however they will gain a large part of their assistance in this aspect from the Head of Education, teaching staff, welfare officers (life skill coaches) and external sports psychologists.

Optimal Learning

Style Contrasts

“Learning isn’t a way of reaching one’s potential but rather a way of developing it” (Ericsson & Pool, 2016).

Different ways in which people learn are as follows:

- Verbal Linguistic Learners: These players will likely learn from team tactics and discussions
- Logical Learners:These learners will likely learn from drills and logical progressions.
- Visual Learners: These players will likely learn from watching
TV,DVD,Tactics Board and Tablets.
- Kinaesthetic Learners: These learners will likely learn from repetitive practice.
- Musical Learners: These learners will learn most with assistance of music/motivational videos.

(Nesti & Sulley, 2015)

Coaches need to understand that not only does each individual learn differently, but also different ages. The synapses, the junctions between nerve cells, reach a maximum number early in life, therefore the brain is constantly developing and changing and so the background against which learning takes place is also changing. Consequently, it makes sense that a six-year-old’s brain learns differently than a fourteen-year-old’s brain, even if all of them are learning the same thing (Ericsson & Pool, 2016). Younger children (the foundation phase) tend to learn by doing (kinaesthetic), the players therefore need to experience the real game as often as possible whilst encouraging experimentation and independent thinking (Mooney, 2013).

For optimal learning to occur there needs to be an increase of difficulty and struggle in practice in order to obtain greater structural change in the brain, thus more learning (Boyd, 2015) (more information available in the ‘sweet spot’ section).

Players that self regulate learning tends to be the distinguishing factor from elite players and non elite players (Gledhill & Harwood, 2014). The coaches need to promote self- learning as an important skill for the players. A series of studies found that young Dutch elite players, the top 1 per cent of players in their age group in the Netherlands, consistently scored higher on these qualities compared with lesser-skilled players (Toering et al. 2009; Jonker et al. 2010).

The information given to the players by the coaches needs to be specific and relevant. The processing of information for a player requires attention resources, which are limited in supply, therefore players are only capable of processing a limited amount of information at any time, and at a limited rate (Hopper & Kruisselbrink, 2002) this is especially the case for younger age groups, therefore coaches need to limit the amount of information they give. Because of this limited information for younger children, low order questions may be more appropriate, however coaches should strive to ask high-order questions as soon as the player is ready for it (usually by the time of Piaget’s formal operational stage) as it provides players more opportunities for self-evaluation rather than 1 word automatic responses (Snow & Thomas, 2005).

An example of a low order question is “What part of the foot do you use to make a short pass?”, as you can see there are very limited answers to this question. A high-order questions on the other hand contain a variety of answers such as “Why should we play a high line defence?”.

Guided Discovery

For the reasons stated above, it is important that players constantly experience guided discovery throughout the session and effective use of questioning. This is when a good coach does not teach a player anything, but instead leads the player to discover how to play (Snow & Thomas, 2005). Through this method, guided discovery is said to help long- term learning (Nesti & Sulley, 2015) and induces a player to develop more cognitive skills compared to a command style (Mosston & Ashworth, 1990). To guide players the coach must know the end destination. To ask appropriate questions requires deeper knowledge of the training session topic by the coach. The coaches should write some questions on the session plan, with approximately 70% of the session guided discovery and 30% command style (Snow & Thomas, 2005). There will be a big emphasis in every session on the who, what, where, when, why and how, this will be questioned to the players and is said to accommodate learning, creativity, decision making and problem solving (Newbery et al, 2014).

Coaches Feedback

Feedback is conceptualised as information provided by a coach regarding aspects of a performance or understanding., usually with the objective of improving this performance (Hattie & Timperley, 2007).

Coaches need to not only ensure that all players receive individual feedback, but they also need to take into consideration the type of feedback they are providing. Positive feedback done correctly can increases self-efficacy, whereas personal criticism (which is different from constructive feedback) decreases it. Decreasing someone's confidence is easier than increasing it (Pain, 2016), for this reason coaches need to be very aware of what and how they give feedback.

