The Influence of Recruitment Age and Anthropometric and Physical Characteristics on the Development Pathway of English Academy Football Players

in International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance
Restricted access

Purchase article

USD  $24.95

Student 1 year online subscription

USD  $112.00

1 year online subscription

USD  $149.00

Student 2 year online subscription

USD  $213.00

2 year online subscription

USD  $284.00

Purpose: To investigate the influence of recruitment age on retention and release across the development pathway and to explore the influence of anthropometric and physical characteristics on retention and release at different ages throughout the development pathway and the likelihood of obtaining a professional contract. Methods: Following receipt of ethics approval, a cross-sectional study tracking 4 cohorts of players over 5 years assessed 76 male youth football players (11–16 y) from an English football academy on 3 occasions annually in anthropometry, countermovement jump height, and linear (30 and 15 m) and multidirectional sprint time. Players were categorized based on their start and release date. Results: Starting early (ie, before U12) in an academy was a key indicator of obtaining a professional contract, representing 87% of the players signed. Bayesian regression models suggest that the majority of differences in physical characteristics between players that were released and retained are trivial, small, and/or uncertain. Players who attained a professional contract at 18 had slower 15- and 30-m sprint times at U13 to U15 (P > 0 = .87–.99), slower multidirectional sprint times at U14 (P > 0 = .99), and lower countermovement jump height at U13 to U16 (P > 0 = .88–.99) compared with players who did not gain a contract. Conclusion: Players recruited early have an increased likelihood of gaining a professional contract. Physical assessments lack utility when used in isolation as a talent-identification tool.

Noon, Eyre, Morris, Mundy, and Clarke are with the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Coventry University, Coventry, United Kingdom. Ellis and Myers are with the Faculty of Arts, Society and Professional Studies, Newman University, Birmingham, United Kingdom. Penny is with the Coventry City Football Club, Coventry, United Kingdom.

Noon (aa5349@coventry.ac.uk) is corresponding author.
  • 1.

    The State of the Game—In Numbers. The Football Association; 2015.

  • 2.

    Monk D, Olsson C. Modern apprenticeships in professional football: some policy implications. Ind Commer Train. 2007;39(6):319324. doi:

  • 3.

    Gullich A. Selection, de-selection and progression in German football talent promotion. Eur J Sport Sci. 2014;14(6):530537. PubMed ID: 24245783

  • 4.

    The Elite Player Performance Plan. The Premier League; 2011.

  • 5.

    Sarmento H, Anguera MT, Pereira A, Araujo D. Talent identification and development in male football: a systematic review. Sports Med. 2018;48(4):907931. PubMed ID: 29299878 doi:

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 6.

    Dodd K, Newans T. Talent identification for soccer: physiological aspects. J Sci Med Sport. 2018;21(10):10731078. PubMed ID: 29789264 doi:

  • 7.

    Murr D, Feichtinger P, Larkin P, O’Connor D, Höner O. Psychological talent predictors in youth soccer: a systematic review of the prognostic relevance of psychomotor, perceptual-cognitive and personality-related factors. PLoS One. 2018;13(10):e0205337. PubMed ID: 30321221 doi:

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 8.

    Lovell R, Towlson C, Parkin G, Portas M, Vaeyens R, Cobley S. Soccer player characteristics in English lower-league development programmes: the relationships between relative age, maturation, anthropometry and physical fitness. PLoS One. 2015;10(9):e0137238. PubMed ID: 26331852 doi:

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 9.

    Morris R, Emmonds S, Jones B, et al. Seasonal changes in physical qualities of elite youth soccer players according to maturity status: comparisons with aged matched controls. Sci Med Football. 2018;2(4):272280. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 10.

    Silva JR, Nassis GP, Rebelo A. Strength training in soccer with a specific focus on highly trained players. Sports Med Open. 2015;1(1):17. PubMed ID: 26284158 doi:

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 11.

    Lago-Peñas C, Rey E, Casáis L, Gómez-López M. Relationship between performance characteristics and the selection process in youth soccer players. J Hum Kinet. 2014;40(1):189199. doi:

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 12.

    Gonaus C, Muller E. Using physiological data to predict future career progression in 14- to 17-year-old Austrian soccer academy players. J Sports Sci. 2012;30(15):16731682. PubMed ID: 22917159 doi:

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 13.

