Biobanding | Player Development

September 14, 2023

I have been involved in football all my life, and in my experience as a player, parent, coach, scout, and academy director, there has always been a bias towards early developers. But are things changing?

If you look at the home nations, Scotland captain Andy Robertson and England captain Harry Kane were released by their clubs (Celtic and Arsenal) for being late developers. Ex Wales captain Gareth Bale was almost in the same position at Southampton, but he survived a coaches’ vote by three to two because medical staff flagged he was in the middle of his growth spurt. Bale, Kane, and Roberston are the lucky ones that have gone on to have incredible careers but thousands of others who could have had similar careers are out the system by the time they are age 10 or 11.

The bias is probably more prominent at pro academy level as scouts attend grassroots matches to assess players based on their performance in a game. In a game of players in the same year of birth, the more physically developed players are often the ones that stand out more and the smaller technically gifted players don't get the same opportunity to shine.

Having access to all the data on players in Futsal Escocia I have noticed that most of the grassroots players that are playing in tier 1 are born in the first half of the year and those playing in tier 2 or 3 are born in the latter half. Scouts rarely look at tier 2 or 3 players though and there is a fear to select a player playing tier 2 or 3.

I am happy to admit that I actually learn more about players in my coaching role than I do scouting at matches. In a session I can assess the technical quality and players personal attributes way better than I can do watching any youth game. There's undoubtedly talent that gets overlooked but on the flip side, there's also players in the pro system that get selected based on physical attributes of getting about the pitch better and in Scottish terms "booming into people" on the pitch.

Long term who has more POTENTIAL to make a career in the game? The technically superior player that hasn't developed physically or the early developer that can't trap a bag of sand, dribble or pass the ball? Unfortunately in Scotland it can often be the latter but at the top level now you have to be comfortable on the ball and move well.

I should also highlight that not all big and physical players are technically poor. Alfie Hutchison (2009 - age 14), is now playing with Hearts u18s as he can cope with it physically but he is also one of the most technical players we have had in the academy with excellent close control and the ability to use either foot.

When we first started testing players, Alfie was biologically way ahead of players his age and with another player at 2009 there was about 6 years of a difference. Based on the data, we moved Alfie to train and play with the 2005s and 2006s to provide him with the challenge he required. Playing at his age was good for confidence and to secure team results but not great for his overall development. I am delighted to see that Hearts are challenging him in a similar way now.

What is clear is that every individual is different and that every child is on their own journey. As a coaching organisation, I believe it is our responsibility to help them as much as we can in that process and biobanding does that.

As parents at the academy have recognised, we measure the players height and weight along with their top speed, acceleration and power. Those physical results are compared with other players at the same age and they help us identify early and late developers. Testing 3 times a year, we can identify who is going through a growth spurt and help manage the players. Players going through a growth spurt often have a dip in performance levels and an increase in injuries. Outside of the physical testing, we also assess the players technically and try to place players in groups that are relative to their ability and physical attributes rather than their age. It will never be perfect but with over 120 players from Fife progressing from futsal into a pro environment in the last 8 years, we believe it is working.

It is also the reason why we are flexible with the grouping of our teams and the Futsal Escocia leagues. If a player or team finds it too easy, the simple answer is to move them up. If it is too difficult, we move them down. Unfortunately this is where it becomes a bit problematic. Parents in particular love to see their child move up a level, but from experience, they aren't all happy if they move down. on the flip side, teams can be happy winning every week but they are not as happy moving up and losing. This is where we need to do more to educate our parents and coaches that a move up or down a level can be far more beneficial in the long term. We can help a child develop technically and tactically but we can't do anything about their stage of growth. A player struggling technically will get more touches of the ball in an environment with a similar level of players than they would with more advanced players. This should help individual development. As I said, each individual is different, and there's flexibility to try them in both environments, something we do regularly with players at sessions.

Hopefully this helps our parents understand why we bring in Raeside Pro Edge Conditioning for our testing. It costs us money for the process but if we want to further develop our players we feel it is necessary. We are the only academy we know that does this and we are the only leagues that allow teams to play outside their age groups.... and most importantly it works. This is why most of the top academies in football are starting to look beyond match performance and are assessing players based on overall potential.

For those wanting to read more on biobanding and to establish the predicted height of your child check out this fantastic blog by the University of Bath.

If parents have any questions, please get in touch.