Frequent use of verbal instructions, demonstrations, and feedback can create an overload of information for the learner, preventing them from taking part in the problem-solving process (Ford et al, 2010). An overly descriptive approach to instruction and feedback can lead to a poorer retention of the skill to competition when compared to less frequent verbal instruction, demonstrations and feedback (Wulf & Shea, 2004).

The coach therefore should look to intervene when they notice a repetitive mistake and the player can not implicitly work out the problem; this is called augmented feedback. Augmented feedback refers to information that a learner does not normally receive directly from the senses, but can be see externally by a coach (Lee et al, 1994). An example could be that a players pass is constantly being intercepted by the opposition; the player know that it is a mistake, but he doesn't know why. The coach can then pull him to one side and explain that it may possible that the weight of the pass is too weak, so he shows him how to lock the ankle and follow through the pass. The use of augmented feedback is most effective when it is provided as soon after the mistake as possible and in such a way that they can rectify the mistake as soon as possible (Lee et al, 1994). It is advised however that this feedback is used sparingly, a study by Schmidt (1991) stated that constant augmented feedback is actually detrimental for learning and didn't support long term retention, especially for players in the early stages of learning when they are placed under stress, such as when a young player is performing in match play (Masters & Poolton, 2013). For this reason it is important for coaches of children at the beginning phase to use an instructional strategy known as the hands-off approach. The hands-off instructional strategy involves relatively low amounts of augmented instruction, feedback and demonstrations (Ford & Williams, 2013); therefore it is important that the coaches design, implement and adapt the practice so that players are acquiring skill from engaging in the activity without the need for extensive augmented verbal instruction and feedback (Ford, 2016). It is of this papers belief however that a constant error needs to be rectified before it becomes a habit, but if it is a one off error the hope is that the individual is able to solve the problem and rectify it at the next possible time.

Feedback also allows focusing of attention on the aspects of the task that are most relevant and contributes to maintaining the motivation for the activity. It should be task relevant, just calling out ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘well done’ gives little information or motivation. An example of task relevant feedback is “Good pass, you've seen your partner uncheck and then locked your ankle to pass” (Riera, 2005; Pain, 2016).

Feedback should be part of a coaches session plan, if they have the objectives and if they are experienced enough they will know what the common mistakes are, this will assist them in looking for particular coaching/feedback moments (Riera, 2005). A common mistake from coaches is when they explain something they complete the sentence with “do you understand”, followed by an automatic response of “yes.” a more effective way is to check for understanding. An example of checking for understanding would be prior to a conditioned game where you must complete a combination first; “What must you do before scoring a goal?”, “a combination play”, “Good, can you give me some examples of a combination play.” This requires the individuals to think more, therefore retaining the information a lot more effectively than an automatic ‘yes’ (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005).

The coach should have a ‘coaching toolbox’ of 4 ways to give feedback:

1. A ‘Freeze” moment: This is the most intrusive coaching tool, it is to stop the whole group and to give very detailed information, usually when a common problem occurs within the group.
2. Natural stoppage: This is similar to the ‘Freeze’ however it takes place when the ball has naturally stopped in the game such as a goal kick or a throwing.
3. Individual intervention: This is when a coach calls out 1 player whilst the rest of the group continue. It is very person specific on something the individual needs to work on.
4. Coaching in the flow: This is giving quick feedback out loud whilst the players are playing without stopping the game. This is a good time to give positive feedback.

(NSCAA, 2015)

For the younger players who need a hands off approach, coaching in the flow is particularly successful and quick individual interventions assists in protecting the flow of the session.

To conclude, for the younger ages the coaches should use a hands- off instructional approach involving limited amounts of instruction and feedback, whereas with older players the augmented information should probably mainly focus on tactics and motivation (Ford, 2016). For every age group the only feedback that the coach with give in the last 20 minutes of the session will be individual interventions and coaching in the flow.