    Deprez DN, Fransen J, Lenoir M, Philippaerts RM, Vaeyens R. A retrospective study on anthropometrical, physical fitness, and motor coordination characteristics that influence dropout, contract status, and first-team playing time in high-level soccer players aged eight to eighteen years. J Strength Cond Res. 2015;29(6):16921704. PubMed ID: 26010800 doi:

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 14.

    Emmonds S, Till K, Jones B, Mellis M, Pears M. Anthropometric, speed and endurance characteristics of English academy soccer players: do they influence obtaining a professional contract at 18 years of age? Int J Sports Sci Coach. 2016;11(2):212218. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 15.

    Sieghartsleitner R, Zuber C, Zibung M, Conzelmann A. Science or coaches’ eye? Both! Beneficial collaboration of multidimensional measurements and coach assessments for efficient talent selection in elite youth football. J Sports Sci Med. 2019;18(1):3243. PubMed ID: 30787649

    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 16.

    Till K, Cobley D, Morley D, et al. The influence of age, playing position, anthropometry and fitness on career attainment outcomes in rugby league. J Sports Sci. 2016;34(13):12401245. PubMed ID: 26512761 doi:

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 17.

    Noon MR, James RS, Clarke ND, Akubat I, Thake CD. Perceptions of well-being and physical performance in English elite youth footballers across a season. J Sports Sci. 2015;33(20):21062115. PubMed ID: 26383605 doi:

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 18.

    Hopkins WG, Marshall SW, Batterham AM, Hanin J. Progressive statistics for studies in sports medicine and exercise science. Med Sci Sport Exerc. 2009;41(1):313. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 19.

    Bürkner P-C. BRMS: an R package for Bayesian multilevel models using stan. J Stat Softw. 2017;80(1):28.

  • 20.

    Gabry J, Simpson D, Vehtari A, Betancourt M, Gelman A. Visualization in Bayesian workflow. J R Statsist Soc. 2019;182(2):389402. doi:

  • 21.

    Vaeyens R, Lenoir M, Williams MA, Philippaerts RM. Talent identification and development programmes in sport current models and future directions. Sports Med. 2008;38(9):703714. PubMed ID: 18712939 doi:

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 22.

    Ford PR, Ward P, Hodges NJ, Williams AM. The role of deliberate practice and play in career progression in sport: the early engagement hypothesis. High Abil Stud. 2009;20(1):6575. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 23.

    Morris R, Tod D, Oliver E. An analysis of organizational structure and transition outcomes in the youth-to-senior professional soccer transition. J Appl Sport Psychol. 2015;27(2):216234. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 24.

    Horrocks DE, McKenna J, Whitehead A, Taylor PJ, Morley AM. Qualitative perspectives on how Manchester United Football Club developed and sustained serial winning. Int J Sports Sci Coaching. 2016;11(4):467477. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 25.

    Deprez D, Coutts AJ, Fransen J, et al. Relative age, biological maturation and anaerobic characteristics in elite youth soccer players. Int J Sports Med. 2013;34(10):897903. PubMed ID: 23700327 doi:

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 26.

    Murtagh CF, Brownlee TE, O’Boyle A, Morgans R, Drust B, Erskine RM. Importance of speed and power in elite youth soccer depends on maturation status. J Strength Cond Res. 2018;32(2):297303. PubMed ID: 29369950 doi:

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 27.

    Le Gall F, Carling C, Williams M, Reilly T. Anthropometric and fitness characteristics of international, professional and amateur male graduate soccer players from an elite youth academy. J Sci Med Sport. 2010;13(1):9095. PubMed ID: 18835220 doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 28.

    Gibbs BG, Jarvis JA, Dufur MJ. The rise of the underdog? The relative age effect reversal among Canadian-born NHL hockey players: a reply to Nolan and Howell. Int Rev Sociol Sport. 2011;47(5):644649. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 29.

    Carling C, le Gall F, Reilly T, Williams AM. Do anthropometric and fitness characteristics vary according to birth date distribution in elite youth academy soccer players? Scand J Med Sci Sport. 2009;19(1):39. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 30.

    Malina RM, Rogol AD, Cumming SP, Coelho e Silva MJ, Figueiredo AJ. Biological maturation of youth athletes: assessment and implications. Br J Sports Med. 2015;49(13):852859. PubMed ID: 26084525 doi:

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 406 406 159
Full Text Views 20 20 6
PDF Downloads 18 18 4