The Relative Age Effect & Maturation

The relative age effect refers to older players (born in the first few months of the playing year) in comparison to players in the same age group who are born later in the playing year (Cote et al, 2006); therefore giving the older players a clear advantage in becoming an elite player (Helsen et al, 2000) and increasing the chance of players born later in the selection year to drop out of football as early as 12 years of age (Helsen et al, 2000 ; Mujika & castagna, 2016). Players born early in the competition year tend to dominate national leagues all over the world (Philippaerts et al, 2006), this can be detrimental for both the late developers and the early developers. Firstly, the early developers tend to rely on their physicality to dominate training and matches (Lansley, 2015) consequently paying less attention to technical attributes and using less problem solving skills. Secondly, late developers do not reach their full potential as they tend to be over looked at age 10-12, therefore not receiving the same high quality of coaching, patience and persistence (Newbery et al, 2014).

Also relating to the relative age effect is the differences in biological maturation. Players can chronologically be the same age but biologically they could be up to 2 years up or down of their chronological age (Nesti & Sulley, 2015). That is to say a group of 10 year olds could potentially have a player who is biologically closer to an 8 year old and another that is biologically closer to a 12 year old - a range of 4 years difference in the same age group (Nesti & Sulley, 2015). This is particularly a problem for a group of adolescents as they go through their growth spurts at different ages, therefore grouping adolescent players by chronological age is particularly detrimental (Balyi et al, 2014)


These statistics will allude to ‘quarters’; A quarter refers to the months of the year. i.e. Quarter 1 refers to the first 3 months of the playing year, quarter 2 for the next three, quarter 3 & quarter 4 relate to the 3rd and 4th quarters of the year. These quarter’s differ per country. The UK have their playing year from September- August (the school year), whilst Spain have their playing year from January-December (the calendar year) (Gil, 2016a)

A survey conducted on category 1 clubs from u9’s-u21’s in England showed that 45% of the players were born in the 1st quarter whilst only 10% of the elite players were born in the 4th quarter (Lansley, 2015).

Similar statistics were also found in Spain (and other countries) with a study of 198 young elite players. This study showed that 43.9% of the players were born in the 1st quarter and only 9.1% of the players were born in the 4th quarter (Gil, 2016a).

Moreover, a study conducted by Campo et al (2010) showed that 70% of U17-U20 World Cup players are born in the 1st 6 months of the year. Furthermore, One study cited by Ericsson & Pool (2016) showed that among thirteen-year-old soccer players, more than 90 percent of the ones who were nominated as the best had been born in the first six months of the year.

Combating the Relative Age Effect and Maturation Differences

Belgium arguably have one of the most effective systems to limit the relative age effect. Belgium’s academies consist of two teams, one for the early developers and one for the late developers (Van Geersom, 2011). The teams decide where the player is on the development scale by assessing them physically and mentally. At the time of the article, 50% of youth players had made the grade from youth football to senior football (Van Geersom, 2011). Not only do they have a high percentage of players staying in the game, they also have an impressive record of developing late developers

(Bate, 2016), players included in the late development squads at U15 levels were Kevin De Bruyne & Thibaut Courtois (Bate, 2016), now playing for Manchester City & Chelsea respectively. Furthermore they have also produced successful ‘smaller’ players such as Eden Hazard (Chelsea) and Gerard Deulofeu (Everton) alongside taller and stronger players such as Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United) and Romelu Lukaku (Everton), showing a wide range of diverse players not based solely on physical attributes.

The English Premier League are currently trying to combat the problem of the relative age effect and the differences in maturation by compiling a ‘Premier League Bio-Banding Project’ (Lansley, 2015). The formula in which the project grouped the players by was as follows: “height x weight divided by 1000 = group e.g. 160 cm x 50 kg divided by 1000 = 8.0 = Group 8” Lansley, 2015

The aim of this project is to “help clubs at academy level look beyond physical dominance when identifying and developing talent” (Lansley, 2015) and to “level out the bias that exists in club academies towards players who are born in the first quarter of the English academic year.” (Lansley, 2015)

Furthermore, the lack of physical dominance in the bio-banding scheme allows for the technical and tactical prowess in the academy players to shine (Lansley, 2015). The scheme was said to be beneficial for the late developers and the early developers. The late developers were given the opportunity for their technical skills to flourish whilst the early developers were challenged to come up with new ways of progressing play other than out running or out muscling their opponents. An example of this system working (playing players in biological ages rather than chronological) is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin, now of Arsenal he came though Southampton’s impressive academy. Born on 15th August (the 4th quarter in England), Alex had displayed technical excellence but was physically smaller than most of his teammates in the same Under-14 age group and was at threat of being released (Lansley, 2015). After discussions within the Southampton staff they decided to keep Oxlade-Chamberlain in the Under-14s for a second year. Les Reed (Southampton head of football development) cited in Langley (2015) "A year on and he had a growth spurt, became a powerful athlete and six months later he was in the first team,". Other Players to come through Southampton’s academy include:

Gareth Bale born July, 1989 (4th quarter)

Theo Walcott born March, 1989 (3rd quarter)

Adam Lallana born May, 1988 (3rd quarter)

Luke Shaw born July, 1995 (4th quarter)

(All birth dates taken via google)

All the above players have gone on to represent their national clubs respectively and are currently playing in La Liga or the Premier League.

Currently the most commonly used indicators of maturity are: (Viswanath et al, 2016) - Maturation of the skeleton

- Somatic maturation
- Sexual maturation

The most reliable method of assessing maturation is the evaluation of the skeleton, however this is also said to be the most expensive method. This method is the most ideal way for clubs to assess the maturity of the individual and to band them to the appropriate age group (Viswanath et al, 2016). The way in which this can be achieved is by an x-ray scan of the hand and wrist. Changes in each bone in the hand and wrist area with growth are consistent, and this forms the basis for assessing skeletal maturity (Malina, 2011).

The below pictures taken from Viswanath and colleagues (2016) show a hand and wrist radiograph of three boys affiliated with the talent development programme in England, all of which are the same chronological age.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Viswanath B. Unnithan and John Iga cited in Strudwick, Tony (2016). Soccer Science. Human Kinetics. Kindle Edition.

Despite their similar chronological ages, the boys glaringly differ in biological maturity as shown by their skeletal age. Player B appears to be growing ‘on time’ because his skeletal age is on average for his chronological age, player A could be classed as a late developer because his skeletal age shows that it is more than 1 year younger than his chronological age and player C shows that he might be an early developer because his skeletal age is at least one year greater than his chronological age. To allow for a reliable test, these recordings need to be taken 3/4 times a year (Viswanath et al, 2016), ideally teams will be flexible and allow for players to move up and down age groups depending on their skeletal scores.

In addition, somatic maturation can be measured. One method was devised by Sherar et al (2005) in which it was suggested to calculate the percent of adult height. To do this, an estimated adult height is needed. Sherar and colleagues research used simple markers such as chronological age, height, weight, leg length and sitting height and a combination of interaction terms to determine a maturity- offset value. However, adult height predictions needs further validation work to be considered reliable (Viswanath et al, 2016).

In conclusion, it is in this papers opinion that the Belgian model would be the best practice, however it relies on all other teams in the league to include two teams and to share the same philosophy of categorising players by biological age. Therefore, we will be battling the relative age effect by moving players up and down age groups depending on their biological age similar to the Southampton model as this is the most practical. We will have a two-year age grouping, this not only provides benefit in regards to biological age, but also creates an environment where the younger players can learn from older players and the older players can take on a kind of leadership role (Balyi, 2006). The players will be free to move up and down age groups between the ages of U12-U18s as these are the ages of peak height velocity and will show the biggest differences in players physical attributes. Players somatic maturation will be regularly assessed using Shearer et al’s model and the skeletal maturation will be assessed 4 times a year using a hand and wrist x-ray, although this could prove to be too costly.

Growth & Maturation

“ ‘Growth’ refers to measurable changes such as height, weight and fat percentage, whilst ‘maturation’ refers to more subtle qualitative adaptations, such as cartilage changing to bone.” - Newbery et al, 2014

It is important that growth and maturation is measured because it can assist in deciding which age group is more beneficial for the individual. Additionally, it may help in identifying the optimal time to train specific football movements and skills. Understanding the growth of the individual is also essential for understanding the changes that occur in the physiology of the young athlete because the developmental changes can both inhibit and enhance the changes that occur with training (Viswanath et al, 2016).

Academies usually separate growth and maturation into 3 sections (Viswanath et al, 2016):

- 6-11 years (Foundation phase)

This stage is characterised by some maturity-related size differences but little

physiological differentiation in the performance capacity.

- 12-15 years (Developmental phase)

This stage is a period of fast physical and physiological growth (Mazzantini & Bombardieri, 2013) as the onset of puberty and adolescents usually occurs for males between these ages (Malina & Buchard, 1991). This stage is associated with large, maturity related variations in body size that is dependant on individual differences in the specific physiological attributes required for successful football performance.

- 16-19 years (Performance phase)

This phase is when late developers tend to catch-up with the chronological age and reduces the differences of maturity and variation in size and physical performance.


Adolescents is described as “the process of developing from a child into an adult” (Oxford Dictionary). This is also the time in which the individual goes through their biggest growth spurt (Balyi & Hamilton, 2004), this growth spurt is called the ‘Peak Height Velocity (PHV)’ and is said to be at the point where the individual is at 90% of their adult height (Kaczmarek, 2002).

Knowing the age of the PHV is a good indicator of somatic maturity and can assist in identifying the early and late developers (Viswanath et al, 2016) for the reason that it shows the timing of the maturation event, and the speed of growth provides an indication of tempo (Malina et al, 2004).

The benefits of knowing the individuals PHV means the appropriate training regimes can be monitored and realised (Viswanath et al, 2016). According to Philippaerts et al (2006) the maximal growth of speed is achieved before PHV starts, whilst maximal growth of aerobic fitness is obtained alongside PHV. Strength is said to be best developed for males a year after PHV is achieved (Balyi & Hamilton, 2004) because insulin levels increase 2-3 fold post PHV, this supports the role of protein and fat metabolism, therefore indicating the readiness of the individual to partake in strength exercises. Therefore, prior to PHV the individual should refrain from doing activities such as resistance or extreme strength training as their systems aren’t fully functioned yet (Naughton et al, 2000).

Coaches and players need to be very cautious of the physical and psychological aspects during the adolescence years. Excessive training during the adolescence years can lead to great stresses to the cardio-respiratory system and the musculoskeletal system (Naughton et al, 2000). Therefore, players at this age need to be monitored and assessed to see if they need to be given a short or prolonged rest.

Flexibility during early adolescence declines hugely due to the bones growing significantly faster than the muscles (Malina & Buchard, 1991), consequently flexibility exercises need to be administered during this time (Balyi & Hamilton, 2004). Additionally, these physiological changes may cause the individual to go through some athletic awkwardness as their co-ordination temporary declines (Quatman-Yates et al, 2012). Therefore, simple motor tasks such as controlling the ball, passing and shooting can be more challenging during the adolescent growth spurt (Largo et al, 2003). To limit the decline in technical and physical attributes during adolescents coaches need well-designed games-based activities which take in to consideration work:rest ratios during practice which will still likely lead to skill acquisition for these players (Ford, 2016).

Psychologically, players during these ages may be unaware of the changes and therefore are frustrated when they're not as flexible or co-ordinated as before the PHV occured, it is therefore important for the coach/club to explain the alterations they will go through and assure them that these changes are temporary (Newbery et al, 2014). Social support from coaches, peers and parents is monumentally important alongside discipline, resilience, commitment to succeed in a highly competitive situation such as academy football during the adolescence stage (Holt & Dunn, 2004).

Decision Making

Decision Making is vital to this curriculums model as it covers all four dimensions. A way the coach can develop a players decision making is by training their ability to problem solve and process information quickly (DiBernado, 2014a).


The first task of good decision making, is for the players to be clear about their role on the pitch, these roles need to be broad and controllable (Ferranti, 2015).

For example, a Central Midfielders role could be: - Check to the ball

- Receive in the half space
- Look to switch the play.

Keeping the roles vague allows the players to do it their own way. The coach is not telling them how to switch the play, therefore allowing room for creativity and decision making.

The coach can encourage the development of decision making when the player is not in possession of the ball. This can be developed at an early age by teaching the player to scan the pitch by ‘checking their shoulder.’ This involves the player to quickly look over their shoulder to give them a visual recognition of the pitch. Scanning the field provides more data and and information for players to use (DiBernado, 2014a) and It helps the player to make a decision prior to receiving the ball therefore developing the neurological process involved with decision making (Ford, 2016). Roca et al (2013) showed that players that checked their shoulders more in a game were more successful than players who did not check as often and they completed more effective forward passes (DiBernado, 2014a).

Moreover, decision making can also be developed for a player when his team does not have possession of the ball. Skills such as reading the game and anticipation are part of a term coined by Williams & Ford (2013) as “Pereceptual Cognitive Skills” and refers to a player in predominately a defensive situation being able to anticipate where the ball is going and adjusting his position accordingly to intercept and steal the ball effectively (Williams & Ford, 2013).


To maximise the potential of the technical aspects of decision making repetition is needed. Technical aspects such as passing/ shooting should not be a conscious action, however creativity and movement should be (O’Sullivan, 2014). The reason for this lies in the brain, repetition enables the player to integrate the many parts of a complex skill into one fluent movement, resulting in a quick decision as opposed to a conscious thought process because there are too many interconnecting variables for the conscious mind to manage (Syed, 2010).

1v1, 2v2, 3v3 and 5v5’s can be an excellent way to develop automaticity, creativity and decision making within players technique (Nest & Sulley, 2015). Players with less experience in these isolated situations tend to fixate longer on the ball and their concentration is based on maintaining control (Ford, 2016). On the contrary, players who have been in these situations on a regular basis are able to divert their attention to more meaningful stimuli such as the space available, the pitch geography and the location of other players. The more experienced players will also be able to anticipate very early in the movement of other players what motor skills they will need to execute (Ford, 2016).

Decision making in terms of selecting and executing the action is not only guided by in time events of the match situation but also by the tactical knowledge of the player (Ford, 2016). This shows the direct link and importance of the technical and tactical aspects of the game. Decision making & execution of skills under pressure can only be learned when training at high intensity (Curneen, 2014), consequently, a coach needs to adjust the sessions to accommodate for this experience.

For this reason, small sided games will be a prominent figure throughout the age groups in this paper.


Ford (2016) described decision making as “the process of selecting and executing appropriate motor skills in a situation.” This insinuates that a player needs correct movement skills to execute a decision effectively, ergo fundamental movement skills play a major role in decision making for young players.

Players partake in a number of complex actions: running, jumping, accelerating, decelerating, changing direction, dodging, etc. These movements are not isolated from the environment but depend on multiple factors that the player has to pay attention to: opponents, teammates, the goal, the score, location of the ball (Espar, 2003). Therefore it is important for the player to aim for near automaticity in these movement skills to allow attention to more important factors such as quick problem solving, anticipation and decision making.


The way the coach puts forward an instruction to the individual could facilitate the decision or be detrimental towards the decision.

The coach needs to consider the terminology that is used. The word ‘should’ needs to be eliminated and replaced with ‘could’. ‘Should’ indicates to the young player that they need to please an outside source by performing in a pre-determined way (Ferranti, 2015). ‘Could’ however indicates that it is an idea they could use, but it is not compulsory.

A coach needs to facilitate decision making by praising creativity, allowing the activity to run (NSCAA, 2015) and using individual interventions to give them ‘could’ moments.

Additionally, it is monumental that coaches and parents don’t ‘coach’ the players as they're playing. By this it is meant giving instructions to the player in possession of the ball, e.g. pass left, shoot, dribble. Players make approximately 2 decisions per second, therefore if they have more instructions, it can ‘muddy’ the decision (O’Sullivan, 2014) and cause hesitation. This also becomes a problem with some players in older groups, they all want the ball, therefore they all call for the ball whether it is the right decision or not, an effective tip for the coach is to instruct the players to ‘only call for the ball if they already know what they are going to do with it’ (Hiddink cited in Carson, 2014). Therefore, as a coach it is recommended to limited options to 2/3 decisions and increase the number as their ability increases (Espar, 2003).



In line with the clubs philosophy, we will be playing a possession based game relying on build up play from the goalkeeper. The players will look to progress through the 3rds using short passes and high creativity. Pep Guardiola believes that 10-15 passes must be made to start an attack through the 3rds (Townsend, 2015). Once players reach the older age groups, they will expected to be able to compile these 10-15 passes before they score, this ensures that the players receive plenty of meaningful touches and the team retain control of the game. Players in the attacking 3rd will be encouraged to be creative and not only combine with their teammates but also have the ability to beat players 1v1.


We will be basing our formation around adaptations of the 1-4-3-3 formation, with the primary adaptation being a 1-4-2-3-1. This formation is applied at most top academies in the world (Nesti & Sulley, 2015). Clubs such as Bayern Munich (Towsend, 2015), Barcelona (ECA, 2008) and Sporting Lisbon (Griffiths, 2012) have all adopted this formation due to the fact that it allows fluidity to pass through the units (Nesti & Sulley, 2015). Furthermore it benefits players who have not progressed through their growth spurts and do not yet have the power in the legs to pass longer distances (Nesti & Sulley, 2015).

The formations will look to progress through the age groups to a 4-2-3-1 in the following way:

Pre-Benjamin - Alevin (7v7) - 2-3-1-1 Infantil - Juvenil (11v11) - 4-2-3-1


It is important for the development of the players to consistently experience at least 3 playing positions between the ages of Pre- Benjamin (U7/U8) to Infantil (U13/U14) (Gillis, 2011). Ajax’s renowned ‘Total Football’ model is famed for its philosophy of giving the youth players the opportunity to experience different positions (Witzig, 2006). Dennis Bergkamp played every position apart from goalkeeper in the Ajax academy, he claimed that playing defence assisted his development vastly, it gave him the empathy of " how they (the defenders) think and how to beat them" (Lovejoy, 2004). It is said that playing in a variety of positions at an early age is important for developing creativity as it gives the individual the opportunity to see the field in a variety of different situations (Ross & Haskins, 2013).


Excerpt out of 159 pages


A Four Dimensional Approach to Developing Youth Players to Gain Elite Status
An Analysis of Soccer
Universidad Europea de Madrid  (Escuela Universitaria Real Madrid)
Master in Talent Identification and Development in Soccer
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
four, analysis, status, elite, gain, players, youth, developing, approach, dimensional, soccer, football, premier, league, development, academy, sport
Quote paper
Philip Phillipou (Author), 2017, A Four Dimensional Approach to Developing Youth Players to Gain Elite Status, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/457828


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: A Four Dimensional Approach to Developing Youth Players to Gain Elite Status

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free